There is just cause, sometimes, to be politically incorrect and even risk offending people in your community. This is one of those times.
Campbell River is a giving community. We donate to the food bank, the soup kitchen, the shelter, camp for impoverished kids, the pediatric ward, mentoring programs, christmas presents, breakfast programs, and hot lunch programs. Teachers are struggling to help some students at least to eat and at times personally paying for food. Over and above what is donated by corporations and individuals, our tax dollars go to support more band-aids for the poor. Yes, I said it. Band-aids.
Hunger is not the problem. Parental inability to buy christmas presents or a turkey is not the problem. Children having no access to recreation or role models is not the problem. Children who are sick with asthma from mold induced allergies, or scabies from poor living conditions, or low immunity due to poor diets are not the problem. POVERTY is the problem and investments are needed to address systemic sources of disadvantage.
People do not have enough food, they eat an unbalanced diet relying on low-cost food, they have anxiety about food supply or stress associated with trying to meet daily food needs and are ashamed about having to acquire food through socially unacceptable means such as food banks, soup kitchens, buying food on credit, and, in some cases, stealing. The coping strategy of many parents is to compromise their own nutritional intake to feed their children as best as they can.
This issue affects the health of our entire community. If we keep throwing money at the surface wounds we are never going to get to the infection and that infection is having long-lasting impacts on our community citizens. Most recent data indicate that nearly 1.2 million children – almost one of every six children – live in low-income households. B.C. has had the highest rate of child poverty consistently for the past 7 years. Among low income families, 66% live in unaffordable housing, and just because it is unaffordable does not mean it is high end by any stretch of the imagination. Children make up 41% of food bank users, but only 25% of Canada’s population. Families are the fastest growing group needing emergency housing, shelters, transition houses, hostels. The lack of access to proper income assitsance rates, or for the working poor, to a living wage and to extended health care benefits denies quality of life and eyeglasses, prescription drugs, and dental care.
The systemic sources of poverty include extremely low welfare rates, minimum wages that do not allow for a basic standard of living, claw backs, lack of incentives to get ahead, no affordable housing, no continuum of care for people with mental handicaps, illnesses, or addictions, limited child care options, and social services and health care system that is completely ineffective in dealing with impoverished individuals and families.
We must invest in pathways out of poverty, not nice stops along the dead end road. We need to ensure there are good jobs at living wages that provide full-time work; an effective child benefit that is indexed; a system of affordable, universally accessible early learning and child care services available to all families irrespective of employment status; an affordable housing program that creates more affordable and safe housing and helps to sustain existing stock; and affordable and accessible postsecondary education and training programs that prepare youth and adults for employment leading to economic independence. We all need to join provincial and national coalitions aimed at ending child poverty. We need to stop defining it, analyzing it, setting up committee upon committee to meet about it because all that has produced few, if any, perceived results and has fragmented any responsible cohesive action plan which should be very simple. “Who”, “What”, and “By when?”
It is our elected officials who make the decisions that have kept people in poverty for so long and kept shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and responsive rather than preventative programs in business for far too long. It is up to us, the community, to realize this and as icky as it might seem, peek under the band aids to see what is really festering.