Team U.K. puts on a show at the 2017 Honda Celebration of Light in Vancouver. Francis Georgian / PNG files
When wildfire smoke settles over English Bay this summer, as experts predict it will, there’s not much Vancouver can do about it.
But the city shouldn’t be adding any more ingredients to the “toxic soup,” says Kitsilano resident Judith Maxie, who wants council to reschedule fireworks events if the air quality is poor.
“You don’t have to be a scientist to see that tossing all those fireworks into the soup isn’t a good thing,” she said Thursday. “This is something we can actually change.”
Maxie doesn’t want to ban fireworks altogether — “over the years we’ve loved attending them,” she said — but wants the city to hold events like the Honda Celebration of Light at a different time of year, or put a contingency plan in place in case it’s smoky during the annual Canada Day fireworks.
Dr. Christopher Carlsten said he considers fireworks pollution “a significant issue,” particularly for people who are sensitive to poor air quality. A number of case reports have shown an increase in asthma attacks and irritation in people with lung disease during fireworks events.
“There’s not a lot of good defences for them in a health sense,” said the Vancouver physician. “If we’re just talking about health, I’d say don’t do it.” But the University of B.C. professor and head of respiratory medicine admitted that argument doesn’t factor in the “cultural equation” or the enjoyment derived from the spectacle.
Carlsten, who holds the Canada research chair in occupational and environmental lung disease, said much of the research on fireworks pollution has been done in countries where festivals last for days and fine particulate pollution accumulates at ground level.
“It’s quite clear that fireworks do affect air quality, but in Canada the events do tend to be short,” he said.
University of B.C. public health professor Dr. Michael Brauer said Vancouver’s fireworks shows happen high above the ground, which can help the particulate dissipate sooner, especially if wind conditions are favourable.
“It’s a transient increase,” he said of the rise in fine particulate pollutants associated with fireworks. “For most people, it shouldn’t be a concern, but for those with asthma or heart and lung concerns, it would be best to minimize exposure.”
Metro Vancouver air quality advisor Geoff Doerksen said pollution from fireworks is “short-lived and dissipates quickly,” and most years it doesn’t reach the ground. Any localized impacts to air quality tend to return to normal levels within a few hours.
Doerksen advised people who are concerned to avoid viewing areas and close their windows if they live in the area.
In a statement, the City of Vancouver said it did not receive any complaints about air quality during last year’s fireworks events and “is not considering cancelling or rescheduling fireworks that occur on Canada Day or at the Celebration of Lights.”
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies across B.C.
In Metro Vancouver, there were 22 days last July and August under air-quality advisories, three more than in the summer of 2017.
The last two summers have far exceeded the number of advisories issued in any other year since 1996, the first year for which data is available. Several years, including 2016, had zero air-quality advisories.
“That was a national average across 315 monitoring sites; it actually varies from place to place and year to year,” lead author Dian Seidel, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Postmedia at the time.
One monitoring station located near the site of a display registered a 370-per-cent increase in fine particles.
Readings from monitoring stations set up at “breathing level” near the ground showed PM2.5 concentrations about 50 times normal levels during the display. Elevated concentrations of fine particles were detected as far away as 14 kilometres, suggesting the particles remain in the atmosphere for “a long period of time,” probably days.
All indications suggest British Columbians should prepare for another smoky summer this year, experts warned today.
B.C. Wildfire information shows the province has so far this year seen increased drought and higher-than-average temperatures, which are expected to continue. Experts are predicting a greater risk of wildfires and smoke in the province this summer, particularly in the southwest, which includes Metro Vancouver.
Metro Vancouver air quality engineer Francis Reis said more studies are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.
“As we continue to see further warming, we can expect the patterns we are seeing now to continue or even get more extreme,” he said.
Residents are reminded to try to stay indoors when air quality bulletins are issued.
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies in B.C., caused by wildfires. This led to warnings that people take caution when outside, especially those with asthma, lung conditions, the elderly and pregnant women.
The hot, dry spring has many worried that 2019 could also bring hazy skies that are bad for residents’ health.
If anyone can appreciate the kind of pressure facing the Canadian prosecutors handling Meng Wanzhou’s extradition hearing, it’s Nick Vamos.
As the former head of extradition with the British Crown Prosecution Service, Vamos has handled many high-profile, international white collar cases in the U.K..
