One in five B.C. youth under the age of 18 were living below the poverty line in 2015, according to the latest child poverty report from First Call BC.
In Williams Lake, the percentage of children living in poverty was 21.1 per cent or 810 out of 3,840 children, while in the entire Cariboo-Chilcotin region, the percentage was 23.2 per cent, the report noted.
Tsilhqot’in National Government Chair Chief Joe Alphonse said the “high” percentage is concerning because where there is poverty a host of other issues will arise.
Referencing Williams Lake being named as the fourth most dangerous city in Canada according to Macleans Magazine Most Dangerous Places ranking last week, Alphonse said although Williams Lake’s crime rate is not as high as it used to be it is still up there.
“Nobody wants to see children and youth in impoverished situations and as a region, it is something we have to deal with,” Alphonse said, noting every youth should have full access to educational and recreational opportunities. “In the long-term, how poverty is going to be beaten, is with a strong emphasis and priority on training and education. Where you don’t have education you will have poverty.”
There are no easy solutions, the chief added.
“Funding levels from governments cannot sustain families in this day and age and often families are desperate.”
Karen Irvine is the health co-ordinator for Pregnancy Outreach in Williams Lake, an organization that offers support to women who are breastfeeding.
Irvine said in the 13 years she has worked there, more recently she has witnessed an “urgent” need.
“We see families here that don’t seem to be able to make it to their next pay cheque as often,” Irvine told the Tribune. “The week before cheque day we will give out a lot more diapers, food from our food bank here for clients, and it seems to me that they just cannot afford healthy food.”
The food bank, she added is funded by donations from St. Andrew’s United Church, and some assistance from Canada Safeway and private donors.
Irvine said Pregnancy Outrach is open to all families with babies up to six months old. Last week 167 people came through the door.
“We have been getting women from all walks of life coming here because sometimes it’s the social support from peers that new moms are often lacking,” Irvine added. “We have infant massage, sewing and swimming and it’s all helping. I think so many women feel isolated.”
A provincial government poverty reduction strategy committee will be coming to Williams Lake on Friday, Feb. 2, giving locals the opportunity to give their input.
The provincial government announced the tour the day First Call BC released the 2017 BC Child Poverty Report Card.