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Posts Tagged "poverty"

17Jun

Policy changes help break the cycle of poverty

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On July 1, 2019, the following policy changes take effect to help build a better B.C. for vulnerable British Columbians, making life more affordable and supporting them to overcome social and economic barriers:

Reducing access times: The work-search period will be reduced from five weeks to three weeks, while returning applicants will continue to complete the three-week work search. These changes do not impact applicants who are already exempt from work search requirements.

Ending penalties for families providing room and board to a family member: Clients who pay room and board to a parent or child while on income assistance currently do not receive the same level of benefits as those in private room and board situations. Now, families will be allowed to receive up to the full room and board payments (i.e., support and shelter allowance) when providing room and board to an adult child or parent on assistance, without a financial penalty, similar to those living in a private room and board situation.

Expanding access to the ID supplement: The identification supplement is available to individuals, through hardship assistance, to ensure they can meet the ministry’s identification eligibility requirements when applying for assistance. The supplement is being extended to all income and disability assistance clients, in addition to hardship assistance clients, to ensure they can continue to meet ministry eligibility requirements and/or access other important services within British Columbia (e.g., BC Services Card, banking, community services and programs).

Expanding access and simplifying the application process for the persons with persistent multiple barriers (PPMB) category: Expanding access to the PPMB category by removing restrictions that required people first be on income assistance for 12 out of 15 months and prevented access for people with addictions. The application process has also been simplified for clients and staff.

Elimination of the “transient” category: Eliminating the “transient” category to ensure persons without a fixed address, no dependent children and who are not considered to be taking up permanent residence in the community, are eligible to receive the same supports as other people on income assistance.

Allowing people to keep their vehicles: The $10,000 asset exemption limit on a primary vehicle will be removed for people on income assistance, allowing all clients to keep their primary vehicle, regardless of value, without impact to their assistance.

Higher asset limits: Asset limits for people on income assistance will be increased from $2,000 to $5,000 for a single person and from $4,000 to $10,000 for couples and one or two parent families, allowing people on income assistance to keep more of their money and build their assets.

Making relocating easier: Expanding the moving supplement for moves anywhere in B.C. when clients are moving to lower-cost housing or are evicted for any reason (including lawful and unlawful evictions and the existing circumstances of rented accommodation being sold, demolished or condemned). The expanded supplement will also assist with storage costs, if necessary, to preserve the family’s personal belongings while they are moving. Clients will also be supported when they incur moving costs prior to receiving ministry approval in exceptional circumstances.

Expanding access to nutritional supplements: Registered dietitians, as well as medical doctors and nurse practitioners, will be able to submit documentation on behalf of their patients for all nutritional supplements, including all diet supplements (including the high-protein diet), the monthly nutritional supplement, short-term nutritional supplement, tube feed supplement and infant formula supplement.


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19Mar

Creating opportunity in Prince George with B.C.’s new poverty reduction strategy

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An innovative Prince George program will provide training and create work opportunities, which are central to TogetherBC, the Province’s new poverty reduction strategy.

“Willing and capable people who want to work find the confidence and the opportunity they need to reach their goals through programs, such as The First Peoples Hospitality Program,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “This is the kind of project that is at the heart of TogetherBC. It builds skills and supports people in their communities.”

The First Peoples Hospitality Program, run by LaKeCoRe Management & Training through WorkBC, is a 26-week program that provides students with 18 weeks of essential employability and occupational skills training, such as strategies for success, computer skills and hospitality operations training, as well as six weeks of on-the-job work experience with local industry partners. The students then have two weeks of followup and job-search support to prepare participants for employment in the hotel and hospitality sector in the Prince George region.

Up to 20 local young adults will receive a high standard of training in an industry that is part of the fabric of Prince George’s economy. The program has partnered with local hotels and inns to help ensure participants will receive satisfying job opportunities upon completing this intensive training program.

“The First Peoples Hospitality Program is focused on creating training opportunities for local Indigenous people who are not just looking for a job, but a career path that is fulfilling,” said Lawney Chabot, president, LaKeCoRe Management & Training. “Through this program, we are able to individualize training for each participant to make sure they are reaching their potential and on their way to sustainable local employment.”

The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction has committed approximately $196,000 in funding for this project through the Community and Employer Partnerships (CEP) program. CEP funds projects that increase employability levels and share labour market information.