He says political concerns — such as China’s obvious displeasure with the Huawei executive’s arrest — may swirl in the background. And he has heard comments from politicians like U.S. President Donald Trump — who suggested Meng could be used a bargaining chip in a trade war — inadvertently hand defendants ammunition in their bids from freedom.
But Vamos — who now works as a London-based defence lawyer — says he’s never seen anything as overt as Beijing’s apparent attempts to bully Canada into releasing Meng: arresting and isolating two Canadians in China for allegedly spying, sentencing two more to death for drug trafficking and choking off imports of Prairie canola.
“That’s a new phenomenon,” said Vamos, a partner with Peters and Peters, a leading U.K. law firm with expertise in business crime.
“Or at least not a phenomenon that’s been so publicly and obviously displayed in an extradition case.”
‘I find that profoundly depressing’
Meng’s legal team will likely provide a roadmap along with the beginnings of a strategy for extradition proceedings when the Huawei chief financial officer makes her next B.C. Supreme Court appearance on May 8.
The 47-year-old faces the possibility of decades in jail if sent to the U.S. to face criminal charges of conspiracy and fraud in relation to accusations she lied to New York banks as part of a scheme that allegedly saw Huawei violate sanctions against Iran.
Canada has come under intense pressure from China to release Meng. Her supporters have crowded the Vancouver courtroom where Meng’s court proceedings take place. (David Ryder/Reuters)
Her lawyers have already raised concerns about what they called the “political character” of the case, along with hints they’ll be claiming abuse of process in the way Canada Border Services agents and the RCMP detained and arrested her at the Vancouver airport last December.
Vamos said prosecutors essentially act as a lawyer for the requesting state — the United States in Meng’s case. They wouldn’t normally be aware of the kind of back channel pressure that accompanies some extradition cases.
“Poor Canada — without wishing to sound patronizing — is being caught in the middle of this, and China are shamelessly using political tactics to intervene in what is supposed to be an open, transparent judicial process,” he said.
“And I find that profoundly depressing.”
‘The boyfriend of a very bad man’
Vancouver-based lawyer Gary Botting has written several books on extradition and constitutional freedoms, including one focused on the law surrounding extradition to the United States.
He believes Meng has a strong case, in part because her treatment could be seen as “unjust or oppressive” given the nature of her job and the way in which she was apprehended.
“The vice-president of an international corporation doing business hither and yon has to know they’re going to be safe from being arbitrarily arrested at an airport at the behest of a rival state,” he said.
“It’s just common sense that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
Botting said Meng has a number of possible grounds to challenge the extradition. Trump’s comments will almost certainly be among them, as will the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees she has already claimed were violated in a separate civil suit.
In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a judge’s decision not to extradite four men wanted in the U.S. for a $22-million telemarketing scam because of comments U.S. prosecutors made that would have led to a violation of their charter rights.
The Supreme Court of Canada upheld a decision not to extradite four men to the United States after a U.S. assistant attorney suggested one of them might be raped in prison if he didn’t waive his extradition rights. (Shutterstock)
The ruling came after an assistant U.S. attorney told CBC’s The Fifth Estate one of the accused would “be the boyfriend of a very bad man” if he waited out his extradition hearing and wound up in jail after a trial.
The men argued that they were being threatened with rape in prison, which would have violated the charter right to life, liberty and security of the person — not to mention the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
‘Political in nature’
Along those lines, Meng has already claimed in her civil case that the RCMP arranged for CBSA officers to detain her for three hours before she was officially arrested so she could be denied access to a lawyer and her electronic devices could be seized.
She said she was denied her charter rights to know the reason for her arrest, to retain and instruct legal counsel without delay and to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments about Meng could factor into her defence if she says she is being persecuted for political reasons. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Vamos said Trump’s comments won’t necessarily play a huge role during the hearing stage.
He said prosecutors will likely ask the judge to look at the record of actions of the U.S. Department of Justice in regards to Meng as opposed to the president’s off-the-cuff statements.
The courtroom extradition hearing itself is supposed to be apolitical.
But if a judge commits Meng for extradition, the final decision to surrender belongs to Canada’s minister of justice.
And the Supreme Court of Canada, in a precedent-setting case involving a man accused in a mining fraud, has described the minister’s role in that part of the extradition decision-making process as “political in nature … at the extreme legislative end of the continuum of administrative decision-making.”
