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.”

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