Bringing together levels of government to coordinate plan
By Suzy Thompson, Fast Forward WeeklyCalgary took its first steps to permanently reduce the rate of poverty in the city with the May 28 launch of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative (CPRI). The program stems from Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s 2010 campaign promise to address poverty in Calgary. CPRI aims to bring the municipal government and relevant agencies together to try and coordinate services and come up with new ways of approaching the problem.According to Statistics Canada, 12 per cent of Albertans live in poverty; with incomes below the Low Income Cut-Off of $22,000 annually for an individual, and $42,000 for a family of four. This reality is obscured by the province’s economic success, which has benefited many, but placed greater hardships on the poor. For example, the overall price of goods in Alberta has risen nearly 23 per cent since 2002.Steve Allan, co-chair of CPRI, says this stage of the initiative will focus on how to prevent people from falling into destitution, and helping them out of it as quickly as possible. “It’s not so much that there are holes.…We’ve got some really good service organizations, but we’re not changing things, so that the incidence of poverty in Calgary is about the same as it’s always been,” he says.Cindy Christensen and her family lived in poverty since she was a young child. She thinks this initiative will bring significant changes.“I used to live at the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter with my mom as a child, when I was 10 years old. And then after that we moved from shelter to shelter.…Through my personal experience, it was financial poverty. We didn’t have a lot of money to get basic needs. And then also we didn’t have any friends, so maybe social poverty; no family members in Calgary. We were able to gain that through the not-for-profit organizations that really supported us.”Christensen says the myriad aid organizations available in Calgary are helpful, but the nature of poverty means they are not enough.“I knew where to go, but I was always reluctant to go (for aid) for some reason; just being so independent and my mom being so proud of herself, which is why I think this project is really great,” she says.Christensen, 22, recently received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Calgary and works in the City of Calgary tax department.“I think we’ve studied these things to death,” says Allan. He wants to know how to permanently bring poverty rates down.“We’re spending a lot of money and we’re on a treadmill,” he says. “Frankly, we would like to put some social services out of business.”Calgary cannot do much about the roots of poverty without co-operation from other levels of government. Poverty is intimately linked to education, the cost of living, welfare, health and the justice system — all areas the city has very little power over.During the last provincial election campaign, Premier Alison Redford revealed a 10-year plan to eliminate poverty in Alberta.“There is already a great deal of valuable and relevant work going on in communities throughout the province, and we want to build on those successes,” Redford said at an April 11 press conference. She said the Human Services Ministry was created in order “to bring all elements of social policy together under one ministry, which makes it possible to create a comprehensive model that will support our most vulnerable citizens.”Even with the co-operation of multiple levels of government, the wholesale elimination of poverty seems like a far-fetched goal. However, other communities have already seen some success with similar initiatives aimed at rethinking the way we understand the problem. A 2011 report from Public Interest Alberta cites promising provincial strategies in Quebec and Newfoundland.After the launch of its program in 2003, Newfoundland’s “depth of poverty,” as measured by the gap between those considered to be living in poverty and the next income level, decreased to the lowest in the country. Also, some 4,000 people on welfare in Newfoundland gained employment between 2006 and 2008.CPRI is scheduled to produce its first report to the city in December 2012.By Suzy Thompson, Fast Forward WeeklyThis article was published on May 31, 2012 in Fast Forward Weekly. Read the full article on the Fast Forward Weekly website.