Darven Michell, a participant in The First Peoples Hospitality Program, said, “This program is giving me the confidence to get out there and find a stable and secure job, knowing that I have the skills I need to get a job that I am actually excited about.”

The project was announced during a followup announcement in Prince George about the Province’s first poverty reduction strategy, TogetherBC. British Columbia has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, yet the province still has a high rate of poverty, reflecting a deficit in regional economic development and unfair wages, in addition to a backlog of need for access to basic education and training skills.

“Community plays a major role in reducing poverty,” said Barbara Ward-Burkitt, executive director, Prince George Native Friendship Centre. “We need to make sure people have the supports and services they need here at home and ensure that they feel included and valued by their communities.”

Two guiding principles of TogetherBC are reconciliation and creating opportunity for people, especially those experiencing physical, social, financial and structural barriers. Government will continue to support projects that reflect these principles in Prince George and throughout the province.  

Quick Facts:

  • TogetherBC: British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is a roadmap to reduce overall poverty by 25% and cut child poverty in half over five years, using a 2016 baseline.
  • The strategy’s key priorities include the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, increases to the minimum wage, ChildCareBC making child care more available and affordable, income assistance and disability assistance rate increases, and leveraging federal initiatives and supports.
  • TogetherBC is built on four guiding principles:
    • Affordability
    • Opportunity
    • Reconciliation
    • Social inclusion
  • Since 2012, the Community and Employer Partnerships program, through WorkBC, has helped over 1,675 job seekers benefit from work experience and has funded more than 300 projects throughout the province.
  • Two groups of eight to 10 participants will be accepted into the program.
    • The first group started training Nov. 26, 2018, and is scheduled to complete the program on April 5, 2019.
    • The second group will begin training April 15, 2019, and complete the program by Oct. 11, 2019.
  • The program must meet an 80% completion rate, as well as an 80% satisfaction rate with the project.

Learn More:

WorkBC’s Community and Employers Partnership program:
https://www.workbc.ca/Employment-Services/Community-and-Employer-Partnerships.aspx

To read TogetherBC: British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/initiatives-plans-strategies/poverty-reduction-strategy/togetherbc.pdf

For details on B.C.’s first poverty reduction strategy:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/poverty-reduction-strategy


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18Mar

B.C.’s poverty reduction plan seeks solutions from across government: minister

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The British Columbia government has released guidelines it says will lead it toward the goal of reducing the province’s overall poverty rate by 25 per cent and child poverty by 50 per cent within the next five years.

Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction, says the province’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy called TogetherBC takes an approach that involves all of the government to assist the 557,000 people who are living in poverty.

He says TogetherBC’s programs, policies and initiatives tie together investments launched in the fall of 2017 and are being implemented over three budgets.

He says they include a focus on safe and affordable housing, cutting child-care costs for low-income families and raising income and disability assistance rates.

Simpson says his ministry alone will offer more than $800 million in support to people by 2022 and while those programs and other plans won’t end poverty, the NDP government is confident the strategy will help some of B.C.’s poorest.

Simpson made the comments Monday flanked by several anti-poverty and social service experts at a child care resource centre in Surrey. 


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18Mar

B.C.’s poverty reduction plan seeks solutions from across government, says minister

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The British Columbia government has released guidelines it says will lead it toward the goal of reducing the province’s overall poverty rate by 25 per cent and child poverty by 50 per cent within the next five years.

Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction, says the province’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy called TogetherBC takes an approach that involves all of the government to assist the 557,000 people who are living in poverty.

He says TogetherBC’s programs, policies and initiatives tie together investments launched in the fall of 2017 and are being implemented over three budgets.

He says they include a focus on safe and affordable housing, cutting child-care costs for low-income families and raising income and disability assistance rates.

Simpson says his ministry alone will offer more than $800 million in support to people by 2022 and while those programs and other plans won’t end poverty, the NDP government is confident the strategy will help some of B.C.’s poorest.

Simpson made the comments Monday flanked by several anti-poverty and social service experts at a child care resource centre in Surrey. 


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18Mar

B.C. unveils first poverty reduction plan

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Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson.


CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

VICTORIA – B.C.’s New Democrat government unveiled the province’s first poverty reduction plan Monday, a strategy it says can reduce overall poverty in the province by 25 per cent within five years and cut child poverty in half.

