Understand poverty to combat it

Thanks to Times reporter Jim Bailey for his thoughtful commentary on the need to link the downtown revitalization plan to the current social and economic situation in the Trail area (Jan. 18 column, Social Ills Tied To Downtown’s Problems).

Thanks to Times reporter Jim Bailey for his thoughtful commentary on the need to link the downtown revitalization plan to the current social and economic situation in the Trail area (Jan. 18 column, Social Ills Tied To Downtown’s Problems).

Clearly, more and more families are struggling to “pay the rent and feed the kids.” Cutbacks in everything from the creation of affordable housing to basic income security mean that our once strong social safety net has had huge holes torn in it, especially in the last 10 years. 

According to a 2009 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives between 1976 and 2006, real earnings (before taxes and transfers) decreased for the bottom 60 per cent of B.C. families with children — the worst performance in Canada along with Newfoundland.

The poorest 10 per cent (or decile) were hit hardest, with earnings falling by 74 per cent. However, even the sixth decile saw their annual earnings fall from $70,000 on average in 1976 to $65,000 in 2006.

After-tax income also dropped for the bottom 60 per cent of B.C. families, unlike in any other province, where stronger tax and transfer systems helped compensate for the loss in earnings.

The income gap has widened to the point that the top 10 per cent of B.C. families now earn more than the entire bottom half of families.

These statistics indicate that that both the federal and provincial governments have a big job to do to address growing poverty and consequent social ills in this country. Some provinces have adopted legislated poverty reduction plans which have, in the case of Newfoundland, recently meant huge reductions in poverty levels, leaving B.C. sitting all by itself with the worst record of all.

Although we can keep pressuring those levels of government to “do something” – kudos, for example to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for encouraging the B.C. government to adopt a poverty reduction plan for B.C. – there’s also a lot we can do at the local level to improve the situation for low-income people and for particular groups in our community such as families with young children, youth or seniors who have specific concerns.

 For those who are interested in positive, creative social revitalization, I’d suggest having a look at the approach taken by the City of Revelstoke which has recently hired a trained and highly skilled “social development coordinator.”

Her job is to work with the city council, a social development committee and community members to measure and assess the wellbeing of her community, to define the gaps and to assist local groups and government to take coordinated positive action.

I encourage readers to check out the excellent website at http://www.revelstokesocialdevelopment.org On the website, you can see the various groups with whom she works and an outline of some of what she has already accomplished. It is quite amazing!

Some of the high priority areas where she provides support and coordination include helping to develop and implement a substance use strategy, working on various initiatives to support seniors, recommending ways to make the public transportation system more effective and developing plans to increase youth services.

Many of us who work and/or live in the Trail area know all too well about particular social issues and problems and we know “something” needs to change. But it all feels very overwhelming because there’s no overall community plan, our efforts are not coordinated, we each can do only so much through our work and our volunteer time is limited

What a difference it would make if there were someone with the necessary training, skills and experience who was paid to do the background work, make sure social issues were incorporated into a community development action plan, and, even more important, provide coordination in the area of social development,

I think “miracles” could happen and together we could make a huge difference in the lives of individuals and families and development as a whole in the Trail area.

Imagine, for example, what we could do if we had someone whose job it was to help us develop an affordable housing strategy for low income families and individuals!

To help in the process of understanding the social needs in the Greater Trail area, I’d encourage readers to circle Wednesday evening, Feb. 23, on their calendars. That night, in the Trail United Church Hall starting at 7 p.m., a number of local groups are co-sponsoring an excellent free film, “Poor No More.” This resource looks at some of the reasons for the increasing numbers of low-income working families in Canada and provides some ideas for change. 

Following the film there will be a lively and informative discussion about the current reality in the Trail area, what is already happening to help remedy the situation and what further actions are needed (such as a social development coordinator!).

Ann Godderis

Trail FAIR Centre Society