The ever increasing need to address Revelstoke’s affordability challenges isn’t new. What hasn’t happened, until now, is a collaboration of people meeting to discuss ways to reduce the impacts that numerous issues surrounding affordability issues are having on everyone in the community.
For the better part of two days, a cross-section of Revelstoke residents met to do just that. Hosted by Collective Impact Revelstoke, Vibrant Revelstoke — Affordability For All saw 100 individuals gathered together in the Community Centre on June 4 and 5 to collectively address the significant impacts over our community’s increasing rate of affordability, and what we can do to address that.
The outcomes of the event led to discussions on how improvements in the following areas can help reduce the impacts of affordability in Revelstoke including: transportation, food resources, shelter/housing, and creating neighbourhood hubs that help connect people. While next steps haven’t been set out just yet, attendees were invited to sign up for future working groups and a report on the event is expected sometime soon.
You can view an outline of the Collective Impact presentations from June 4 and 5 here.
As a journalist, I usually recuse myself from taking part in the story. My job is to report facts and to remove my biases, because that is what is expected. So I might tell you here, that the Collective Impact group in Revelstoke is a member of the Tamarack Institute’s Vibrant Communities Initiative, and that the institute has been invited by the organizers’ to help guide the process of change in Revelstoke. I can tell you that City of Revelstoke Director of Community Economic Development Ingrid Bron shared statistics showing that single individuals and lone-parent families make up the bulk of low income households in our community. I can share bits about the insightful presentation Revelstoke Museum Curator Cathy English made on our community’s history of success, including her acknowledgement that, despite years of denial from all levels of government, that the traditional territories of First Nations Peoples in the area did include parts of what is now Revelstoke. I can tell you Kerri Wall, Healthy Communities Facilitator with Interior Health, facilitated the Collective Impact Event, and that perhaps the most profound words she spoke were asking us to actually listen to one another, and not just take turns speaking.
I could do all that, but the truth is I am part of the story, and so instead I’ll share the experiences and insights I had during the event:
It’s sometime in May the invitation appears in the inbox of my personal email account. The attached letter is sent by the events invitees: Community Connections Executive Director Sheena Bell, Community Futures Revelstoke General Manager Kevin Dorrius, Revelstoke Mayor Gary Sulz, and Living Experience Volunteer Michelle Cole.
The invitation letter speaks to Revelstoke’s history as a community whose collaborations have led to an incredible array of programs, services and facilities. It speaks also to our present as a community ripe with opportunity, but also how rising costs and affordability issues are increasingly impacting all residents.
“It is becoming ever more challenging to house and recruit our labour force. Anyone on a fixed income is having trouble making ends meet. It is challenging for young people to get ahead. We know that when affordability challenges exist, the entire community is impacted,” reads the invitation.
I arrive at the event to find I’ve been assigned to a table, as has everyone else. The event is comprised of a series of “round table talks” — discussions in a small group. From there, one representative from each group heads into the “fish bowl” (a circle of chairs set up in the middle of the room), to bring forward thoughts from each table for a broader discussion.
Early on we’re divided into groups of three. Each of us sitting with two other people not part of our assigned tables. I’m sitting with a man and a woman. The man I have never seen or spoken to before. The woman I know, but only on a professional level. We both know of each other, but not about each other. The rules of the exercise are incredibly simple: One person talks, one person asks the questions, and one person is there only to listen. The person speaking is there to answer the following questions: Who am I? Why am I here today? The person asking questions is instructed to ask only one thing: tell me more.
I’ve been pondering the answers to the questions presented since receiving my email invitation nearly a month prior to the event. The invitation is sent to my personal email. The invitation states I have been invited because, “We feel your passion, strengths and experience would be a valuable addition to the process.” I have spent weeks mulling over that statement. Am I being asked for my experience as a journalist? For the insights I have after spending multiple years as a front-line worker, assisting others experiencing the varying levels of poverty in our community? Or have I been invited as someone who now lives, daily, the reality of poverty in a community where the cost of even basic necessities can seem like expensive luxuries?
I speak first in my small group. I hesitate for a moment, but then decide it’s the latter I’ll speak about: I’m Melissa, a single mother who is chronically ill, disabled and poor. I survive on a fixed income that is well below Revelstoke’s current living wage. Although I really shouldn’t work at all, I continue to write because my doctors have agreed it provides me with a sense of purpose. As anyone who is chronically ill and lives in poverty will tell you, there is a fear in speaking our reality. More often than not sharing our truth results in responses of judgement, demands to share how each dollar is spent, to prove we are not living beyond our already meagre means, to prove we are really sick, and well-meaning but misplaced suggestions of “have you tried?” (I have, thanks).
None of the above happens, though. For the five minutes I speak the woman simply states “tell me more” whenever I pause. The man listens. I want to cry. It’s the first time I’ve spoken about my reality without feeling as though I need to defend it.
My story isn’t unique. I’m not special. Throughout the Collective Impact Event there are other stories of people struggling to afford the ever rising cost of living in Revelstoke. They vary from those like myself who live on fixed income to the working poor to stories about the impacts affordability has on local businesses and the broader community. Choosing to share stories of poverty is an extremely personal decision, though. People don’t share their stories of struggling to afford basic necessities like food or shelter, because they’re so often misconstrued as seeking handouts and pity. In truth, what needs to happen are more collaborative events like Collective Impact, where people with individual experiences can connect with one another and begin working towards solutions.
I know I’m looking forward to seeing how Revelstoke can continue to collaborate and create actionable items that address all levels of affordability and connection within our community.