11 initiatives for poverty reduction in Calgary

graphic showing image of helpingPoverty is an ongoing challenge in our city (and in most cities). It is a complex problem that requires an ongoing combination of both community initiatives and city wide strategies. Most, if not all of these strategies are rooted in developing, redeveloping and maintaining collaborative partnerships with local agencies, community groups and residents. A lot of progress had been made in reducing poverty in Calgary between 2015 and 2019, however the increase in the opioid crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic factors have led to more challenges for at-risk Calgarians. It is an issue that affects the whole city, including Ward 11 communities. For example, over 8000 residents of Ward 11 are in low income households, including 2085 children.

It is important that poverty reduction initiatives are proactive and sustainable and that they help make people and families more independent wherever possible. It is also critical that we also have solutions and strategies for those currently facing poverty related challenges (food, housing, health, mental health).

This list of 11 initiatives is by no means exhaustive - there are many other initiatives that are happening or could be implemented. This list was compiled as a result of community and social agency meetings I have attended and on research I have done:

  1. Promote healthy families and neighborhoods and protect child development at the community level. This can be done by developing resident-led neighbourhood plans. This helps determine via lived experience what amenities and services are lacking and what residents need (such as transit, better access to grocery stores, or social services)).  Building new/better partnerships with agencies and businesses also helps support healthy neighbourhoods.
  2. Increase support and awareness of programs that support at-risk populations, specifically: youth, newcomers, and seniors. These programs provide support such as mentoring, skills training, language courses, family violence prevention, older adult integration, mental health, food access and household goods.
  3. Ensure there is better access to specialized emergency housing options. There is a lack of crisis housing solutions for houseless couples, as well as houseless individuals requiring palliative care. With the former, many couples remain on the streets or in unsafe housing situations because shelters and transitional housing more often than not do not accommodate couples. For houseless Calgarians requiring palliative care, there are not enough options for places where they can live out their remaining days in comfort and with dignity, while having access to support they need
  4. Create more subsidized housing for seniors - whether that is through Calgary Housing, external agencies or new City partnerships with private residential building owners.
  5. Provide better addiction support. This is a multifaceted issue with a number of stakeholders and levels of government that need to work together to create better support for addictions in the City. While healthcare is provincial, Calgary is in the midst of a drug crisis and we need to work to change that - both with the province and independently. Council should continue to support the Calgary Mental Health and Addiction Strategy. We need to work to find a solution for increased access to supervised consumption sites. We also need to determine the best way to address zoning concerns in communities for treatment related centres. This is key, as poverty can increase addiction risk factors, and addiction can cause some people to slip into poverty. 
  6. Maintain housing affordability. In some regions, renters who are under 30 are spending more than half their income on rent. In Calgary it can take the average renter 10 years to save a downpayment for a home. We need to make sure that Calgarians of all ages are able to reasonably find the type of home that works for their needs, at a cost of no more than ⅓ of their income. To support this, the City needs to make sure there is an adequate housing supply that aligns with growth strategies. Affordability helps promote economic and demographic growth as well, leading to more investment and job opportunities.
  7. Develop stronger partnerships/relationships with local support agencies (grants, community cleanups etc to facilitate operations and ability to support vulnerable populations). Some agencies currently working in some capacity with the City do not feel that they have a strong partnership. They feel better communication and more collaboration could benefit everyone.
  8. Provide reliable and consistent funding for the maintenance and lifecycle upgrades to Calgary Housing Authority so that units are safe, clean and accessible - and so that we do not decrease the inventory of units
  9. Work with law enforcement and related addictions and mental health agencies to develop appropriate response protocols/standards for those experiencing mental and addictions related crises and/or houselessness. Support these protocols with appropriate City funding.
  10. Ensure the city has a robust economic health strategy (including job creation and policies that encourage investment), so that it can better manage future recessions/economic hardship (read my ideas here).
  11. Make sure Calgary has efficient, effective and affordable transit. A Harvard study found that time spent on transit commuting is one of the biggest indicators of whether or not a person can move out of poverty. Efficient and reliable transit is also critical for residents to access services such as health care. Transit allows individuals to work, as well as do things like shopping and access amenities like recreation centres. Affordable transit also means that an individual or a household can save money for the future or put back into the economy in other ways

As mentioned, reducing poverty isn’t an easy fix and will require ongoing focus, collaboration and attention of residents, communities, social service agencies, government administrations and elected officials. As a City Council, we need to enact policies and improve processes so that we can expand opportunities for Calgarians, increase economic security for residents and proactively assist those most at risk, with services and community support.