Jill Zacharias

Jill Zacharias

Columbia Basin communities tackle poverty reduction

Columbia Basin Poverty Reduction group presented poverty reduction initiatives.

Four members of the Columbia Basin Poverty Reduction Working Group presented their poverty reduction initiatives at the Association of Kootenay & Boundary Local Governments Convention last Thursday.

Nadine Reynolds, researcher at Selkirk College’s Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute (RDI), began the talk with an introduction to community-based poverty reduction and then shared poverty-related data from the RDI’s 2016 State of the Basin Snapshot Report.

“One of the more telling indicators that is often used in measuring poverty is the low-income measure, and this is a relative measure that essentially tells us the percentage of people living below the poverty line,” she explained. “So in our region, we know 10 communities, and these are all in the West Kootenay, have above provincial average percentage, which 16 per cent, of people living below the poverty line, and this pretty much hasn’t changed over the last five years.

One of the people trying to change that statistic is Jan Morton, executive director of the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre.

The Skills Centre has been working on a plan for economic security for women thanks to funding from Status of Women Canada, “and in many ways, this becomes a poverty-reduction process for the whole community.”

Last year it also undertook an applied research project to examine and document the level of poverty in the Lower Columbia, and is currently engaging in a poverty reduction planning process.

Morton also spoke on behalf of Kerri Wall from Interior Health and the Cranbrook Social Planning Society’s Cranbrook Poverty Reduction Committee.

“With the help of Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Initiatives Grant, Cranbrook Poverty Reduction Committee was able to hire a consultant in the fall of 2016 to conduct local research and write a report, again supported by RDI,” Morton read. “This report will be released shortly and it brings together Cranbrook-specific statistics about cost of living, food and security, childcare and more, along with a wide variety of local perspectives on causes of poverty and ways to alleviate it.”

Nelson is also looking at ways to alleviate poverty.

Valerie Warmington is a Nelson city councillor and manager of Nelson at Its Best, “a coalition of 12 community members from diverse sectors who’ve come together because of concern over indicators of rising poverty in Nelson.”

“Some of those indicators are a continued lack of availability of housing and a rising core housing need amongst many in our community, and also an eight per cent increase in food bank usage, just in the last year alone, among other indicators,” Warmington said.

The City of Revelstoke, though not a member of the AKBLG, is a member of the Columbia Basin Poverty Reduction Working Group and the city has completed its own poverty reduction plan.

“We did the strategy for a number of reasons,” explained Jill Zacharias, social development coordinator for the City of Revelstoke. “As you know, Revelstoke is a resort municipality. Our community has been going through really big changes. We heard rumours of people leaving town because they couldn’t afford to live there. We needed to find out what was real and what wasn’t.”

The project aimed to find out what was going on the community, raise awareness and figure out what the city could do.

Cost of food and cost of housing were both identified as challenges facing the community.

Speaking to the representatives of local government and regional district electoral areas at the AKBLG convention, Zacharias said, “Local government has an important role to play by providing leadership, building partnerships, taking the lead on strategic planning and setting innovative policies and bylaws.”

“And for things like affordable housing, setting in place a consistent and innovative regulatory environment that will maintain existing and promote the development of new rental housing stock, including both market and non-market housing.”