By Franco Savoia
We polled Calgarians in 2014 and 2016. Eighty percent know that there is poverty in our city. In fact, four per cent had had direct experience at one time in their lives. Eight per cent are aware of Enough for All, Calgary’s poverty reduction strategy. When asked to prioritize nine issues facing our community, 30 per cent rated unemployment as the number one issue and six per cent rated poverty reduction as number one, 5th out of the nine.
This data tells us that we know that there is poverty in our city but we have become complacent. We have accepted it as “normal.”
Yet, these Calgarians are our fellow workers, family members and neighbours. They are struggling each day. They are living in constant stress and trauma. Their lived-experience of poverty is similar to the tens of thousands who lost their housing in 2013 when the Bow and Elbow Rivers overflowed their banks. Or in 2016 when the residents of Fort McMurray were evacuated. Lives were disrupted. Families were displaced.
The dramatic pictures and many personal stories ignited our compassion and empathy on so many levels in both of these major catastrophes. For example, YMCAs across the country collected dollars and forwarded them to the YMCA in Fort McMurray. Our Rotary Club encouraged all of its members to donate to assist families affected by the fire. Thousands of people responded to the floods by donating dollars and time. Hundreds put on boots and work gloves and helped their neighbours clean out their basements.
Approximately the same number of people are living in chronic scarcity as directly affected by the flood and fire are experiencing the same stress and trauma on a daily basis. However unlike the fire and flood, they remain invisible to us. We have normalized their pain. Unlike the flood and fire, we have learned to live with it rather re-ignite our empathy and compassion and challenge ourselves to work to change the systems and support people to lift themselves out of poverty and in time to make it a thing of the past.
Enough for All is a comprehensive strategy. It has an aspirational goal to work and change how we support the most vulnerable to such extent that those living in poverty is reduced by 50% by 2023. Like our response to the fire and flood we know that we have the ability to make a difference.
Here are three things that we can do:
- Ensuring that every family and individual files their annual tax return. There are 41 benefits that will increase their income. The most immediate are the Alberta Child Benefit and the Canada Enhanced Child Benefit from the federal government.
- Asking each person about their hopes and passions and then supporting them to move towards their goal and then helping and support them to connect to the right resources to move towards a positive goal for their future.
- Asking them on who they can count on in their lives. Human connections are critical to our health and well-being and to help each person lift themselves out of poverty.
I am convinced that this personal approach can make a difference. Start today.
Franco Savoia is the Executive Director of Vibrant Communities Calgary. Please feel free to leave a comment below.