When Kootenay residents arrived at anti-poverty summit Nelson at its Best at Central School on Thursday afternoon, they were each given $100 in Monopoly money and invited to invest it wherever they felt it was most direly needed. A series of ballot boxes were set up to tally the results.
“The number one issue identified was housing, which received 25 per cent of the votes,” said project coordinator Helen Lutz. “Twenty per cent went to mental health, and that didn’t come as a surprise to us. We were expecting to hear that feedback, but I think it woke everybody up.”
And though police-backed program Car 87 wasn’t mentioned specifically, many of those present expressed their desire for an outreach worker who can liaise with the most vulnerable members of the community.
“Car 87 might very well be something this committee recommends in the future,” said Lutz, noting that existing community services and programs could be better coordinated.
Over 300 people attended the multi-hour event, which included a number of activities and a group discussion.
Diana Daghofer said these sorts of summits are badly needed in BC, as it’s currently the only province without an anti-poverty and economic inclusion act.
And though Nelson may be a “forerunner” on social issues, as Mayor Deb Kozak put it, it’s still way behind the rest of the country when it comes to addressing poverty.
“BC is way behind the eight-ball on this,” said Daghofer Every province in Canada has a poverty reduction plan, and it’s working well. Nelson might be a leader in BC, because it’s one of a handful of communities approaching this at a city level, but as leaders of poverty-reduction, BC is dead last.”
Daghofer said she was surprised to learn how many attendees didn’t realize that BC has had the highest poverty and child poverty rates in Canada for over a decade.
“They all asked ‘why are we not doing this?’ I have to echo this question, because we know from looking at provinces that have strategies that they’re moving ahead well, especially when it’s legislated into law rather than being up to the whim of the government.”
This is an issue Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall is passionate about.
During the summit she shared her experiences campaigning to end the child support clawback, which she described as the BC government creating a revenue stream out of struggling single mothers.
“The government took $13 million out of the hands of some of BC’s poorest kids, roughly 6,000 of them. Ninety per cent of those impacted were single mothers. Here’s an example of how a bad policy absolutely contributed to poverty.”
She encouraged those present to advocate for themselves, praising the “rabble-rouser” nature of Kootenay residents.
Mungall hopes the clawback example will encourage others to lobby the government to tackle issues like housing, mental health and poverty.
“I hope you’re inspired by what a small group of people can do to make life better for themselves.”
Lutz and Daghofer said they were pleased with the result of the evening, and received extensive feedback they’re planning to share with the community. On Monday they were in Vancouver presenting their process to the national Canadian Public Health Association.
“It further cemented to us that we’re on the right track, and we need to keep working,” said Lutz.