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said the plan “comprises programs, polices and initiatives across government, tying together investments made over three budgets into a thoughtful, bold and comprehensive plan to address poverty in B.C.

“It’s a strategy that at its heart is about people,” said Simpson. “It’s about the challenges they face every day just to get by.”

The poverty reduction plan has five pillars Simpson said, including a child opportunity benefit announced in the February budget and planned for 2020, a previously set path towards a $15 minimum wage, continued investments in child care subsidies, building upon two previous increases to the welfare and disability rates, and “leveraging” on federal supports.

Simpson also pointed to continued research on a pilot project for a basic living wage, which the NDP and Greens negotiated as part of their power-sharing deal in 2017.

As well, Simpson re-announced $10 million to rent banks that Finance Minister Carole James has said will go toward helping people get short-term loans for rent so they don’t become homeless.

Simpson reiterated the importance of government’s funding for 2,000 modular units for homelessness – first announced in 2018 – as well support for low-income people that make child care almost free depending on income level.

“This has been a priority for our government since our first day in office,” said Simpson.

“For too many years B.C. was the only province in Canada without a dedicated strategy for longterm poverty reduction. The result of that inaction was the second highest poverty rate in the country.”

The report also mentions government’s decision to eliminate bridge tolls in Metro Vancouver — a 2017 election promise that was one of the NDP’s first actions upon taking power.

The poverty-reduction plan calls for a 25-per-cent reduction in poverty, and a 50 per cent reduction in child poverty, within five years.

In terms of people, 557,000 British Columbians live in poverty, and the plan targets lifting at least 140,000 above the poverty line. For children, it equates to 50,000 of the roughly 100,000 already in poverty.

Of the 557,000 people in poverty, approximately 200,000 receive government welfare, disability or other services.

The NDP campaigned on the promise of a poverty reduction strategy in the 2017 election, arguing that British Columbia was the only province without one.

However, development of the plan has moved slowly over more than a year and a half. The government passed legislation enshrining the targets into law in October, but left the details until Monday.

The government passed legislation in October that enshrined those targets in law, but left the details until Monday.

Trish Garner, community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, said it’s exciting to finally have a poverty reduction plan, something that her organization has been advocating for since its inception a decade ago.

“From our perspective, it’s a strong start,” she said. “It really demonstrates a comprehensive framework, bringing in cross-ministry investments, but we are looking for more to build on this in the future.”

Specifically, Garner said, they want to see plans for raising income assistance rates, investing in more affordable transportation and rent controls. She said they weren’t expecting to see announcements on Monday, however they had hoped to see more detail about what will be done and when.

“It’s looking at the breadth of poverty, but it’s missing some vision around the depth of poverty and what we’re really going to do there,” Garner said.

— with files from Jennifer Saltman

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18Mar

Province launches first poverty reduction strategy, TogetherBC

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British Columbia’s first poverty reduction strategy, TogetherBC, outlines programs and initiatives that will help reduce overall poverty in the province by 25%, and cut child poverty in half, over the next five years.

“Together, we can build a fairer province by bringing down barriers and giving people the services and supports they need to break out of the cycle of poverty,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “TogetherBC is our roadmap for a better British Columbia, where everyone, regardless of their background or income, is treated with dignity and has access to opportunity.”

“For too long, too many people in British Columbia have been left out and left behind,” said Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Poverty Reduction. “With TogetherBC, we’re tackling the discrimination and stigma that keep people from reaching their full potential so we can build a province we can all be proud of – one that’s more inclusive and more affordable for everyone.”

Using a 2016 baseline, the strategy aims to lift 140,000 people out of poverty, including 50,000 children. Further poverty reduction goals will be established as these targets are met.

Developed with feedback received through an extensive provincial consultation, the strategy is anchored by a number of key initiatives including the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit and Childcare BC, as well as other actions that will increase household incomes.

TogetherBC ties together actions government has taken to increase affordability, increase access to opportunity and reduce poverty since 2017, under six priority areas:

  1. affordable housing
  2. supports for families, children and youth
  3. expanding access to education and training
  4. more opportunities for people
  5. improving income supports
  6. investing in social inclusion

A Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee has been appointed to advise the minister on matters relating to poverty reduction and prevention. This advisory committee  includes advocates, experts, Indigenous peoples and people with lived experience from around the province.

