Overcoming Stigma: Poverty is Not a Choice

16 May 2018


Imagine having to choose between transit fare and fresh vegetables. For those with strong social safety nets and adequate benefits, a reality with such stringent financial limitations can be hard to imagine. But for many Calgarians, particularly single mothers, seniors, indigenous people, and immigrants, tough decisions like this are a daily reality.

Enough For All

Enough For All’s mission is to end poverty in Calgary and enhance the well-being of all Calgarians. By starting open conversations with people who struggle with poverty on a daily basis, Enough for All aims to change perceptions and stigma associated with poverty. By starting conversations with real Calgarians, we gain insight into the realities they face. And given an opportunity to understand our neighbours' challenges, we can begin to move forward and help in tangible ways.


A wealthy city of working poor

Of the 1.2 million people living in Calgary in 2018, 122,000 lived in poverty. This does not equate to 122,000 people experiencing homelessness, but instead the sheer amount of working poor in Calgary. These people pay their mortgages or rent each month, but live paycheque to paycheque, deprived of the resources needed to maintain a basic standard of living.

Poverty is not a choice, and it crosses all barriers. And to make matters worse, these same people often lack access to education, affordable housing, and affordable childcare.

Overcoming the welfare stigma

Companies and individuals in Calgary tend to be comfortable providing money to charities, but there is a cultural disconnect between the morality of personal charity and government charity. Many financial assistance programs require individuals to make a minimum salary, leaving hard-working Calgarians unable to qualify for assistance. And if they do, there is a particular welfare stigma which permeates Canadian culture.

Stigma and a failure of resource distribution are systemic problems, but they have the same root. A lack of open, honest conversation, and a failure to empathize with those who might have a different life experience than our own.



The annual income of a Calgarian living in poverty in 2018.


The annual cost of basic necessities for a Calgarian in 2018. This includes rent, utilities, basic groceries, clothing, transit, communications, basic health premiums and bank fees.


of usable income per day. $2,723 divided by 365 days a year. Many working Calgarians had $7.46 or less per day to spend on healthcare extras, house improvements, or personal items.


Amplifying the voices of lived experience

By amplifying the voices of people who struggle day-to-day, we empower ourselves to better understand the issue of poverty in Calgary. This empowerment can inspire us and those around us to take action and support those who need our help. Enough for All breaches difficult subjects with empathy and breaks down stigma about poverty by valuing the voices of lived experience. Enough for All's strategy is guided by Poverty Talks! and the Indigenous Advisory Committee.

While Calgarians donate generously to charities, the fact is that poverty exists through the entire fabric of our city, not just in the downtown core. Open discussions and accountability are essential to opening the minds of city planners, landlords, and politicians. These people wield the power to make permanent change in Calgary, but their minds can only be changed through empathy and open dialogue.


Enough For All partners met with Calgarians experiencing poverty, to get their side of the story. The results were eye-opening.

Julie and Rebecca

Julie Van Rosendaal, food writer, cookbook author, and columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio, met with Rebecca, a Calgarian, volunteer, and advocate for food security. They are both strong supporters of families and communities in Calgary.

Mike and Nigel

Mike Morrison, a writer, blogger, and activist, met with Nigel, a community partner and advocate for the homeless community. They are both vocal activists and strong proponents for social inclusion.

Elyse and Margaret

Elyse Bouvier, a photographer and artist, met with Margaret, a registered social worker and facilitator who works with low income individuals.

Neil and Miriam

Neil Zeller, voted Calgary’s best photographer in 2018, met with Miriam, a community partner who shared her story about overcoming homelessness. Neil and Miriam discovered they both have a passion for focusing on ‘pure positivity’.

George and Pamela

George Brookman, a businessman and volunteer, met with Pamela, an Indigenous community partner who is an advocate for education, wellness, and volunteering. George and Pamela discovered that they both share a desire for giving back to the community and helping those in need.

Myths & Reality

How to Help

  • Commit to the Enough For All Personal Pledge
  • Start a conversation. Listen. Help out a neighbour who you feel may be struggling, and lend an open ear to those who express a need for help.
  • Donate food, clothing, and money. While these sorts of donations address the result of poverty and not the source, they do a great deal to help struggling Calgarians on a day-to-day basis.
  • Open your mind to the reality that having a home in Calgary does not equal financial stability. Many Calgarians’ wages fail to counterbalance their expenses. And with Calgary’s rent costs continuing to be unfeasible for many families, high rent and mortgages continue to be the only option.