In the year 2000 I attended the special millennium meeting for the Canadian Pediatric Society in Ottawa. The conference venue was chosen to deliver the society’s message in our nation’s political arena. The message was to end child poverty by 2015 across Canada. We are less than 18 months from that date. Were the best intentions of the government and interest groups like the Canadian Pediatric Society enough?
Are we doing enough federally and provincially?
Annual poverty rates fluctuate with economic cycles so small changes in the poverty rate cannot always be interpreted as real change.
The rate of child poverty was 11.9 per cent in 1989 and 9.5 per cent in 2009. In 2009, following the recession of 2008, 639,000 children still lived in poverty. Two provinces, Newfoundland/Labrador and Québec, implemented very successful child poverty reduction strategies from 2000-09 with a resulting drop in rates from 17.9 to 9.3 per cent and 16.1 to 7.7 per cent respectively. These gains notwithstanding, rates for First Nations remain abominable.
Are we doing enough?
Income is the key determinant of a person’s health. Low income and poverty remain persistent and widespread across Canada. Homelessness is very intertwined, although not exclusively the result of poverty as the Nelson Committee on Homelessness explains so clearly. “People’s ability to find and afford good quality housing is crucial to their overall health and well-being and an indicator of a country’s social infrastructure” (Wellesley Institute August 2011).
Are we doing enough locally?
I am a physician and so I work under the medical model of health. It is a model which focuses on immediate physical and mental health problems and does not always address the root causes of poor health, which are often poverty and homelessness.
I do my best where I can but often feel helpless to change the life of a child. I personally have seen children living in squalor with no heat, running water or food in their home. I have seen children covered in bed bug bites, anemic from the infestation in their bed.
This, right here in beautiful BC. At times there seems little to do other than find a way for families to pay for medication or get support for medical supplies.
Thank you to the committee for drawing my attention to the many faces of homelessness. Frankly, I hadn’t really thought about “tenuous” or “precarious” housing as a face of homelessness. This was enlightening for me.
Are we doing enough locally? I think Nelson is a community rich in support. Groups such as the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, Our Daily Bread, and the Women’s Centre, are working on the ground and we can see real action right here at home.
Are we doing enough personally?
We as a nation so often cry for government attention and solutions to socioeconomic problems. Despite the best intentions of our leaders, interested lobby groups and individuals, the solution seems to evade us as a society. It seems a problem without solution. When I see problems of this magnitude, I can only look closer to home for the solutions.
What can we do?
• Keep children and youth, poverty and homelessness high on the political and public agenda. Pay a visit to your MP or local politician.
• Remember the effect of a teacher, a neighbour, a grandparent on the life of a child. “It takes a community.”
• Get involved in some of the groups listed in the Nelson Committee on Homelessness brochure.
• Donate time, money or food to food banks. Help with food initiatives.
• Develop a low income suite in your house or rental property.
• Respect and do not judge your neighbours. We all have a story.
Dr. Carrie Fitzsimons lends her voice and presence to Homelessness Action Week 2013 as honourary chair. Dr. Fitzsimons was trained at McGill in pediatrics and works as consultant pediatrician (ages birth to 18) at Kootenay Lake Hospital. She has lived and worked in Nelson since 1996. She loves this community and is passionate about her work with local children and youth.