This committee also serves an important oversight role. Under the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, government is required to report out on progress to reach its five-year targets each year, starting in 2020. The committee will include a letter in each of these reports, outlining its views on progress made and progress required.

“People created poverty, and it’s up to people to solve poverty,” said Sarah Brownlee, a member of the committee. “I have experienced poverty first-hand, I have seen my friends and family experience it and I have seen the destructive consequences of lack of opportunity and access. As the poverty reduction strategy moves forward, I will be making sure that the voices of those with lived experience are represented and heard.”

“Poverty reduction is about putting people and communities first,” said Catherine Ludgate, chair of the committee. “It is good for individuals, families, communities and our economy. Creating opportunities for people to participate fully and with dignity requires us to invest thoughtfully in programs, policies and procedures to tackle poverty. I look forward to supporting government in this critically important work.”

B.C.’s first poverty reduction strategy is a shared priority developed in consultation with the BC Green Party caucus, and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement. The strategy includes the work of the Fair Wages Commission and Basic Income Expert Committee, work that will continue to be reflected as the strategy evolves and is updated in coming years.

“If we are going to be everything we can be, then we must address poverty,” said Simpson. “After so many years of social priorities being ignored and underfunded, we know we can’t solve this overnight, but we have set the course and I look forward to working across all sectors to address the breadth and depth of poverty. Poverty is a complex problem, yes, and it’s one that we can solve.”

Quick Facts (2016 Market Basket Measure):

  • British Columbia has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country and has for decades; it also has the second-highest overall poverty rate in Canada.
  • About 40% of people living below the poverty line are working.
  • B.C.’s child poverty rate is above the national average, with approximately 99,000 children living in poverty in B.C.
  • Children who live in single-parent families are more than three times more likely to live in poverty than children in two-parent families.
  • The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, which embedded the poverty reduction targets and timelines in law, was passed unanimously in November 2018.

Learn More:

Read TogetherBC: British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/poverty-reduction-strategy 

Advisory committee members’ biographies:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/poverty-reduction-strategy/advisory-committee

Read the consultation report, What We Heard About Poverty in B.C.:
https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/242/2018/07/WWH_Report-PovertyReductionStrategy_FINAL.pdf

A backgrounder follows.


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20Feb

B.C. poverty reduction plan a mix of new and old programs, says minister

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Minister of Social Development Shane Simpson says a new poverty reduction plan, coming within two weeks, will be a mixture of new programs and items government has already announced.


CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

VICTORIA — B.C.’s new poverty reduction plan will include a mixture of fresh government programs as well as services that have already been announced, says the social development minister.

Shane Simpson said Wednesday that while no specific money was highlighted in Tuesday’s budget for poverty reduction, there are nonetheless several programs already in place and funded by other ministries that will count toward the plan when it is released in “a couple of weeks.”

The poverty reduction plan calls for a 25 per cent reduction in poverty, and a 50 per cent reduction in child poverty, within five years.

“There are a whole array of issues that will play into achieving those objectives,” said Simpson. “It’s child care, it’s minimum wage, it’s housing, it’s pieces that have gone before, it’s pieces that will come afterwards, it’s pieces that we’re not even sure of where they land like the basic income initiative that we’ll see in 2020.”

Tuesday’s budget did announce a $380-million annual new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit program to give families up to $1,600 a year in financial support for a child — though the benefit doesn’t begin until October 2020. The budget added only $9 million for child care, though that was on top of $1 billion over three years announced last year that funds a mixture of subsidies (including virtually free care for a family with an income under $45,000) and 53 pilot sites for $10-a-day child care.

Simpson said it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on his plan because spending for the child benefit and child care programs are budgeted elsewhere. But he said the plan will incorporate the $100 in increases to the disability and social assistance rates dating back to 2017, as well as the $50 additional rate increase announced in Tuesday’s budget.

Social advocacy groups criticized the government for not providing more assistance for the poor in the budget, including the deeply poor. Simpson said he appreciated the work of the advocacy groups and “I’m looking forward to working with these groups and for them to continue to push us. That’s healthy.”

The poverty plan will also include new funding for rent banks, which Finance Minister Carole James has said will help prevent people from being evicted if they run into financial trouble due to illness, their job or life events. James’s ministry said Wednesday the government will be providing money to existing rent backs in communities across B.C. rather than creating and operating its own.

