The dimensions of poverty
Final People’s School on Poverty examines roots of poverty and potential solutions
A conversation on what makes and keeps people in poverty took place on Nov. 27 at the People’s Place Library. Class was in session for the final meeting of the People’s School on Poverty at the local library.
Guests and those who have been part of the conversation were given a run down on what causes poverty, later discussing what can be done to correct the forces that put and keep people in poverty in the Antigonish area.
Members of the Antigonish Poverty Reduction Coalition (APRC) shared findings from the past People’s School events – and the conversations they inspired. The findings illustrate the many, overlapping root causes of poverty.
Issues that have to do with poverty in the Antigonish area that have arisen from past
People’s School events are generally sorted into five major areas; food security, policy, communication, culture, housing and transportation.
The focus of the event was the role the community plays in dealing with poverty, and what can be done going forward to address the root causes.
Laura Pickersgill presented information on the factors that cause poverty, noting that one of the most urgent issues that is a driving force in the Antigonish area is housing – or rather, a lack thereof. Pickersgill noted that almost all conversations about poverty the coalition had, with multiple groups of people alluded to housing.
"There was recognition of initiatives, and good being done, but ultimately, there is not enough affordable housing, and not enough housing in general," Pickersgill said.
She noted people have difficulty getting access to housing, face a lack of support, and also face larger issues such as institutionalized racism in local communities, and those contribute to the difficulty people have finding proper housing.
At previous sessions, Pickersgill alluded to suggestions that included the need for higher standards for landlords and housing authorities, making sure there is quality housing. She noted other ways forward include a reduction in the stigma of people availing themselves of public housing, so they can take pride in their homes. Most importantly, Pickersgill said, creating emergency housing and similar services are needed – as well as more affordable housing units.
As far as policy was concerned, Pickersgill said, "continued advocacy is something we can do. Advocating for a living wage, for better social assistance and policy changes on multiple levels."
She noted advocating for change on multiple levels of government is the most difficult and challenging way to create change in policy, but a necessary step in rectifying poverty in the region.
Many of the key areas sparked discussions on how to address issues to deal with gaps in service, such as those associated with a lack of access to transportation through limited times and routes, a lack of other affordable options, and unmanageable pricing for some people travelling certain places.
Pickersgill said potential options to rectify transportation issues include a transportation plan for community members in specific contexts, looking outside the community for reimbursement plans, and perhaps a pass system, with coupons and vouchers, to help people make taking the bus more affordable.
Communication was the subject of ongoing discussion, and is an important piece of the puzzle, because without proper communication between groups involved, it can be difficult for people in need to know what kinds of services are available.
"Communication was brought up in at least every session in a number of different ways. There are so many things going on – it can be hard to keep track," Pickersgill said. "Between service providers and organizations there can be gaps and overlap between services. If they don’t talk to each other, they may not know where the gaps are."
A solution to lapses in communication put forward from previous sessions is a comprehensive plan, using networks to make sure people and service providers are connected. More education, and a reduction in stigma around poverty, and a navigator to help people obtain the services they need are all good ways to clear the air, Pickersgill noted.
The problems associated with food security were a major area of concern. Pickersgill noted that common issues that arise in conversations about food security include problems with access, a lack of choice at food bank, isolation and disrespect for those seeking service from programs meant to help them, and problems with access to food banks.
Pickersgill said better access to food can be achieved through expanded hours for food banks, mobile food security programs, assistance through vouchers and gift cards – all done respectfully, and inclusively.
"Food service is a central need, and something that needs to be incorporated into programming and services," she said.
Cultural issues, such social isolation and exclusion, can potentially be rectified with more accessible recreational and cultural services, such as traditional hunting in aboriginal communities, and events with lowered costs so people suffering from poverty are able to participate and integrate into the larger community. One way to make events more accessible to the poor, Pickersgill mentioned is volunteerism in lieu of an entrance fee.
"People who feel singled out is the number one barrier," Pickersgill said, noting that a recurrent theme, when it came to the delivery of services to those in poverty, whether it be in using a food bank to get access to food, needing more public transportation options or being unable to attend events because of the costs, was that the stigma and shame of poverty.
That, she noted, must be removed, if people are going to get the services and help they need.
Between the many factors that contribute to poverty, there is considerable overlap, and addressing one of the many dimensions of poverty usually requires and entails addressing other related issues.
"The effects of poverty are intertwined, and the solutions to them need to be intertwined," Pickersgill said. "It’s not just six isolated categories. It’s about looking at a holistic perspective on how we can address this from multiple angles, all at once."
Colleen Cameron, speaking to guests at the final People’s School on Poverty.