The Alberta Government, in collaboration with local groups across the province like Chestermere Community Services and Formative 5, have been working on Alberta’s Poverty Reduction Strategy which is a part of the Together We Raise Tomorrow initiative.
In an effort to better understand what poverty looks like in Chestermere, Community Services along with Formative 5 held a public discussion on poverty within our community on October 29, 2003 at the Town Hall. More than two dozen people from various parts of the community came together to take part in the discussion.
The goal of the government and these groups is to prevent, and eventually eliminate poverty in Alberta by developing a strategy that addresses the elimination of child poverty in Alberta within five years and the reduction of overall poverty within our province in 10 years. Through online engagement, surveys and community conversations a strategy will be drafted and once it has received cabinet approval, the Poverty Reduction Strategy will eventually be launched.
In order to be able to address this very real issue within our community, first we must understand the definition of poverty. The working definition according to the Alberta government is “The inclusion or lack of resources, resiliency, capabilities, and choices necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of life”. This definition moves beyond income to include concepts of quality of life, social inclusion, access to supports and services, and ability to accumulate and maintain assets.
According to the Alberta Government, while the rate of child poverty has decreased since 2009, it still remains particularly prevalent among young children and children in Aboriginal, immigrant, and lone-parent families. We know that it is important that discussions like the one held in Chestermere last week are so important because child poverty has long-term developmental, social, and economic consequences for individuals, their families and the province. The effects of child poverty lasts well into adulthood.
Although there are no official stats on poverty in Chestermere, I was surprised to learn that poverty, and even homelessness is very real in our cozy little town. Perhaps it is because there is a perception that Chestermere is affluent combined with the fact that poverty can be quite hidden behind the façade of large houses and smiling faces, it is simply not easily visible and therefore overlooked.
I did not expect to hear that the fact is, currently within Chestermere there are a handful of homeless individuals and families who have lost their homes or may be living in their vehicles. In addition to that, there are dozens of families on the verge of homelessness, teetering on the edge of calamity.
During the community discussion, the question was asked: what does poverty in Chestermere look like. Ultimately, the answer is that it cannot always be seen from the street, poverty is seen in the child that regularly attends school without a lunch or snack, it is seen in the empty pantries of the big houses, it is seen in the bare living rooms and bedrooms of families who cannot buy furniture because they are struggling to make mortgage payments possibly due to sickness, relationship breakdowns and other misfortunes.
Although this is certainly a complex and fragile issue, incredible ideas were being shared during the discussions as solutions to this problem. Part of the answer may be to offer financial literacy and debt reduction courses, not only for adults but for children as well. Perhaps a community job posting site at the town hall, rec centre or through the newspaper would offer more options and opportunities to those seeking work; the idea of developing a residents association where resources and partnerships can be shared. Even the simple and age-old idea of bartering goods and services between neighbours and community members was brought up; for example, trading plumbing services for food, haircuts, dental or other essential services.
All in all, behind every idea or statement made from the group of individuals who attended this public discussion, was the basic idea of community and helping one another. I heard words like “together”, “engaged”, “education” and “connection”.
What this means to me is that together, by connecting with our neighbours and engaging our community we can become educated on the needs of each other and inspire one another to continue to become more loving, caring and committed members of our society. By building relationships, we build trust. In Alberta and certainly Chestermere, everyone contributes to making our community (our home) inclusive and welcoming. Everyone has opportunities to fulfill their potential and to benefit from our thriving social, economic and cultural life.
How well do you know your neighbour? Is there food in their pantry? Does your child sit beside someone in school who is hungry? Christmas is coming, the season of giving. Let’s give of ourselves and find out more about the people who make up this wonderful town. Chances are if you open your arms and your heart a little wider, you will find someone in need and they might be closer than you think.