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12Jan

‘The poverty children face is often hidden from us,’ say agencies helping the 20 per cent of B.C. kids who are poor

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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.


Amber Hawse, 20, with nine-month-old daughter Delilah at Aunt Leah’s in New Westminster.

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.


Jennifer Johnstone, president and CEO of Central City Foundation.

Arlen Redekop

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.


Children at a KidSafe camp.

“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.


Krista Ericson at Grandview school in Vancouver. (Arlen Redekop / PNG staff photo)

“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.


Aunt Leah’s executive director Sarah Stewart in New Westminster.

“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.


Amber Hawse, 20, with daughter Delilah at Aunt Leah’s in New Westminster.

“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.”


Karen Dickenson Smith (right), director of specialized family supports for Family Services of Greater Vancouver and Susan Walker, manager of clinic services for family preservation.

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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2Oct

Historic legislation sets targets, timelines to reduce poverty

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British Columbia’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, guided by legislation introduced today, will lift thousands of people out of poverty, create more opportunities to break the cycle of poverty and make it easier for people to participate in their community.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act will define the scope of the strategy, which will be released in early 2019, and sets poverty reduction targets and timelines that government must meet.

“A strong province is built on a foundation of equity, inclusion and opportunity for everyone,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “We know that poverty is a serious issue in our province. That was driven home throughout the consultation as thousands of people told us about the impossible challenges they face each day. Social issues have been ignored for too long and that is why we are committing this government, and future governments, to break the cycle of poverty and improve people’s lives.”

The legislation is shaped by the experiences, voices and hopes of more than 8,500 people who took part in a broad public engagement on poverty from November 2017 to March 2018. If passed, the legislation will:

  • Commit government to reduce B.C.’s overall poverty rate by 25% and child poverty rate by 50% in the next five years.
  • Establish an independent advisory committee that will represent the breadth and depth of personal and professional experiences of poverty in B.C. and advise the minister on matters relating to poverty reduction and prevention.
  • Require government to report annually on its progress to reduce poverty.
  • Require government to release its first poverty reduction strategy by March 31, 2019. The strategy must focus on the key issues faced by people living in poverty including housing, education, employment, income supports and social inclusion.

The commitment to a poverty reduction strategy, in addition to addressing liveable wages under B.C.’s new Fair Wages Commission and exploring basic income, is a component of the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the B.C. Green Party caucus. The work of the Fair Wages Commission and the basic income expert panel will inform future updates to the poverty reduction strategy. 

“It is our shared responsibility to make sure that everyone has the tools, resources and social supports they need to improve their lives,” said Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Poverty Reduction. “Hundreds of thousands of people in our province experience poverty, and this kind of long-term government commitment is what is required to lift people up and achieve real progress.”

Quotes:

Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator, First Call

“First Call’s Child Poverty Report Card shows one in five B.C. children live in poverty and we have called for a 50% reduction in B.C.’s child poverty rate since 2009. We are pleased that government has listened and has this target and timeline in legislation. Reaching this target will benefit the health and well-being of thousands of children and youth, and may well reduce the number of children coming into government care. Our coalition looks forward to working with government to deliver on this target and help more children, youth and families thrive.”

Dawn Hemingway, co-chair, Minister’s Poverty Reduction Advisory Forum –

“The only way to seriously tackle the complex issue of poverty reduction is to have a meaningful and ambitious strategy that enforces targets and deadlines. This legislation is a significant step forward in making poverty reduction a reality in British Columbia.” 

Quick Facts:

  • British Columbia is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction strategy despite having the second-worst rate of poverty.  
  • Based on the latest statistics available, in 2016 approximately 557,000 people were living in poverty in B.C., including 99,000 children.
  • Between November 2017 and March 2018, government engaged in a provincewide consultation about how to reduce poverty and inequity and provide opportunities for people to be successful. Thousands of people participated in the consultation, more than half had lived experience.

Learn More:

To read the legislation:
https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/legislation-debates-proceedings/41st-parliament/3rd-session/bills/first-reading/gov39-1

Learn more about B.C.’s commitment to reduce poverty for the people of B.C.: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/bcpovertyreduction


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12Jul

Province releases What We Heard About Poverty in B.C. report

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Social Development and Poverty Reduction

British Columbia News

Province releases What We Heard About Poverty in B.C. report

https://news.gov.bc.ca/17608


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