Nanaimo’s Joanne Bevis was shocked and appalled when First Call reported B.C. had one of the highest child poverty rates in the country.
It didn’t take her long to decide to do something about it.
Bevis helped spark Nanaimo’s new Ending Poverty Together Coalition last year, an informal group of agencies and citizens set up to address child poverty in the Harbour City.
The organization isn’t the first to tackle poverty, which affects 21.3 per cent of children under the age of six in Nanaimo. Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank, the 7-10 Club, SPUD Patrol and social networking sites like Nanaimo’s Free Food Group have been aiding low-income families. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Vancouver Island is looking to target the issue of impoverished children in its strategic plan. But this coalition is aiming to pull it all together, because with such a big problem, no one group can work in isolation, Bevis says.
“To me, we have this crisis that there’s such a high proportion of kids who don’t have enough food, don’t have enough clothes, can’t play sports – all those things kids should do,” she said, adding the problem is systemic and a result of B.C.’s minimum wage. “I think it’s all of our responsibility and that’s why we called the group Ending Poverty Together.”
The organization hosts a “call to action” forum today (Jan. 22), with speakers like Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, and Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for Island Health. Addressing poverty is a task that would have to be done in steps and phases, said Bevis, who hopes by the end of the event, work can be narrowed down to major sub-issues.
Ian Kalina, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Vancouver Island, will be at the forum. He believes we shouldn’t get stuck coming up with the perfect solution, but a tangible, meaningful way to start doing something.
The province has control over issues like welfare rates and minimum wage, but Hasselback believes the community can do things to help address poverty, from advocacy to child-care spaces and food planning.
“I am excited about what’s happening [today] because a group of people are coming together saying hey, let’s start doing something,” he said.
And why should people care about child poverty? Hasselback says we all benefit when we do.
“What begins to happen is those communities that actually do demonstrate investment in children and investment in addressing equity are more successful collectively,” he said.
Changing the Dynamics of Poverty for Children and Families forum is from 1-3:30 p.m. today at Beban Park social centre, lounge A. Admission is free.