More than 150 people gathered to hear and share experiences with the provincial government about poverty in Prince Rupert.
The North Coast city was the first of 22 stops for 2018 for poverty discussions held across the province. On Jan. 11, MLA Jennifer Rice introduced Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction, to the crowd at the Nisga’a Hall.
The community meetings have been set up by the ministry and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC) to hear directly from affected people for a poverty reduction strategy.
“B.C. is the only province in Canada that doesn’t have a [poverty reduction] strategy, and we’re changing that,” Shane Simpson said.
“In British Columbia, we have about 678,000 people living in poverty. That’s 15 per cent of the population of the province. Here in Prince Rupert, the numbers are even tougher,” Simpson said. “One in five kids are poor. If you’re disabled or Indigenous, you’re twice as likely to be poor than anybody else. The challenge is over 40 per cent of the people who are living poor in this province have a full-time pay cheque coming into the house. They are the working poor.”
He said the process will take time as the ministry determines what issues take priority and how best to address the feedback they receive. Some issues Simpson said they’ve heard include the need for affordable housing.
In a Facebook post the day after the discussion, MLA Jennifer Rice wrote that some of the subjects raised included tenancy issues, mental health support, food security, childcare, transportation, community support and systemic racism and multi-generational poverty.
“Our commitment is that everybody in this province has value, and everybody should be heard and people living poor certainly have a right to be heard in solving the challenges that they face every day,” Rice said.
Lara Therrien Boulos, one of the SPARC researchers hired by the ministry, said, “These meetings are really centred on creating safe environments for people to share their ideas, perhaps share stories. We understand there are some regional differences and experiences are going to be different across the board.
“I think that it’s really important for people to have a chance to be heard in a meaningful way, to feel supported in sharing their stories and to know that this is going to inform hopefully action moving forward that will change these experiences for the better and lift people out of poverty,” Therrien Boulos said.
The next two public poverty discussions in Northern B.C. were in Terrace and Smithers on Jan. 12 and 13.