Edward Quinlan grew up below the poverty line. He was raised by single mother who had just immigrated to Canada from Serbia.
A few decades later Quinlan is doing pretty well for himself; he’s now a business analyst at Community Futures but he still remembers the challenges he faced as a child, so when he heard about the poverty reduction strategy meeting coming to Smithers he knew he had to speak up.
“I just think we can do better,” said Quinlan. “We have the systems to do better, we have the resources to better, we have the research to do better. There’s no shortage of research on [poverty] but it takes willingness on behalf of those in power to put those things in place. It also takes pressure on behalf of citizens to tell those in power what to do.”
Quinlan was one of the many residents who attended the meeting hosted by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction on Jan. 13 at the Smithers Senior Citizens Association Branch 21.
This was just one of 22 meetings that will take place across the province until March. The meetings are a way for the public to discuss ways to reduce poverty in the province.
In British Columbia, 15 per cent of the population — 678,000 people — are living in poverty. Disabled and Indigenous people are twice as likely be in poverty. Forty percent of people in poverty work full-time jobs Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson said.
“I’ve been working around these issues for an awfully long time and if I’ve learned anything it’s while experts have a valuable point of view, people who the live the experience of being poor and people who work in the community also have insights,” said Simpson.
“It’s also critical that we hear from people across the province and the challenge with experts is, quite honestly, experts tend to usually come from Vancouver and Victoria. They do bring that Lower Mainland-centric view to things.”
Once the consultation process is complete the Social Planning and Research Council of BC will write a report on what was discussed, which will help shape the poverty reduction strategy that will be released this fall.
Simpson said Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister and Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson lobbied hard to get the meeting to come to Smithers.
“I’m really happy this workshop stopped in Stikine. Although there’s common themes with other areas in the province we have some unique perspectives,” said Donaldson.
“What I find unique about what I heard today was how [the issue of poverty is] so integrated into the health of the land and that’s who we are in the North.”
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach also attended the discussion and said he learned a lot by listening to the perspectives of people dealing with poverty.
“The most interesting aspect to me is just how interconnected all these things are. You can’t pick out any one part because you find that it’s connected to everything else,” said Bachrach.
“Issues around poverty are not only related to employment but housing and healthcare. All of these different things are interlinked. We really need a systems approach and a fundamentally holistic approach if we want to improve people’s quality of life.”
A planned 24-unit supportive housing project on Railway Avenue recently moved one step closer towards building with Smithers council passing zoning regulations for the land it’s to be built on.
“The key to the success of [that] housing, and we’ve announced 2,000 of these units to be allocated around the province, [is] not just the units but we’ve allocated significant money for operating dollars,” said Simpson.
“We know for those people that are going to go into those units who have complex needs — mental health, addiction needs— they require additional services. More than just a place to hang their hat and a bed.”
The Province has invested more than $170 million in funding to provide staffing and support services for the residents of those units across B.C.
While Quinlan believes these discussions are a good first step, he believes more needs to be done to de-stigmatize mental health and poverty as well as bring awareness surrounding Indigenous people’s struggles and the historical context behind their current position.
“[Poverty is] not a simple thing to solve, it’s a very complex issue but I think a bit of compassion goes a hell of a long way,” said Quinlan. “Any degree of awareness and understanding is huge.”