Prairie Post (West Edition)
Poverty remains an ever-present problem in Lethbridge: report
The Social Health Equity Network of Lethbridge and Area (SHENLA) has released a report that identifies the rates of child and family poverty in Lethbridge and surrounding areas.
The report, titled 2022 Lethbridge Child and Family Poverty Report: Laying the Groundwork for a Just Recovery, considers the relationship between poverty and social determinants of health, identifying a variety of recommendations for collective action.
The report was prepared by HELPSEEKER, with partnership from the City of Lethbridge, the United Way of Lethbridge and South Western Alberta, and SHENLA. To date, according to information from Statistics Canada cited in the report, poverty rates among all family types in the city decreased from 15.4 per cent to 12.4 per cent between 2000 and 2019.
In 2019, approximately 15.2 per cent of youths were considered to be living in low-income housing in Lethbridge, and children aged zero to five experienced the highest rate of poverty among all age groups.
“The numbers are certainly alarming that poverty is where it is,” said Jacki Zalesak, executive director of United Way Lethbridge. “Poverty went down slightly due to the policies of the provincial and federal governments, with efforts on taxes and cost of living. But barriers are still out there and we still want to be able to support the efforts, and the data is important in helping find out what the barriers are and what the solutions are.”
Zalesak also expressed advocacy for the Alberta living wage, with the higher cost of living adding to higher costs for food and electricity.
“Living wage allows people to meet their basic needs with dignity, and to participate in society,” said Sharon Yanicki, spokesperson for SHENLA. “When we calculate the living wage, it includes opportunities for recreation for children, and opportunities for education for a single adult. It is being able to participate and to learn, not just about being able to keep yourself housed and have food.”
Speaking about the negativity of child poverty, Yanicki notes the fallbacks have a rippling effect.
“Child poverty is associated with a cascade of negative impacts on health and well being,” said Yanicki. “Early life, it’s critical for children’s learning and development. If you are experiencing crowded housing, a lack of food, all of these things have impacts negatively towards children’s health.”
Looking to help towards the cost of living, SHENLA and United Way are working together to help those in the city.
“We have asked city council to consider, and we presented to the Community Safety Standing Policy Committee, asking them for lowincome bus passes,” said Yanicki. “Because that’s really essential for lowincome people to be able to participate in community life, and to be able to get to work and children to have access to recreation.”
With reports helping outline the risks toward poverty and how they can help, the work of United Way and SHENLA will continue in Lethbridge as they advocate for those in need. “We want to address what poverty looks like and be able to end that,” said Zalesak. “We want to come together as a group and continue on our work. Our work doesn’t stop until we have ended poverty, so we will continue on and make those recommendations.”