A new community group in Trail is bringing awareness to an issue most people would rather just overlook.
The Trail “Poor No More” committee, formed in February, is looking to educate residents on poverty in their community and ultimately reduce that statistic, said member and WINS Transition House employee Ann Godderis.
“There is certainly a lack of awareness and understanding as to the levels of poverty (here) and the difficulties for people living on low-incomes, including people who work,” she said.
“We want to break the silence so we can begin to talk about what we can do to make this a community that’s more inclusive of everyone.”
The committee endorses the BC Poverty Reduction Plan, a coalition of different organizations, businesses and groups throughout the province aimed at getting the provincial government to adopt a strategic and comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines.
On June 15, Statistics Canada revealed that B.C. has both the highest overall poverty and child poverty levels in the country, for the past 11 and eight years in a row respectively. It is also one of the few remaining provinces without a clear poverty reduction plan.
“Food banks and soup kitchens are a reality in just about every community in B.C. and they don’t have to be — we’re a pretty wealthy province, we have lots of resources and there are steps we can take that other provinces are taking to reduce and eliminate poverty,” Reverend Keith Simmonds stated. He is a committee member and pastor at Trail’s United Church.
The group is encouraging local businesses and organizations to sign-on and endorse the plan, like Trail FAIR.
According to executive director Gail Lavery, the non-profit society works with a lot of people who are struggling to survive and raise families under the poverty line, which was why they decided to endorse the plan.
“We know the principles behind it and we know it’s not the one and only thing that’s going to solve the issues that families have and the issue of poverty but it’s consistent with our approach to community and people,” she said, stating that an underlying issue for many of the people they assist is poverty.
Poverty doesn’t always mean homelessness and begging on the street —it encompasses a wide range of people and incomes, Simmonds explained. He pointed out the diversity of those who attend the weekly food banks and monthly dinners.
The food bank serves around 60 people each week, and the monthly dinners see upwards of 40 people each time. Attendees range in age and social situations.
The church sometimes puts out a survey at those events, asking about financial and housing situations.
“They tell us that some people sleep outside, some people sleep under the bridge, some people find someone they can share a room with, some people just move from couch to couch and some people have to trade sexual favors for housing — because it’s either that or freeze outside,” he said.
“All those things are going on in Trail, they’re all poverty related and they’re situations we wouldn’t go into unless our income situations was such that it meant we had to.”
There really aren’t a lot of local support systems in place, said Godderis, and most action would have to happen at the provincial level, looking at things like income support and policy changes.
But things like local attainable housing play a vital role in poverty reduction, said Matt Thomson, the consultant working on the attainable housing study in the local region for the Lower Columbia Community Development Team.
He summed up the situation by saying that the housing-first model allows those in need to basically stabilize themselves so they can focus on turning their lives around and get out of the vicious circle. A formal strategic plan is to be presented to local communities by the end of October.
While Poor No More supports initiatives like the above study, the food banks and dinners, their main focus remains education.
“We’re hoping to break the silence on poverty because it’s an issue that nobody really wants to talk about, the difficult stuff happening in the community and while I don’t think poverty is Trail is higher than in any other community it’s still a big issue.”
For more information on the BC Poverty Reduction Plan, visit www.bcpovertyreduction.ca.