Child poverty ‘hidden’ scourge in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Medical chief says long-term health of local youths impacted

People living in Parksville Qualicum Beach are generally healthy, however the region is among Vancouver Island’s worst for child poverty, according to health officials.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for Island Health, and Brenda Kent and Gerry Herkel of Oceanside Health and Wellness Network presented at Qualicum Beach town council Aug. 21.

Hasselback presented on the local health area profile for Parksville Qualicum Beach while Kent and Herkel presented on the wellness network overall and the priorities for the group.

Hasselback said in Parksville Qualicum Beach, there is a much higher proportion of children – about 30 per cent – living below a level of economic standard.

“Generally, if I go into a community, I will find that that proportion is similar when we start looking at adults and similar when we start looking at seniors as well. So the overall economic distribution and the spread of wealth within the community is pretty equal, even if the whole area is economically depressed or is doing economically well.”

However, Hasselback said, it’s a different situation in Qualicum Beach.

“What is different about Qualicum is we have such a high rate of children living in lower economic settings but a lower rate of seniors living in [lower] economic settings, and it’s that disparity in terms of the distribution of wealth which I think is one of the real challenges.”

Kent said the child poverty rate in Parksville Qualicum Beach is greater than the provincial average and is the fifth highest on Vancouver Island.

“This is not well-known and it’s often a surprise to people that we speak with in the community,” Kent said “It’s one of those things that tends to be hidden and people don’t always see it.”

She said the inequitable distribution of resources can become a concern down the road because income disparity in communities is link to poor health outcomes in the future.

“You may not see it now, but if this trend continues it’s something that will be a concern down the road,” Kent said.

Herkel said the wellness network had three priorities: child wellness, mental health and network development in PQB.

He said with child wellness, many children go to school hungry, and food security is one way to reduce that.

“We feel that by addressing food security, which is the availability and access of affordable and healthy, appropriate food is one way to reduce the impact of poverty across rural and urban Oceanside communities,” Herkel said.

At the meeting, Mayor Teunis Westbroek asked Hasselback about the opioid crisis and if there is any data for Qualicum Beach specifically.

Hasselback said there is a double to two-and-a-half times increase in the area, which is basically the School District 69 region.

“When you talk about Qualicum Beach specifically, it’s perhaps not as impacted, but the immediately surrounding areas, absolutely,” said Hasselback, adding there is a problem north of Parksville Qualicum Beach. “You are not protected in any way. This is something that’s close to home.”

Asked about what supports people in region can give, Hasselback said: “It’s about housing first, and access to housing. That’s something that you (town council) have a role to play in terms of low-barrier housing and availability. After housing, it’s about meaningful contributions to society, which we often call employment. Then we can start talking about what are the long-term sustainability issues.”