‘There will come a moment’
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland acknowledged this reality in an interview in February with CBC’s Ottawa Morning.
“Saying you’re a rule of law country doesn’t mean political decisions don’t get taken,” Freeland said.
“There will come a moment — as in all extradition cases, where the minister of justice will need to — could need to, depending on how things develop — could need to take a political decision about whether to approve the extradition.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said that there may come a moment in the Meng case when a poltical decision is necessary. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
The Extradition Act says the minister “shall refuse to make a surrender” if it would be “unjust or oppressive having regard to all the relevant circumstances.”
The minister must also consider whether or not the prosecution is taking place to punish a person by reason of “race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour, political opinion, sex, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability or status.”
But the law is silent on the types of pressures facing the Canadian government when it comes to Meng and China. Shortly after her arrest, the Chinese government arrested two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have since been accused of spying. According to Canadian officials, both men have been kept in isolation for months.
A third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced in January to death in China for allegedly trafficking drugs. He was originally given a 15-year sentence, which he appealed. And this week, a Chinese court handed the death sentence to a fourth Canadian, Fan Wei, for his role in an alleged methamphetamine trafficking ring.
The Chinese have denied any relation among the fates of Kovrig, Spavor, Schellenberg and Meng, but the Canadian government has raised concerns about the timing.
Meanwhile, China has choked off Canadian canola shipments, claiming to have found “dangerous pests” in imports of the grain, which account for about $2.7 billion of annual trade between China and Canada.
‘Nobody would be weeping’
Vamos sees an interesting parallel between Meng’s case and an English case that saw the director of the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office discontinue an investigation into allegations of bribery in connection with a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia in 2006 under extreme pressure from the Saudi government.
At the time, Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the decision by saying Britain’s “strategic interest” in terms of Middle East counterterrorism had to come first.
That proceeding differs from an extradition case in which Canada has little choice but to act in accordance with its international treaty obligations. But Vamos says the same kind of issues are at play.
“That puts them in this awful position where they have to carry on with the case knowing or suspecting that it might have these terrible consequences for Canadian citizens or the Canadian economy,” Vamos said.
“So what do they do about that? Presumably they can talk to the Americans on various channels to say: ‘Can you please not put us in this position?’ But that gets very complicated because the Americans would look like they’re giving in to Chinese pressure.”
Vamos said he has discussed the Meng case with Canadian counterparts and has been following it with interest. If nothing else, it’s keeping the world of extradition experts entertained.
He won’t be drawn into betting on the outcome.
“I say this glibly, but I’m sure nobody would be weeping for too long if somehow she just managed to give her security detail the slip and left Canada on a false passport wearing a fake beard and moustache and appeared in China somewhere,” he said.
“I’m not saying that’s going to happen. But who knows?”
About 40 per cent of Parks Canada’s buildings, forts, bridges and other items of real estate are unsafe or unusable, or require billions of dollars in major repairs, says a new report.
An analysis the agency commissioned from an independent consultant says Parks Canada has deferred up to $9.5 billion in badly needed work – and ought to spend up to $3.3 billion on top of that to cope with the threat of climate change.
Parks Canada’s current annual spending on repairs falls short, says the report, despite a $3-billion injection of cash that began in 2014 and is now about half-spent.
CBC News obtained the September 2018 document, produced by New Zealand-based Opus International Consultants, under the Access to Information Act.
“When reviewed, 24 per cent of the asset[s] were assessed as being in good condition, 36 per cent in fair condition, and 40 per cent in poor or very poor condition,” says the report.
“Forty per cent is a significant percentage to be in poor/very poor condition, given the interconnected nature of the service that is provided by the PCA [Parks Canada Agency] assets.”
The agency now reviews the state of its vast asset pool — 46 national parks, 171 historic sites and other buildings, various bridges — every five years, and asked Opus to verify the findings of its latest catalogue from 2017.
Parks Canada is replacing the bridge over the canal in St. Peter’s, in Cape Breton Island, which has been there since 1936. An internal report says many of the agency’s marine assets are in bad shape. (Parks Canada)
In ordering the Opus work, Parks Canada acknowledged that “under-investment has been a chronic issue impeding the sound management and consistent life cycle management of the portfolio.”
Opus directly inspected a sample of 252 assets in 15 locations and examined other data to produce an independent review, including a projection three decades into the future.
