The Arusha Centre is an organization who aims to provide community resilience programs and aid in economic development within the city. Through the use of Calgary Dollars, a complimentary currency that can be used for purchasing groceries or trading within communities, the organization seeks to tackle poverty by encouraging communities to invest in themselves through volunteering. Sierra Love, program manager of Calgary Dollars at Arusha, provided some insight into how their organization approaches the issues of community empowerment and building resilience. Natalie Calles also works with Calgary Dollars as their housing manager.
What do you feel are the types of things your organization is doing that are the most innovative in creating equitable communities?
Sierra: Calgary Dollars is a complementary currency. It’s not meant to replace federal dollars. It’s meant to be in parallel. It’s an asset-based community development, so it relies on the assets that people in the community have. That’s including individuals, entrepreneurs, small businesses, everyone in the community, trying to empower those people in those businesses so that they can utilize those assets to make their communities stronger. Calgary Dollars is a tool to help with that.
Natalie: We’ve managed to collaborate with some affordable housing throughout the city, namely, Calgary Housing Company, CUPS and Northbrook Housing. It’s a really unique opportunity where residents can volunteer and get involved around their communities, and get honorariums or paid for doing those activities. They can use the Calgary Dollars they earn, and they can use them towards their rent every month. Another great place that you can use Calgary Dollars at which is very beneficial for our collaborators is Fresh Routes. They’re a mobile food truck that has multiple stops around the city. Residents are able to spend their Calgary Dollars right away to buy groceries there. We also sell transit tickets, so they’re able to buy those. They’re able to trade between one another. It’s great because it connects them to necessities, things they need right away, like transportation and food, but it also gives them a connection between their neighbours like, “Hey, could you water my flowers for a few Calgary Dollars?” Or, “Hey, I can’t get my groceries this week. Can you do that?” and then they can trade in that way.
Who or what do you feel hinders the progress towards achieving equitable communities?
Sierra: Our current government is not very supportive of people who are in crisis or in need, especially those who are at the highest risk of vulnerability. So people who are low income or are new to the country, or they have a disability or many other things, there’s so many barriers in our society, that there’s definitely a wide gap between those who have barriers and those who have a lot more opportunities due to privilege and things like that.
What parts of the city do you see as being the most vulnerable?
Sierra: There’s a lot of vulnerability in the northeast. And part of that is because there’s a lot of people who are new to Calgary, new to Canada. They may be very, very skilled people, but they’re facing a lot of challenges, including possibly language barriers, possibly cultural barriers. Of course, there’s always prejudice and racism that a lot of people are facing as well, which kind of even if they have great language skills, and they’re able to navigate the culture, they still may be facing racism and prejudice.
Who else do you feel is doing innovative work improving the well-being of communities? Who do you think we should talk to, and may we use your name in reaching out to other organizations?
Sierra: There are a lot of organizations where Arusha’s office is located, in the Beltline area, fall under the CommunityWise Resource Centre. Organizations like Aware are really focused on harm reduction and really reaching out to people who are full time or part time on the street, especially if they are suffering from addictions.
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