For fifty years there has been an office administered by a minister advocating with and for people living in poverty; reaching out to educate and create systemic change, located in the Knox-Metropolitan United Church in Regina.
In 1971 Bob Gay established what became known as the Downtown Chaplaincy working out of “Knox-Met” and financed by downtown United Church, Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist and Presbyterian churches. Bob became an advocate for social justice and old-fashioned help to the poor of the city’s downtown core. He pursued his work by sitting on the boards of groups like the city’s planning commission, the Regina branch of the Saskatchewan Association on Human Rights and the nonprofit Regina Low-Income Housing Corp. He spoke widely on the realities of day-to-day life in the downtown area. Bob Gay retired in the mid-1996.
Bonnie Morton has worked as an Anti-Poverty Minister/Advocate for the ministry since 1987 to help low-income residents and families get back on their feet, as well as public advocacy. Bonnie is currently the Chairperson of the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues, the Chair of the Equality Advisory Committee of the Court Challenges Program, and sits on the Board of the Court Challenges Program. When Bonnie Morton started at the ministry, a pilot project assessed how to best serve its clients. Until that point, much of the chaplaincy’s work was in community support, with a minor focus on social justice. Gay would take people for groceries if they needed, or ensure they had money for gas. Then the program evolved: The Downtown Chaplaincy moved from a charitable focus to one of social justice.
In 1996 Peter Gilmer joined the newly designated Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry (RAPM). Since 1997, RAPM has identified key anti-poverty proposals through extensive consultation with low-income people and community groups dealing with poverty issues. The following proposals arise time after time. They are adequate income security benefits, a living wage, quality and affordable housing and childcare, equity initiatives and fair taxation. “It’s not just low-income people or lower-middle-income people that benefit when there’s higher levels of equality,” added Gilmer. “Even the highest-income people in society … their health, happiness and quality of life appears to be better in societies where you have a narrower gap.”
Since 1996 Peter Gilmer and Bonnie Morton have been RAPM’s sole employees. They are advocates for low-income individuals and families. The majority of their cases relate to people who have been denied income security or social assistance, and those who can’t cover their rent and utilities. Some of their clients have special needs and disabilities. In its decades of advocacy work, one thing has remained constant: From the very beginning, RAPM’s goal was to amplify the voices of people in need. “We need to be there to help them speak for themselves, and if they can’t do that, we need to be that voice,” said Morton.
Over the past decade RAPM has been funded more and more by individuals and less by the churches. 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry which continues to work out of offices at Knox-Met United Church. This spring Dr. Bonnie Morton and Dr. Peter Gilmer were recipients of Honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from St Andrew’s College in Saskatoon. The degrees honour their decades of skilled, informed, and passionate advocacy alongside people living in poverty.
“The fight is long from over, and we’re going to continue to fight it,” observes Peter Gilmer.