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Anti-poverty group fuels regional funding debate

Friends of Powell River requests free youth access to recreation complex
poverty group
AMONG FRIENDS: Child poverty reduction group Friends of Powell River, which supports children from low-income families with new items of clothing and food at school, is branching out to provide passes for youth to use facilities at Powell River Recreation Complex. Friends' co-founder Melanie Jordan appeared before City of Powell River's committee of the whole recently to request support for the initiative. Chris Bolster photo

A child poverty reduction group working in Powell River schools has found itself caught in the middle of a local debate over regional funding for Powell River Recreation Complex.

Friends of Powell River directors Melanie Jordan and Lisanne English appeared before City of Powell River council’s committee of the whole on Tuesday, July 18, to ask the city to provide free complex passes for children and youth from low-income families.

At its meeting on Thursday, July 20, council approved a $750 grant-in-aid for Friends of Powell River to buy passes. Two days earlier, council suggested Jordan and English make a presentation to Powell River Regional District to help fund passes.

Providing free access to the facility has become an increasingly large issue for the city. Representatives from the city, regional district and Tla’amin Nation began meeting last month to talk about the future operation and funding for the recreation complex, which currently operates with an annual funding shortfall of approximately $2.4 million and is paid for by city taxpayers.

City councillor Russell Brewer said he met with Jordan and suggested she also bring her request for funding to the regional district’s general grants-in-aid, a fund contributed to by all regional taxpayers.

"If we can have the same kind of presentation at a regional district committee of the whole, that's important so everyone is aware of the issues," said Brewer. "It was a good presentation and it was impactful."

Jordan, who co-founded the registered non-profit, said one in five Powell River children and youth are in poverty. Powell River’s high child poverty level combined with increasingly expensive fees for use of city facilities have put up roadblocks for youth to access the recreation complex, she added.

“It’s frustrating that not more is being done to make sure our kids are in the complex,” said Jordan. “Friends of Powell River’s goal is to get all our kids access, but I'll start with just the kids who can't afford to go.”

Brewer said the lively discussion following Jordan’s presentation to the committee of the whole was partly due to council not being clear what she was asking for. 

“The discussion kind got off track there, but a set number of passes would be a pretty simple ask and I know everyone supports it,” said Brewer. “It's just a matter of how we put in place the funding or the mechanism to make it happen.”

Councillor Jim Palm said he thought Jordan’s child poverty estimate seemed high and suggested it is probably closer to between 60 and 100 students district-wide. Palm has been a longtime advocate for increasing the number of youth accessing the complex.

"It's unfortunate the regional recreation thing came into it,” said Palm. “That muddied the discussion.”

In February, city staff proposed an expansion to the city’s recreation access program that would increase the number of passes and also change the income-level criteria to make the program accessible to more people. At the time, council decided to hold off expanding the program until it can be brought into regional recreation discussions.

Palm said he appreciates Jordan advocating to open the complex up for youth. He said he is aware that the city’s current recreation access program, which provides 20 drop-in passes per year for people living on social assistance, does not always work for everyone and a percentage of the region’s youth are sidelined. 

"We're just trying to create another avenue so students who are in the most need are identified in the school system,” said Palm. “It's meant to give kids a once-a-week visit for recreation and hygiene.”

Jordan said she plans to bring her presentation to the regional district committee of the whole on August 17 in the hopes of having enough passes for the start of the new school year.

"The problems poverty causes can be solved," said Jordan. "A kid without clothes can get brand-new clothes. A kid without food can be fed. A kid without access to activities can get access. We can fix that stuff.”