Dozens of business owners and managers met with Nelson @ Its Best this week for a conversation on what they could do to alleviate poverty in Nelson. The project was launched last fall with aims to help residents, businesses and community leaders develop a long term strategy to reduce poverty.
Program facilitator Diana Daghofer, working alongside Helen Lutz, said the business community is “critical to our success.”
According to project committee member Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, “Poverty affects everyone’s health and well-being and when people don’t have enough for the basics in life, community life and business life suffer too.”
While several people at the meeting had familiar stories of routinely finding people sleeping in their shop alcoves, stairwells and back steps, the meeting was an education of sorts on the issue of poverty itself. Ranging from homelessness to the working poor, there was mention of potential resources and immediate actions, however small.
The group was asked what the community’s strengths are, what would a poverty-free community look like, and simply what can they do today.
Participants cited Nelson’s strengths as “tremendous” volunteerism, a “huge range of solution orientated talent,” and Nelson Hydro.
While they didn’t come up with a solid action plan, many suggestions came through sharing personal experiences like one employer offering their employees a place to live. They shared well-received gestures, like walking through town handing out basic hygiene packages, which were appreciated by those who needed them and graciously declined by those who did not.
There was a suggestion to speak with other businesses, friends and family on the issue of poverty — “To be mindful of those within our sphere of influence,” said one woman — and to engage with local “strangers,” or people they regularly see who may be in need of assistance.
Michael Hoher, economics initiatives manager for Columbia Basin Trust suggested most Canadians are three paycheques away from homelessness and reminded people of the importance of reconnecting with people. “It’s not a stranger,” he said.
One manager voiced her desire for a resource directory to point people in the right direction to meet some of their most basic needs like fresh drinking water, restrooms and bathing.
There was a collective agreement to encourage uptake for existing services and a reminder to review existing fundraising efforts to see if the money would be more useful elsewhere.
Thomson said there are “tremendous subsidized housing and wage subsidy programs. We have lots of services but need to let people know what they are.”
There was discussion of the value of a centralized service or single access point where people can meet face-to-face with a skilled professional who can refer them to appropriate services.
The importance of working together to increase business vitality was emphasized as was the value of shopping locally versus online. “I would love to pay my employees more but it’s not like I’m rolling in the dough,” said one businesswoman.
This was only one of several conversations taking place around Nelson. A summit is planned for May 21 at the Central School gym with an open house from 3 to 5 p.m., and a discussion to follow in the evening. For more information, visit bestnelson.org or call 250-352-6011.