A new poverty reduction strategy for Williams Lake calls for shared responsibility across the community.
“There are many roles in poverty reduction at every level of government and at the community level as well,” said Anne Burrill, project lead for the Thrive Poverty Reduction Strategy during a presentation to the committee of the whole on Tuesday, Feb. 16.
“Lots is being done to support people who are struggling and who need immediate services, but the focus of Thrive is about how do we create a community where people have sufficient income and can be self-sufficient.”
Burrill shared the priority actions of the strategy which are financial security and employment, housing and homelessness, food security, lifelong learning and literacy, health and wellness and transportation.
To develop the strategy, she said Thrive hosted 10 community events over a two-year period, with participation by people from all walks of life.
In February 2020 about 65 community members met and narrowed down priorities they thought would have the most impact.
“COVID hit and had a ripple effect on everybody and then out into many other issues – everything from food security, access to childcare and digital literacy. People who didn’t have access to the internet or technology suddenly weren’t able to access any services.”
Data from Statistics Canada in 2016 indicated 14 per cent of the population in Williams Lake was living below the poverty line but Burrill said diving into the demographics showed and a further 34 per cent of Indigenous people, 21 per cent of children up to 19 years old and 27 per cent of youth age 15 to 19 and 17 per cent of women were all living below the poverty line.
“That’s the Williams Lake population so it didn’t include people living on reserves or rural communities in the surrounding area.”
Comparatively, the provincial government’s TogetherBC: British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy 2019 Annual Report noted between 2016 and 2018 (the most recent data available), the overall poverty rate in B.C. decreased from 12 per cent to 8.9 per cent, a 25.8 per cent reduction, while the child poverty rate decreased from 12 per cent to 6.9 per cent, a 42.5 per cent reduction.
Housing continues to be a critical issue locally with 95 per cent of single parent families headed by moms and 50 per cent of those moms paying more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter.
“We are just about ready to launch a rent bank that will help prevent people who are risk of losing their housing or their utilities,” Burrill said, noting it’s a loan program that people will be able to access in a crisis situation.
She said 50 per cent of people living in poverty have some form of employment income.
Council recommended endorsing the reduction plan and providing a grant application to the Union of BC Municipalities Poverty Reduction Planning and Action Program in the amount of $50,000 that would be used to implement the strategy.
The item will go to a regular council meeting for adoption.
Burrill has and will be making presentations to various organizations and asking for them to support the strategy’s implementation as well as identify what is already happening in Williams Lake to help reduce poverty.
“We need to acknowledge and celebrate so people know there’s so much good work that happens in the community that goes unheard by the larger community because people are doing the work and delivering the services,” she said.