Cities Taking Action in the Fight Against Poverty
Canadian cities are beginning to take the lead in the fight against poverty. Municipalities across Canada are working in partnership with communities and non-profit organizations to conduct research, identify neighbourhoods in need, find solutions and most of all, take action to reduce poverty. While only part of the solution, locally-based poverty reduction strategies are important because they take into account the unique needs of communities and identify micro-level changes that can make a big difference for people living in poverty. So where has there been progress?
Earlier this year, the city of Calgary announced the creation of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative, a joint project between the City and the United Way, that will work with poverty reduction experts and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan of action modeled on the city’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Calgary has already taken the lead on some smaller initiatives such as Low Income Transit Passes to individuals and families who meet certain eligibility criteria based on family size and income. The program provides savings of $54 per month ($648 per year), a significant amount for people who often have to decide between riding a bus and having something to eat. This initiative not only helps low income and severely handicapped persons but the community as a whole. By providing adequate transportation at a lower cost, the city of Calgary is helping more people get to work, reducing employee turnover, generating more tax revenue, and lowering government spending on social assistance.1
In 2005, Hamilton formed the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction in order to address the city’s high levels of poverty. Funding for this initiative was provided by the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton Community Foundation and private sector members. The Roundtable is a collaborative and problem-solving initiative that brings together government, business and non-profit sectors representatives, faith and education communities and persons with lived experience of poverty to build knowledge and to work together in the fight against poverty. Since its creation in 2005, the Roundtable has talked to more than 60,000 people about the importance of focusing on poverty reduction through investments in children and youth. The Roundtable has been successful in drawing together and mobilizing diverse groups to ensure that poverty concerns remain on the radar in Hamilton.
In 2008, Niagara Region created the Niagara Prosperity Initiative which provides an annual investment of $1.5 million to activities geared towards poverty reduction and prevention. A partnership between private, public and voluntary sectors, this initiative identifies neighborhoods in greatest need to focus their efforts and funding. It provides a wide range of supports such as: clothing for children, breakfast programs, and free bus passes for youth, Good Food Boxes (a partnership with local farmers to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local residents at wholesale prices twice a month), as well as the Emergency Energy Fund to assist individuals experiencing gas or hydro disconnection.
These are only a few examples of how municipal governments, the non-profit sector and communities are working together and taking action in the fight against poverty. Just last month, British Columbia announced the development a community-based poverty reduction strategy for seven municipalities: Surrey, New Westminster, Port Hardy, Cranbrook, Prince George, Kamloops, and Stewart. A joint-initiative between the individual municipalities, the Union of BC Municipalities’ Healthy Communities Committee, and the provincial Ministry of Child and Family Development, the pilot project will begin this summer, with plans for each of the province’s 47 municipalities to have strategies in place by 2014-15.
Yet while local efforts can make a difference they, on their own, are not enough. To reduce and prevent poverty, provincial and federal government action is also required to provide much-needed funding and program and policy support such as higher social assistance rates, education and training initiatives, affordable housing, and accessible childcare. Almost all provinces and territories have committed to a poverty reduction strategy; how long will we have to wait for the federal government to step up and develop a national strategy to coordinate and support municipal and provincial efforts?
Check out Dignity for All: the campaign for a poverty-free Canada for more information.
- 1. Cities Reducing Poverty: How Vibrant Communities are Creating Comprehensive Solutions to the Most Complex Problem of our Times (2001). Editor Mark Cabaj. Tamarack.
Patricia is CPJ's Socio-Economic Policy Analyst
Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) and our work of faith, justice and politics: