Share tackles child poverty in Tri-Cities
The Tri-Cities' largest social service agency wants to tackle the issue of child poverty one project at a time and is looking to the community for guidance.
Share Family and Community Services has launched a 25-point online survey and is asking people to identify their top five priorities with the goal of getting community support for a few of them.
"We want to figure out the issues and start working on them," said Martin Wyant, the CEO for the agency that runs social housing, coordinates the local food banks, including Christmas hampers, and the toy shop for needy families, as well as many other local services.
He said Share has adopted this "roll up your sleeves" approach because other agencies are already tackling policy issues around child poverty and he doesn't want to see the problem politicized or mired in the "blame game."
"We're a pretty divided part of the world when it comes to politics. I just don't think that's a constructive approach, the issues we are seeing are playing out locally and children and families are affected," he said.
Pointing to a 59% per jump in food bank use in since 2007 (see sidebar below), Wyant says something is going on beneath the surface in the relatively affluent region.
He suspects the high cost of housing is partly to blame for the difficulties some families face, and the fact that the majority of jobs are in the retail and service sector which are relatively low paying compared to manufacturing blue-collar jobs.
"It's a struggle (for some,)" he said, "It's not blaming anybody, it's right in front of us and we've got to acknowledge it."
The survey available here lists 25 areas that could be addressed to reduce child poverty. Wyant said the list was compiled from suggestions made at a forum held at Douglas College last spring, which was attended by 80 people from all walks of life, including people experiencing poverty and representatives from social service agencies and business.
The topics range from making transit free or low-cost for people who need it to providing after school supports and school breakfast and lunch programs for children, to rent banks and programs to boost the economy and encourage businesses to mentor youth.
COMMUNITY PLAN NEEDED
At the same time Share is looking to reduce child poverty in the Tri-Cities, a group of business leaders, social service agencies, educators and health representatives is embarking on a larger community action project to identify needs and gaps, conduct public forums and set priorities for the region.
Richard Rainey, Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce past president, said economic and demographic data collected for the region over the summer shows there are challenges as well as opportunities to improving the quality of life in the region. With the Evergreen Line, and the future of Riverview and the waterfront under discussion, Rainey said it's an ideal time to make a Tri-City wide community plan.
One issue the data raised, he said, is the fact that the Tri-Cities is largely a bedroom community with 79% of workers commuting outside the region for jobs. "It doesn't have to be that way, we have everything we need to live and work here at our doors step," Rainey said, adding that he hopes the business community will take a leading role in developing the community plan.
POVERTY BY THE NUMBERS
1,675 - Number of Tri-City renter households who pay half their income in housing costs
Social assistants recipients
2006 - 3,723
2010 - 5,766
2006/2007 - 5,566 people served Total hampers 15,023
2010/2011 - 8,634 people served Total hampers 20,656
— source SPARC BC