In June 2023, Forbes Magazine listed Calgary as the seventh most desirable city in the world to live. Even though many Calgarians enjoy a high standards of living, a recent report stated 25 per cent of those living in the city struggle financially and find it difficult to meet their basic needs when buying food, clothing and obtaining affordable housing. In addition, a growing percentage of individuals are finding it harder to save money to secure a better future and to pay for education that will alleviate dire situations. Lower incomes also take a toll on the mental health of individuals and the social fabric of communities.
Vibrant Communities is a local non-profit organization committed to addressing and resolving the growing number of issues that plague Calgary’s disadvantaged citizens. Enough For All (E4A) is one of their main initiatives that strives to “create opportunities to align and leverage the work of hundreds of organizations and thousands of Calgarians to reduce poverty in our city.”
In their Community Wellbeing Report, issued in 2022, E4A identifies a number of different factors that contribute to the layers poverty that exist in Calgary.
Meaghon Reid, the Executive Director of Vibrant Communities, pinpointed deficiencies in childhood literacy in the city as a primary concern which can impact a person through their entire lifespan. She said, “There’s a huge educational gap that we have that needs to be addressed urgently and immediately. Because if you are an adult that can’t read, that’s really going to severely impact your life, particularly when it comes to poverty.”
Another hurdle going into adulthood is the troubling statistic that only 60 per cent of Calgarians can afford post-secondary education, including trades after high school.
Reid noted, “We’re going to continue to see these gaps in the employment market where we have a number of jobs open and people who can’t fill them… because they can’t afford to attend a program that would allow them to gain those skills.”
Food, Housing and Financial Insecurity = Affordability Crisis
In the wake of the pandemic the cost of food has risen by 11 per cent, but the wages people earn have only increased by one per cent prompting challenges for individuals who aren’t accustom to instability.
“We’re increasingly becoming concerned about people in middle income brackets, and that’s new for us and our communities,” said Reid. “They might be okay today, but their risk of falling into poverty is becoming more and more extreme, particularly if we think about things like the housing market.”
With the cost of housing rising a dramatic 30 percent in the past couple of years, more and more people face financial difficulties in an undersupplied housing market.
“We don’t have rent controls in Alberta, nor are most things like rent caps very effective,” said Reid. “So we do need to be looking at this from the income and supply side. And not necessarily a control side.”
A modest standard of living in the city carries the price tag of $22.60 an hour, however the current basic wage is only $15 an hour. Even with income support, it has been difficult to keep people above the poverty line. As a result, Reid said, “We hear people making trade-offs between their rent and food, between food and medication. And that’s a really scary scenario for people to be in and unacceptable in Canada. It’s insane.”
It was previously thought that people in poverty used to be a minority, but, according to a report published by the Financial Post, most Canadians are only $200 away from not being able to meet their basic needs.
Reid adds, “What we see with the affordability crisis is that that’s becoming incredibly mainstream, and that even middle income earners are not necessarily able to meet their financial obligations in a way that allows them to prepare for an emergency.”
While the responsibility of most healthcare services lies in the hands of provincial services, there are still municipal programs that can help support the city.
Reid said, “We do have something called the mental health and addictions strategy for the city. I think looking at how that’s rolling out and being executed, or funded and implemented, is a really important question — to see how we’re supporting factors like belonging or loneliness.”
Calgary’s Bus Rapid Transit program has offered convenient and fast routes for workers reliant on public transit, but attention to bus scheduling and bus stop planning needs more attention with an increase in population.
Reid notes, “As the city grows outwards, we need to make sure that people are able to access that transportation in a way that’s reasonable. For most people that means that you’re within 150 meters of a transit stop. If you pass 150 metres for a transit stop in terms of location, that generally means you are not going to use that transit — it’s too far away for the majority of the population.”
For newcomers to the city, they often find themselves in an environment where they have difficulty accessing both housing and employment due to prejudice or the education required.
Reid claims, “We really have a systemic racism issue when it comes to access to employment and education. That’s really sticky in Calgary, and we have to be putting in more measures to make sure that we are removing barriers in terms of access to the job market and the education market.”
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