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COLUMN: There's only one way to solve B.C. child poverty: together

The 2011 Child Poverty Report Card was released recently and the information was, once again, sobering. According to the report, B.C.'s child poverty rate rose from 14.5% to 15.4% in 2009.

The 2011 Child Poverty Report Card was released recently and the information was, once again, sobering. According to the report, B.C.'s child poverty rate rose from 14.5% to 15.4% in 2009. Our provincial child poverty rate is the second highest in Canada; only Manitoba, with a rate of 16.8%, performed worse.

This is not the type of distinction that we should be proud of, and we're not. But we have struggled with this challenge for many years.

As an organization that has been dealing with issues related to poverty for the last 40 years, Share is keenly aware of the many faces of poverty that we have seen in the children and families we serve. There is no one "group" or "type of person" that personifies poverty, just as there is no single "cause."

The issues surrounding poverty are complex; as a result, there is no single solution that we can embrace. If there were, we would have embraced it already.

Stories about poverty - especially child poverty - often lead to polarized responses that are either politically motivated or based on stereotypes. This is a topic we are not always comfortable discussing or acknowledging.

If we are serious about addressing the problem, then we all need to resist the urge to blame those people with whom we do not agree because of their political affiliation, country of origin, religious beliefs or other issues that focus on how they are different from us. We need to find a way to find common ground rather than focusing energy and attention on what makes us different.

Most importantly, we need to stop blaming the poor for being poor. I don't know of many people who are happy about being poor.

Some would have us believe that the issue of child poverty is something the government could fix if it simply put the necessary financial resources in place so people could live above the poverty line.

There is no doubt that all levels of government need to play a role if we are to successfully eradicate child poverty in British Columbia. If we are serious about dealing with this issue, though, we need to focus on it at the local and regional levels. The effects of child poverty are seen, heard and felt in our neighbourhoods, on our streets, in our schools and in our workplaces.

If we demonstrate that we are serious about dealing with child poverty at the local level, if we can show commitment publicly - and when no one is looking - then we will bring senior levels of government with us. We can choose to act, to lead or we can wait for "someone" to deal with the problem.

Share remains extremely grateful for the gifts of food and funds we receive from caring individuals, businesses and organizations from across the Tri-Cities and for the thousands of hours of volunteer support that help us gather and distribute food to the vulnerable children and families we serve.

While we are proud to serve those who need our help, we would like to begin building a Tri-Cities community that no longer requires our food banks. We cannot do this work alone. This is heavy lifting that will require ingenuity, planning, financial resources, persuasion, relentless focus, passion and commitment.

We are inviting leaders from our business community, from all levels of government, from organized labour, from all walks of life to work with us to uproot child poverty in the Tri-Cities.

We want to solve the problem, not manage the symptoms. We want to have a respectful dialogue that looks at solutions from all sources and angles, including different political viewpoints.

Early in the new year, we will be announcing an initiative to help bring us together to start solving the issue of child poverty. If you are interested in hearing more or becoming involved in developing solutions, then please send me a note (email address is below) with your name, phone number and email address and I will contact you in January.

In the meantime, please consider making a positive difference in the lives of poor children and families in the Tri-Cities. Whether you decide to volunteer, make a donation to a local charity or simply welcome those newcomers to your neighbourhood, acts of kindness and welcoming have a magical way of transforming children, families, neighbourhoods and communities.

Let's act. Let's lead. Let's solve this problem - together.

Martin Wyant is CEO of Share Family and Community Services.

[email protected]