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, 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 non-profit Regina Low-Income Housing Corp. He spoke widely on the realities of day-to-day life in the downtown area. Bob would take people for groceries if they needed this, or ensure they had money for gas.
Bonnie Morton worked as an Anti-Poverty Minister/Advocate for the ministry since 1987 helping low-income residents and families get back on their feet, as well as doing public advocacy. When Bonnie 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. Then the program evolved with the support of a grant from PLURA (Presbyterian, Lutheran, United, Roman Catholic and Anglican). The Downtown Chaplaincy moved from a charitable focus to one of social justice. Bob Gay retired in the mid-1996.
In 1996 Peter Gilmer joined the newly designated Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry (RAPM). Since 1996 Peter Gilmer and Bonnie Morton have been RAPM’s permanent employees. They advocated 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,” explains Morton.
Since 1997, RAPM has identified key anti-poverty proposals through extensive consultations 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.”
For her work at the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry Bonnie Morton has received much recognition over the years. This includes 1991 Keith Couse Award, 1999 YWCA Woman of Distinction, 2001 Helen Prize Winner, 2005 Saskatchewan Centennial Medal Recipient, and 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. During this time Bonnie participated in national discussions on anti-poverty. She has served in various roles with the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues and with Canada Without Poverty. In addition, Bonnie has been part of a national Community Ministers group of the UCC. In the spring of 2020, 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.
When the RAMP constitution changed in 1996 the composition of the board changed. The ministry was started with funds from a number of downtown Christian churches, and they served on the board of the Downtown Chaplaincy. When funding declined from the downtown churches, Regina Presbytery of the United Church began support of the ministry and secured funding from the Mission and Service Fund. The board is now comprised of United Church members, ecumenical partners, volunteers and representatives of community organizations. The goal is for one third of the board having present lived experience of poverty.
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. After 34 years of working to better connect people experiencing poverty with the services they need, Bonnie retired in December 2021. A new advocate, Colleen Taylor, joined RAPM in December 2021.
“The fight is long from over, and we’re going to continue to fight it,” observes Peter Gilmer.