[We are] addressing deferred work on Parks Canada’s assets across the country and considerable progress is being made.– Agency spokesperson Dominique Tessier
The company’s engineers determined Parks Canada had low-balled the replacement value of the assets. Opus says the portfolio is worth $24.1 billion — a figure one-third higher than the $18 billion estimated by the agency’s own staff.
The report says that at current low rates of repair, the average condition of the portfolio will decline further over the next 33 years, as more assets fall into poor or very poor condition.
The consultants also noted that the portfolio is not welcoming enough for disabled visitors and estimate that Parks Canada needs to spend $428 million on making its parks and facilities more accessible.
They also say climate change will batter Parks Canada assets with heavy rain and flooding, forest fires and salt water damage. The consultants say protecting parks assets from climate damage will cost between $1.66 billion and $3.3 billion, though they caution the figures are only an “initial indication.”
Finally, Opus notes Parks Canada has budgeted $140 million annually to maintain its assets, in addition to special cash injections coming largely from a non-agency budget that have added up to more than $3 billion between 2014 and 2017.
The consultants estimate the agency needs to spend between $825 million and $900 million each year to maintain the average state of the portfolio, aside from any accessibility and climate change-related cash infusions.
A spokesperson for the agency, Dominique Tessier, said Parks Canada has spent only about 48 per cent of the $2.6 billion it was promised from the federal infrastructure investment program.
The Garrison Graveyard at Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal, N.S. A consultant estimates Parks Canada has deferred some $9.5 billion in needed repairs to its assets across the country. (Parks Canada/The Canadian Press)
The program is “addressing deferred work on Parks Canada’s assets across the country and considerable progress is being made,” she said. “The work completed through the federal infrastructure program will restore and improve the condition of Parks Canada’s assets.”
Tessier said the agency is also developing a long-term plan “to ensure the effective management and ongoing sustainability of its infrastructure portfolio.”
In the meantime, on Jan. 1, 2020, Parks Canada is introducing admission fees at five sites that were previously free of charge, and is increasing fees by a 2.2 per cent adjustment for inflation at 19 other sites — all to ensure visitors pay a fair price that doesn’t undercut private operators.
Tessier said the new revenues will be “re-invested in the same places where they are collected to support visitor programs, services and facilities.”
The places being hit with new admission fees are: Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan ($5.80); Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ont. ($7.80); Georges Island National Historic Site, Nova Scotia ($7.80); S.S. Keno National Historic Site, Yukon ($3.90); and S.S. Klondike National Historic Site ($3.90).
As she bounces nine-month-old Delilah on her knee, Amber Hawse pauses reflectively before answering a question about what she thinks she and her baby will be doing in five years.
Hawse, 20, hopes by then to have graduated from college and to have a job as a special-needs support worker. Delilah will be in kindergarten. And they will live together in their own place with enough money for food, basic expenses and peace of mind.
Her goals may seem modest, but the reality is that 20 per cent of children in B.C. live in poverty and their families struggle to provide the necessities of life, especially in Metro Vancouver with its sky-high cost of living.
Hawse knows this well, as a foster child who lurched from home to home, some of them abusive. At age 16, she was living on her own in an apartment run by a social service agency, learning to budget her meagre government payments while attending high school.
The well-spoken, thoughtful young woman hopes Delilah will not be trapped in a similar cycle. She wants to provide her daughter with financial and emotional stability — which starts with them remaining together.
“I grew up with no dad and no mom, so I don’t want to let her grow up with (being) in care and getting her abused. I want her to know she is always loved,” Hawse said, fighting back tears.
Poverty and other challenges facing youth, particularly in Metro Vancouver’s inner cities, were the focus of a recent brainstorming session during which dozens of service agencies and community members came together to discuss the root causes and possible solutions to these often multi-generational crises.
“People can easily become immune to seeing homeless people on the streets, but the poverty that children face is often hidden from us,” said Jennifer Johnstone, president of Central City Foundation, which organized the Hope Dialogue Series session. “And that makes (the depth of) child poverty a surprise to people sometimes.”
The Downtown Eastside has become the focal point, with many drawn there by its plethora of low-rent buildings and free food services. But poverty exists in many other pockets of Metro Vancouver, and affects the children of struggling parents as well as children without parents.
172,550 poor kids in B.C.
