KAMLOOPS — According to a report released by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition in January of this year, 13.2 percent of British Columbians were living in poverty. It’s a staggering number when you consider BC’s reputation as a rich province. Yesterday, the new NDP government announced a 100 dollar per month increase in both income assistance and disability, as a first step to implementing a legislated Poverty Reduction Plan for the province. Today, CFJC Today spoke with some local organisations who are on the front line of the battle against poverty, so to find out what next steps the hope to see from the newly minted provincial government.
It was welcome news for British Columbians living on income assistance or disability: a $100 a month increase in the rates they receive, announced yesterday by the new NDP Provincial government. It was the first time in a decade those rates had gone up.
“It’s neat to see that people with addiction, barriers, diversity have been a priority with this government already, as this is one of the first announcements to come up,” Jason Hewlett of the Open Door Group says.
“It is an impossibility for us to address homelessness in this community when we have people living on $610 a month and trying to find housing in this kind of market,” Bob Hughes, Executive Director of ASK Wellness explained, adding “I think [the increase] is the first tangible evidence that these guys mean business.”
For many local organisations on the front lines of the battle against poverty, this move was a welcome first step in trying to improve conditions for those in our society living below the poverty threshold. As Danalee Baker, Executive Director of the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo United Way explains, housing is one of the major expenses that can create a barrier to those living in poverty.
“If I had my wishlist to put forward, number one would be affordable housing,” Baker explained. “You know, getting some real capital dollars. I know a lot of work has already been done, but putting more capital dollars into getting those builds happening.”
And while housing is an important piece of the poverty puzzle, making other services more accessible could help alleviate the pressures of living in poverty.
According to Louise Richards, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society in Kamloops, her organisation hosts a monthly meeting called ‘Changing the Face of Poverty’ to look at those other factors.
“Child care, employment and transportation,” Richards says. “Those were the big things that [the group] saw, as barriers to people moving out of poverty.”
The NDP government has said they plan to implement poverty reduction legislation, a process which will take several months even to get started. While stakeholders believe this a solid step in improving the lives of many British Columbians, the solution to poverty is much like the cause - complicated, and multi-faceted.
“Whether we come at from jobs and economic development… or if we do it through more supports and services, that area, I think in the end the citizens are all going to benefit,” Baker says.
Bob Hughes says he’d like to see the private sector consulted.
“I really hope that whatever strategy they take on addressing poverty issues is our province is that they bring in the business community,” Hughes says. “They bring in some sceptics when it comes to tackling poverty, so they don’t have just guys like me in this industry, running the programming.”
The stakeholders are all hopeful having a concrete poverty reduction plan in place will make a difference.
“To legislate it, with targets would be a huge step,” Loused Richards says. “It would address concerns about if they are actually going to do anything.”
“Anytime something becomes more concrete, that helps make it a little more real, which means;s it;s one step closer to helping somebody.”
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