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Poverty Awareness & Community Action (PACA): Experiencing Poverty During COVID-19

February 2, 2021 — 

Despite all the changes COVID-19 has brought upon us, poverty has remained a constant in our society. Though measures like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit have helped some who are struggling financially, they were not designed to help those living in poverty already. Many people are still being overlooked as services are shut down and become more difficult to access. To better understand these issues and others for those experiencing poverty, we are interviewing members of Poverty Awareness Community Action (PACA) at the University of Manitoba.  

Poverty Awareness & Community Action (PACA) is a program from UM’s Community Engaged Learning office and is run by a group of students, service providers, and people with lived experience with poverty. Together, they provide mutual aid support to each other and offer poverty awareness workshops to the campus and wider community. Students and interested community members can join PACA and volunteer at online poverty awareness workshops by emailing us at PovertyAwareness [at] umanitoba [dot] ca.  

The first member of PACA we interviewed is Carol, a UM student and single mother. As a former Indigenous youth in care, Carol has firsthand experience with mental health challengesintergenerational trauma, and poverty.

What barriers do people on a low income face normally, and how has that changed during the pandemic? 

Access to mental health services has always been a barrier, but the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. For example, a psychiatry referral that would ordinarily take 6 months is now taking more than 12 months. Therapy and counselling services are also seeing similar trends, especially if they are funded through public health. My son and I have been placed on waitlists for therapeutic services that have been postponed indefinitely because of the pandemic. These are major barriers for anyone facing mental health issues, and particularly for those with low incomes.  

What ways have you heard that COVID-19 is impacting people who are experiencing poverty?

Close up of Carol smiling.

Carol Owens, Faculty of Arts

COVID-19 is impacting people who live in poverty to a great degree. Any issues that I have would certainly be more difficult in poverty. I could not imagine dragging my sick child on the bus or waiting outside in line for 7 hours to get tested for COVID. In a car, my sick child is contained and relatively comfortable. I don’t suffer from any financial loss staying home with my child while he is sick, but many others do. People who do not have access to reliable phone or internet services are not able to learn or work from home, or access many of the health services that are now being conducted through these means because of COVID. 

What do you like about PACA and why would you recommend that people get involved? 

PACA is a very diverse group of people who are like minded and working towards social change. I think many of us forget that others do not think and live or experience things the way that we do ourselves. This is especially true if you have no prior experience with poverty or other complex issues. Broadening your network to include people who experience life differently than you do will help you gain more awareness and empathy, and PACA is an opportunity to do that. 

A big part of what we do is facilitate poverty awareness workshops. Since our workshops are so handson and incorporate role play, people are able to see a different perspective and the impacts poverty can have. I feel that anyone working with vulnerable people in any capacity should take the PACA workshop, or if you want to learn more about poverty, the impacts of social welfare and the impacts of intersectionality. 

If you’d like to join Poverty Awareness & Community Action as a volunteer or book a workshop for your students, please contact us at povertyawareness [at] umanitoba [dot] ca . 

To learn more about our office, check out Community Engaged Learning’s website, or follow us on Instagram and Facebook @celumanitoba. 


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