The statistics, say Central City, are stark:
• One in five of all B.C. children — 172,550 kids — lives in poverty, and that jumps to one in three for off-reserve Indigenous children.
• Nearly half of recent child immigrants are impoverished.
• Half of children in poverty are raised by single parents, mostly by mothers.
• Youth aging out of foster care are 200 times more likely to become homeless before the age of 25.
And research shows that disadvantaged children can be delayed mentally and physically due to a lack of nutrition, are more likely to struggle in school and end up unemployed, and are more prone to suffer from addictions and mental illness.
The trend is improving, though, as a quarter of all B.C. youth were impoverished a decade ago, compared to 20 per cent now, according to First Call’s annual Child Poverty Report Card. B.C.’s child poverty rate has been higher than the Canadian average for at least two decades, although that gap is narrowing.
Some of B.C.’s recent improvements can be credited to the new Child Tax Benefit introduced by Ottawa in 2016, and also promising are recent commitments by provincial and federal governments to adopt poverty-reduction plans, increase affordable housing, boost the minimum wage and introduce affordable daycare.
But there is more work to do to try to overcome the systemic marginalization that has led to this poverty — such as colonialism and residential schools that have brought a disproportionate number of Indigenous people into the Downtown Eastside, Johnstone said.
The October brainstorming session, which included groups such as the Urban Native Youth Association and the Aboriginal Mother Centre, was just the beginning of a very important conversation, she added.
“When we come together and see possibilities, that is the hope for change,” Johnstone said. “The children are the stewards of our future.”
Schools are more than education
Schools increasingly provide more than education to impoverished youth, especially in inner cities. But during long school breaks, at-risk children can be left without enough food, fun activities or emotional support to keep them safe during the day while their parents are working.
To bridge this gap, a unique organization called KidSafe runs full-day camps during Christmas holidays, March break and the summer at six east Vancouver schools, so 450 vulnerable children have a safe place to go each day for three healthy meals, fun activities and continued access to important services.
“The (camps) provide continuity for things like nutrition, healthy adult relationships, just somebody having eyes on a child,” said KidSafe executive director Quincey Kirschner, who attended the Hope Dialogue session.
“The demand is ever-increasing, and it is so awful to not have enough resources to be able to provide service to all the kids and families who need it.”
Poverty is one of the reasons some children are referred by teachers and others to KidSafe, but there are other factors as well, such as emotional vulnerability, she added.
For six years, Krista Ericson has relied on the three seasonal camps to help with her four children, who are in Grades 1 through 6 at Grandview/¿uuqinak’uuh Elementary in east Vancouver. The camps provide much-needed respite for the single mother, who fostered and then adopted the four Indigenous siblings who have a range of diagnoses that include fetal alcohol syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“The support during the (school) breaks is life-saving to me,” said Ericson, who added it is difficult to keep the active, high-needs children at home all day. “To think of trying to find out-of-school care for four children, I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t afford full-time camps in the summer.”
She does not work outside the home, mainly because her days are consumed with hospital appointments and other commitments for the children.
Ericson lives in subsidized housing, shops for food that is on sale and in bulk, and is grateful for a myriad of programs — ranging from Backpack Buddies, which provides food to families for the weekends, to charity hampers and donated gifts at Christmas — that help her make ends meet.
When her children see other people with cellphones or trendy clothing, Ericson has her oft-repeated line: “I tell my kids, ‘That’s their family, and we do it differently in our family.’” She also uses the opportunity to teach her children that, although they live a modest life, they are better off than other students who don’t have enough food to eat or a safe place to sleep at night.
One of her top priorities is to include a lot of Indigenous culture in their home lives.
Indigenous culture creates ‘doorway into wellness’
After the brainstorming session in October, Central City compiled a summary of what they heard from the 100 people in attendance, and found that programs with cultural components, such as connections with elders and Indigenous languages, have been successful because they create “a doorway into wellness and community building.”
Other initiatives that are making a positive difference, the attendees said, were those that connect youth with relatives and meaningful people in their lives, as well as programs in which non-profits and service agencies work together to provide more comprehensive support to children.
The Central City summary also determined what isn’t working: Governments too often fund programs that treat problems once they start, rather than preventing them; a lack of affordable housing can lead to poverty and families losing their children; and there isn’t enough transition planning for youth aging out of care, who experience disproportionately high levels of mental illness, substance use and unemployment.
