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Ending poverty strategy outlined at City of Powell River meeting

"We’ve seen across this country that communities that come together with every sector in the room is the way we are going to be able to get through this very challenging and difficult work." ~ Stuart Clark, executive director of Lift Community Services
EXTENSIVE STUDY: City of Powell River councillors were provided an overview of the region’s ending poverty strategy final report at a recent committee of the whole meeting.

City of Powell River councillors were given a primer on poverty, with a presentation outlining the qathet ending poverty strategy final report 2021.

At the November 2 committee of the whole meeting, Meriko Kubota, regional social planner, said money was received from Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to create a poverty reduction strategy in the qathet region.

Tara Chernoff, vice-president, community and marketing at First Credit Union, said the credit union was involved in the project because part of its imperative is to build financially healthy communities.

“Being a community-owned financial institution, we have a vested interest in the economic health of our community,” said Chernoff. “We understand poverty is an incredibly complex problem, but we do believe that by working together and across all sectors, we can overcome this challenge that we face as a community.

“I’m so proud to be part of this work with this team and the community. I believe we are creating a more resilient qathet region and ultimately a place for everyone to thrive.”

Stuart Clark, executive director of Lift Community Services, said this is the right moment for there to be focus on poverty reduction and ending poverty.

He said senior governments have developed strategies and plans to direct communities and civic governments to look at poverty and start planning at a local level.

“We’re happy to be part of a wider network,” said Clark. “We have heeded the lessons from other communities. It’s hard, but we can do it together. We’ve seen across this country that communities that come together with every sector in the room is the way we are going to be able to get through this very challenging and difficult work. There’s no real straight line for this.”

Christien Kaaij, from Alofii Consultancy, who did the consulting work for the project, said the theme was to develop a poverty reduction strategy with the ultimate aim of ending poverty, which will be “very difficult.” She said there was a big group of community representation which guided the process of formulating the strategy.

Kaaij said there was community consultation through a survey to collect data and focus group meetings with specific groups of people who were identified, such as first nations, seniors, single families, general low income and the working poor.

“As many of you know, our community is poor and older,” said Kaaij. “The median income in the qathet region in 2018 was $28,000, compared to $36,000 for people in BC. They are also significantly older, with 27 per cent being seniors in 2016. It has increased, but we don’t have the latest numbers. This is compared to 18 per cent in BC.

“The median age in the qathet region is 53.3, compared to 42.2 in BC.”

Kaaij said poverty rates here are way higher. She said close to 25 per cent of children are now living in poverty and in the general population, it is close to 18 per cent, compared to 12 per cent in the province.

“If you extrapolate the numbers to our entire region, we can say for certain that 3,500 people are living in poverty,” said Kaaij.

She said the whole advisory committee went through a visioning exercise to imagine a community without poverty to determine processes that need to be taken to get there. She said several pathways were identified, including transportation, housing, child care, bylaws, food security and education.

Kaaij said targets were also identified to measure the progress made toward ending poverty in the region. She said one significant target was to make sure those who are not thriving will be reduced by 50 per cent by 2030, and the ultimate target is to end poverty.

“There are many actionable items for improving the quality of life and also closing that gap,” said Kaaij. “These include improving access to food, improved incomes, and also, increasing public awareness, plus better access to services and support. There is a whole list of recommendations, building on what is already there, that we have put into the report.”

Councillors comment on strategy

Councillor Maggie Hathaway said she was part of the committee, and it was an excellent process, with lots of opportunity for input from a variety of people.

Councillor Rob Southcott said he hoped that with the completed strategy, efforts will be made to secure targeted funding from senior governments.

“I’m glad we have this tool to do that,” said Southcott.

Councillor Cindy Elliott said she was a member of the group working on the strategy and appreciates the report.

“The numbers for poverty in Powell River in relation to the rest of the province look terrible,” said Elliott. “People are hurting in our community. The recent increase in housing costs haven’t helped this situation at all. I’m in favour of moving this forward and getting it adopted by the city so we can get funding to work on the actions that are required to lower poverty in our community.”

Mayor Dave Formosa said he would like to see a committee formed around this by the next city government after next year’s election, and to use the report as the guide, because there are a lot of recommendations and strategies in the report.

“This is a work in progress,” said Formosa. “They could use this document toward making poverty eliminated or eradicated.”

Hathaway said the social action planning advisory committee is actually in place, made up of governments from the city, Tla’amin Nation and qathet Regional District.

“This will, in some way, be returned to that committee to move everything forward in some way,” said Hathaway.

Committee chair councillor George Doubt said he thinks the strategy is an incredibly ambitious plan with a great and laudable target to reduce poverty.

“If we get anywhere close to achieving that, it will be a great thing,” said Doubt.

The committee gave consent to send the ending poverty strategy final report to city council for information, that council direct staff to publish the report on the city website, and to move the final report to the November 18 council meeting in order to meet a grant deadline.