Anyone with ideas that would help reduce poverty in B.C. is encouraged to share them at a meeting taking place Friday, Feb. 2 in Williams Lake.
Public meetings are being held in 28 locations across the province and, Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction said as the government looks at developing a poverty reduction strategy the idea is to hear from as many people as possible.
“In B.C. we have 678,000 people living in poverty, about 15 per cent of the population and 40 per cent of those people have a pay cheque coming into the house, but are the working poor,” he said.
The meetings have been seeing good turn outs — bigger than organizers anticipated — and the number one issue in every community is housing.
“That seems to be on the top of everyone’s list, but we hear a lot about creating employment opportunities for people who need more skill upgrades, we are hearing about mental health and addiction issues, a whole array of those kinds of things that people talk about as impediments to them getting out of poverty.”
His ministry has contracted the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. to facilitate the meetings and Simpson said people can expect a format with eight or nine people with a facilitator seated at each table.
No stranger to poverty, Simpson grew up on welfare with his sister and their single mother.
“I grew up poor in a East end Vancouver, so I have a connection with poverty.”
Hearing people’s stories about social isolation because of poverty is disheartening, he added.
“People don’t even have money to go out for coffee, so they get isolated in their homes and that’s not healthy. People need support to get past that so they can get engaged again.”
And there’s a growing number of seniors living in poverty because their pensions aren’t covering the cost of living.
It is anticipated the meetings will end on March 31 and it will take about two months for a report to be prepared from the information collected at the meetings.
“I put in a place a minister’s forum of wide range of people and we just had an all-day meeting, plus the Friendship Centres are doing a series of consultations with people who use their services, as is the Métis Nation for people who have very high levels of poverty,” Simpson said.
There is also an opportunity to submit feedback online by March 30.
“We don’t want this process to become Vancouver-centric so we are very focused on making sure that in communities outside the Lower Mainland we are gathering as much information as possible.”
Simpson’s plan is to bring forward poverty reduction legislation in the fall and shortly after that release a multi-year plan outlining what the province is going to do and its expectations of what will be accomplished in terms of reducing poverty.
The meeting in Williams Lake will be held at the Gibraltar room from 2 to 5 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
Minister Simpson will not be in attendance, but his parliamentary secretary Mable Elmore will be.