Poverty is not always what people think it is. In Calgary especially, it is often a hidden problem. But Vibrant Communities Calgary has compiled detailed poverty profiles for each city council ward in the city, which outline the disproportionate impacts of poverty.
“A lot of people think that poverty is the person sitting outside the grocery store asking for change, when in fact poverty is really happening behind a lot of doors,” says Meaghon Reid, the executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary.
The poverty profiles were completed in July 2021. Ward 8, the home of Mount Royal University, is not immune from poverty. Reid says many people living in the area are having to choose between basic needs — rent, childcare, and utilities. Not to mention the added pressures of high food and gas prices.
For Calgarians with disabilities, these choices can be more difficult because there are limited accessible and inclusive solutions.
According to the Ward 8 profile, four of the largest concerns for community members are access to childcare, employment, financial well-being and food security.
To paint a broader picture, Ward 8 is in the southwest, ranging from the neighbourhoods of Shaganappi down to Lincoln Park. In 2016, the ward had a population of 88,275 people and 46,815 households. It also has a diverse range of income. As of 2015 for example, 12 per cent of people were living in low-income households.
Reid says income inequality — the gap between low and high-income residents — is responsible for much of the food insecurity in the area.
“Last year, there were about 300 calls to 211 for emergency food resources,” says Reid. “The most frequently reported reasons that people requested food were because they don’t have enough benefits.”
According to the profile, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) is the primary source of income for 17 per cent of people that requested emergency food resources in Ward 8. 33 per cent of people requesting food resources receive income support from other government programs.
The Alberta Budget 2022 released on Feb. 25, stated the indexing of AISH will continue to be suspended until the budget is balanced. This means that people in the AISH program receive a fixed monthly income, instead of one that increases with inflation. The program has not been indexed since 2019.
In other words, the cost of living is increasing but AISH payments are not keeping up.
AISH provides disabled Albertans of working age, 18 to 65, with a maximum living allowance of $1,685 per month. This amount, along with child, health, and personal benefits is determined with consideration of the applicant’s income and assets.
Catherine Oakleaf, regional director of advocacy and community engagement with Inclusion Alberta, says the government’s decision to move forward with non-indexed AISH further compounds poverty for people with developmental disabilities.
“There are a lot of people who are at home and they’re collecting AISH – not because that’s all they want to do – but because they don’t have as many options as people without disabilities do in terms of earning a living wage,” says Oakleaf.
For Ward 8, the profile states the average rent per household is $1,294 per month.
So for those relying on fixed AISH payments of around $1,700 a month “it would be really, really difficult to rent somewhere to live, have food security, and have any kind of life,” says Oakleaf.
Hagir Sail, community engagement and facilitation specialist for Vibrant Communities Calgary, says the lived experience of disability is often forgotten when decisions are made to tackle poverty, leaving no room for people with disabilities to be meaningfully included.
“When the intersectionality of disability, race, language and culture comes into play, it’s not it’s not even that you fall between the cracks, you just fell into a huge crevice, and nobody even bothers looking for you,” says Sail.
Oakleaf says Calgary has a creative spirit, which could be helpful in overcoming barriers to meaningful inclusion.
The Ward 8 poverty profile also included ideas from residents on how to reduce poverty in the area. Suggestions ranged from increasing affordable housing units, more resources for residents experiencing addiction and mental health issues, to community events focused on raising awareness of existing inequalities in the ward.
Rather than creating more disability-specific spaces, Oakleaf says the broader community needs to be more intentional about welcoming people with disabilities into already existing spaces.