Aunt Leah’s Place, a New Westminster charity, has been helping children who age out of care for three decades, but 10 years ago it added a new element: soliciting financial support from foundations, corporations, governments and others to obtain specialized housing.
“That was done based on trends we saw around more and more young people who are aging out becoming homeless,” said president and CEO Sarah Stewart. “What we didn’t plan for is the opioid crisis — that’s been a double whammy for these young people. … They are dealing with daily grief connected to people they know who have died.”
Aunt Leah’s provided services to 345 youth last year — 41 foster children under age 19, 208 who had aged out, and 96 of their babies and children.
“The reality for youth aging out of foster care today is a lot of hardship,” said Stewart, who also attended the Hope Dialogue session.
There has been positive change in the last few years, such as free tuition and financial support for foster children to attend post-secondary schools. The provincial government has also expanded a program that will fund more life-skills training for these youth.
But, Stewart said, more subsidized housing is needed, along with better co-ordination between government agencies — such as education, health and child welfare — to look out for this population.
‘Just do what parents do’
The key to supporting youth coming out of care is simple, she argues — just do what parents do.
“Aunt Leah’s tries to replicate what families are doing for their kids,” Stewart said. “Parents are providing tuition, transportation, food, housing well into their 20s, so that is what we are doing. And that is what government should be doing.”
Hawse, though, was cast adrift. After being asked to leave her last foster home, the then-16-year-old moved into an apartment run by Aunt Leah’s, where teenage foster children live on their own but have access to support and training programs.
“For the first couple of nights that I was by myself, I cried because I wasn’t used to being in a house alone,” she said. “It’s very lonely.”
She received government funding of $70 a week for groceries, and learned to buy food on sale and collect grocery store points to get items for free. She also worked part-time while completing high school — a remarkable accomplishment, as less than half of foster children in B.C. graduate from Grade 12.
When she turned 19, Hawse was newly pregnant but had to leave her Aunt Leah’s apartment funded specifically for foster kids. She moved into emergency housing for several months before Aunt Leah’s could offer her a room in a building for new mothers.
She is getting by, for now, able to buy food, diapers and other necessities with the employment insurance and federal child tax she is collecting while off work with her baby. She hopes to return to her job at a local daycare, and to attend college next year to become a community and classroom support worker.
“I’ve been through a lot,” Hawse says. “But there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Some solutions for the future
Central City’s Johnstone says there are reasons to be optimistic. For example, her organization, which is a major sponsor of Aunt Leah’s, is also backing a unique new youth initiative in Surrey that will have a school program and government social workers located in the same place as a sort of one-stop shop for vulnerable kids.
And there are other organizations, such as Vancouver Native Health, launching innovative programs in the Downtown Eastside designed to keep families together, she said.
The summary from the brainstorming session came up with some solutions to work toward, although nearly everyone interviewed for this story admits there is no obvious quick fix to the deep-rooted problem of child poverty.
The goals for the agencies include expanding programs to support the family as a whole, not just the child alone; enlisting graduates of youth programs to return as mentors; and creating more hubs where multiple services can be offered in one place to at-risk families.
At Family Services of Greater Vancouver, many clients in the family preservation program are parents trying to keep their kids after the children’s ministry documented some type of child protection concern. Staff help them with a myriad of things, ranging from housing, daycare and community resources, to help with trauma, domestic violence or addictions.
“For many of our families, poverty is an issue and that becomes a barrier for everything. They don’t have money for housing, food or your basic needs,” said Susan Walker, a family preservation manager, adding that stress affects everything from going to school to having a healthy family relationship. “Poverty stops people from moving forward.”
The agency, which also attended the Hope Dialogue session, has joined with others to advocate for major changes. Karen Dickenson Smith, director of specialized family supports, said these include embedding support workers into more “creative” types of housing, larger subsidized homes to allow extended families to live together, better compensation for foster parents, and higher wages in the social services sector to reduce turnover and ensure continuity of care for youth.
“System change takes time. We’ve seen some really encouraging developments, but we are a ways off and there is a lot of work to do,” said Dickenson Smith.
Added her colleague, Walker: “Poverty is not going to end overnight, but if you have subsidized housing and people are given the opportunity to get the work they need to do in life to get a job, that can allow children stability.”
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