Poverty is no longer wel­come here

The Amherst News - - COVER STORY - Ge­off de Gannes Ge­off deGannes is the past chair­man of the Tantra­mar Ra­dio So­ci­ety. His daily com­men­taries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.

As a so­ci­ety, we have be­come rather com­pla­cent and ac­cept­ing of the fact there is in­come in­equal­ity in our com­mu­nity and that many are and will con­tinue to live in poverty.

That is not to sug­gest we aren’t a char­i­ta­ble and giv­ing com­mu­nity when it comes to sup­port­ing a cause or help­ing a neigh­bour in need. Our ef­forts, though, are more a Band-Aid ap­proach to deal­ing with a much larger so­cial is­sue.

For­tu­nately, we have a group of com­mu­nity ac­tivists who have been pre­pared to tackle the prob­lem of poverty head on and mu­nic­i­pal lead­er­ship who are com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing poli­cies that hope­fully will re­duce poverty in this com­mu­nity. A num­ber of stake­hold­ers from sev­eral so­cial agen­cies, not for profit groups, health and ed­u­ca­tion came to­gether last week at a Town of Amherst spon­sored mu­nic­i­pal fo­rum en­ti­tled Poverty Lives Here.

The fo­rum heard sober­ing and yet en­light­en­ing mes­sages from two key­note pre­sen­ters along with the real life sto­ries of Amherst and area res­i­dents who strug­gle each and ev­ery day to make ends meet.

Each story il­lus­trated the bar­ri­ers so many of our friends and neigh­bors face each day as sin­gle par­ent youths liv­ing on in­come as­sis­tance; un­der­em­ployed in­di­vid­u­als with­out trans­porta­tion and work­ing for min­i­mum wage; as a per­son with a dis­abil­ity; as a se­nior on a fixed in­come; or as a mem­ber of a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity with lit­tle for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. These are just some of the ex­am­ples of the faces of poverty liv­ing amongst us in our com­mu­nity.

Chris­tine Saulnier, the Nova Sco­tia di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives, pre­sented the fo­rum del­e­gates with a sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis of what poverty looks like here.

The fo­rum was told 30 per cent of Cum­ber­land County’s chil­dren live in poverty and 44 per cent of work­ers in the county earn be­low $20,000 per year. In the case of Amherst, over­all 25.3 per­cent of our res­i­dents live in poverty.

The most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens in our com­mu­nity are women over 65 and Saulnier says while gov­ern­ment sup­port works through pen­sions, its im­pact has de­creased in re­cent years be­cause it has not kept pace with the cost of liv­ing. And for those on Em­ploy­ment In­sur­ance, 55 per cent of wage re­place­ment is sim­ply too low. An­other re­veal­ing as­pect of her pre­sen­ta­tion was the cor­re­la­tion between health care and poverty. Health care gaps and bar­ri­ers to ac­cess ex­ac­er­bate health prob­lems which can cause poverty. Sim­ply put, poverty is bad for your health. Un­for­tu­nately, a job isn’t an au­to­matic ticket out of poverty and as Saulnier in­di­cates, it is not pos­si­ble to live on the cur­rent min­i­mum wage.

Town of­fi­cials have been pre­sented with a va­ri­ety of sug­ges­tions emerg­ing from the var­i­ous dis­cus­sion groups on ev­ery­thing from home­less­ness to af­ford­able hous­ing, trans­porta­tion to youth ini­tia­tives and so­cial jus­tice.

The chal­lenge now is for our mu­nic­i­pal lead­er­ship to take the steps nec­es­sary to shape a pol­icy that will in­deed ad­dress this is­sue. As so­ci­ol­o­gist and so­cial worker Robert Wright boldly de­clared at the end of the fo­rum … “it is time to do our part and tell poverty it can no longer wel­come here and must be evicted.”

The fo­rum was cer­tainly a good first start and rather than leav­ing it up to mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment now to shape a pol­icy, the onus should be on all the stake­hold­ers who par­tic­i­pated in this one-day event to help in shap­ing the town’s over­all strate­gic plan for re­duc­ing poverty.

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