Derek-CookInitiative plans to build community, resiliency, teach vulnerability

One of the long-term goals of The Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative is to decrease poverty in the city by half before 2023.

The initiative is using Statistic Canada’s low-income cut-off rates as a reference to determining who is living in poverty.

A family whose total income is lower than the low-income cut-off is likely to spend 20 per cent more than the average family to fulfil basic needs. According to Statistics Canada anyone who is spending 20 per cent more than average would be in “strained circumstances.”

“Ten per cent of citizens are below the low-income cut-off levels,” said Derek Cook, executive director of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative secretariat. The report aims to have 95 per cent of Calgarians at or above the low-income cut-off in 10 years. 

 Three strategies proposed by the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative back in June were:

• Establish community hubs so resources to build community, prevent poverty and build resiliency are readily available.

• Develop a public awareness strategy.

• Create a Central Housing Registry so all assistance is easily accessible by those in need.

The initiative will be presenting plans to Calgary City Council during the business plan and budget review meetings at the end of November. These plans may be put into effect in the next four or five years.

“The premise of the initiative is that we’re probably not going to be the ones delivering,” Cook said. “We are the convener, the facilitator, we align initiatives.”

The initiative was originally Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s vision. The city, along with United Way of Calgary and Area, appointed a stewardship group who sat down to begin the planning early in 2012. A few of the overall focuses of the Initiative on top of reducing poverty in the city are:

• Foster community
• Teach vulnerability
• Build resiliency

Similar programs

Cook said the Strong Neighbourhoods Initiative is a program that aims to get residents actively finding ways to make their neighbourhood a place everyone wants to live in. This initiative has many outcomes that align with the goals of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative.

“What we need to think about is what resources and support we could bring to that,” Cook said. “It may be providing almost a guide for what a community hub is,” he added.

Though the flooding in June put a hold on the planning process, Cook said the secretariat has been developing plans for all of the strategies in the report.Steve-AllanThe big idea behind the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative was building community Steve Allan said, co-chair of initiative’s stewardship group.

Photo Courtesy of Steve Allan

Steve Allan, co-chair for initiative’s stewardship group, said he believes that for the community to continue supporting the initiative they need some quick wins.

“One of the issues that keeps popping up is secondary suites,” he said.

Allan said he didn’t like the idea of secondary suites at first, but now he realizes that it will be a self-regulating market and they are only going to pop up in certain types of neighbourhoods.

“We think it will create more housing and just be a positive thing that really won’t have a negative impact on anybody,” he added.

Throughout the initial planning, process the stewardship group had to step back and ask themselves if they were getting anywhere and if what they were planning could actually happen.

When the flood hit in June, Allan said it alleviated some of the initiative’s worries by proving two key things in the planning process: Everyone is vulnerable and Calgary is a community that is prepared to pitch in and help their neighbours.

Allan said the amount of people displaced by the flood is similar to the amount of people below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off levels.

“Those people experience a kind of crisis every day,” he said.

Both Allan and Cook said they believe the goals of the project are ambitious, but achievable.

“If we make some of this happen, I think it will snowball,” Allan said.

Along with prioritizing the implementation plans, Allan said that the next steps include building a staff to carry out the implementation process and continuing to build those relationships with organizations within the community. 

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