Let’s make the December holiday generosity a year-round reality…
One of our Poverty Talks! members at our December meeting shared his joy and frustration. As a person in and out of homelessness and living in poverty, he appreciates the kindness and generosity of Calgarians during the Christmas holiday season. Calgarians demonstrate that they care through the many dinners, food hampers and gifts. Through the spirit of the season, the poor become visible to the community for this brief period. However, in January after the holidays, they become invisible again to our community. He wished and hoped that the poor would remain visible for the entire year.
I am glad that he shared his observation. It is a reminder that we have “normalized” poverty. From time to time and especially during the Christmas and Hanukkah season we reach out and extend our spirit of generosity. However, the needs of the poor are no less urgent at any other time of the year.
A key theme of the Enough for All strategy is “my neighbour’s strength is my strength.” The poor are our neighbours and family members. Many are working poor. Earning less than a living wage ($18.15 an hour), they are unable to meet their basic needs on their income. Others are receiving social assistance and that income is not enough to get by. And thus, a whole host of agencies from the Calgary Food Bank, the DI, Inn from the Cold, Calgary Homeless Foundation, the Mustard Seed, the Calgary Women’s Centre, the United Way, and on and on, provide just-in-time assistance and support. These are vitally needed services. However, all will admit that a city without poverty is far from being a reality.
We need to address the root causes of poverty. We need to ensure that every Calgarian has the necessary income and community supports to meet their needs. We applaud the Calgary Women’s Centre who is leading a concerted effort to raise the social assistance rates. We acknowledge the work of the members of Respect for the Earth and All People (REAP) who are intentionally striving to do “business differently” by paying a living wage to its employees. The Financial Empowerment Collaborative who is working diligently to help people file their taxes: nearly 6,000 were helped to file their taxes resulting in many millions of dollars in refunds and access to child benefit programs of the provincial and federal governments.
With its support of Enough for All, we want to give a shout out to the City. The Fair Entry program has improved the access to City programs by the poor. The sliding scale transit pass has been of great help to ensure that people have access to affordable transportation. And City Council’s approval for proceeding with the legalization of secondary suites will assist in providing more units within the current housing stock.
And our focus on Truth and Reconciliation. When we consider the over-representation of Indigenous people in all of our social services, it requires an urgent response. Sixty percent of homeless families, 30 percent of homeless individuals, and the large percentage within our justice system are Indigenous. As Non-Indigenous Calgarians, we need to enter into the Truth and Reconciliation journey. We applaud post-secondary institutions and organizations in our community that have begun walking the path of their journey toward reconciliation.
Our focus at Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC), as we guide the implementation of Enough for All, is to focus on the root causes of poverty. It requires system changes that will take time. However, for Enough for All to achieve a reduction in the level of poverty in Calgary, it requires that all Calgarians engage in the work. We need to make our December response year-round.
Here are some actions you can do:
- help people to complete their tax filing;
- read the Truth and Reconciliation Report
- do make the month exercise online
- donate your time and dollars on a year-round basis
- seek out and participate in an Indigenous Blanket ceremony
Every action, no matter how small, makes a difference. And in so doing we will make the generous response during the December holiday season a year-round effort. And when we do, we make poverty visible and affirm that our neighbour’s strength is our strength.
On behalf of our Board, committees, collaboratives, and staff engaged in the implementation of Enough for All, we would like to wish all Calgarians the best of this holiday season. May all of our hopes and aspirations continue to move forward in 2018!
Franco Savoia is the Executive Director of Vibrant Communities Calgary. Please feel free to leave a comment below.