Contributed by Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society
With the increasing price of housing, food and transportation costs, and limited income and employment opportunities, it’s not surprising that people are looking for a change in Revelstoke. While it’s easy to approach the situation with resignation (it’s just the way it is if you want to live in an idyllic ski town kind of thing), and easier still to complain, many have instead started to look for solutions that challenge the status quo and take a critical look at why so many people are struggling to get by in such a prosperous and booming town.
At first glance, Revelstoke does not come across as especially poor — with a growing ski and tourism industry, businesses are prospering. Despite money coming in however, the cost of housing, food, transportation, heat, child care — and let’s face it, recreating — is much higher than what the bulk of this town’s residents can comfortably afford. Though BC’s minimum wage has recently increased to $13.85/hour, Revelstoke’s living wage is now up to $18.90/hour, the third highest in the province behind only Vancouver and Victoria. It’s no wonder then, that affordability has become one of Revelstoke’s most pressing issues — in fact, it is the single most important social and economic issue in our community.
Poverty does not always look the way you expect it to
Poverty can look as different as those who experience it. When we think of ‘the poor’, the image that automatically comes to mind for most people is the classic photo of a homeless person living on the streets in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. This is the image of those are those living in deep poverty, where access to basic human needs and services such as food, shelter, education, information and more, is lacking. In Revelstoke, hidden poverty and working poverty are the more common forms of poverty, and can easily go unnoticed. Yet, as much as 17% of Revelstoke families are considered to be “low income”.
Income, however, is only one aspect of poverty. A more holistic approach understands that poverty is experienced anytime families and individuals struggle to maintain a decent standard of living and participate fully and with dignity in their community.
This is the approach that Revelstoke’s Poverty Reduction Working Group took on in 2011, when it first dove into this work. In June 2019, the initiative transitioned to a collective impact process called Vibrant Revelstoke – Affordability for All, that brings together people of all backgrounds and sectors to work towards positive and long term solutions that can help lift people out of poverty in a sustainable way.
Shifting from poverty to “affordability”
There’s no question that systems change is a daunting task, and that poverty entails more than the lack of financial resources. It is also about a lack of housing, education, health and nutrition, social exclusion and discrimination. As a complex problem with many layers, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Adding a poverty reduction lens to local initiatives allows us to appreciate how much has actually been done since 2011 at the local, provincial and national level. Locally for example, increased access to community services through programs like the Affordable Child Care Benefit, food recovery and school breakfast programs, and reduced barriers to accessing subsidized housing are all ways that have made life in Revelstoke more affordable for people. It may not increase people’s actual income, but it does reduce costs and indirectly puts money back in people’s pockets, which can increase the quality of life for individuals living in poverty. This isn’t to say higher wages aren’t also ideal – just that they aren’t always a realistic solution. You can find out more about what is happening locally and how far this work has come in the Getting to Impact Report.
To launch our collective impact process in Revelstoke, a ‘Big Event’ in June 2019 gathered 80 people from all walks of life to establish the initiative’s priorities and action areas. ‘Action Teams’ were formed to focus energy and work. As well, a ‘Listening Team’ was formed to document people’s experiences of poverty and finding out what barriers exist. The next big event is set for fall 2020, where a five-year plan will be established to outline Revelstoke’s long term goals and proposed actions to both reduce poverty and improve affordability in the community.
Why is this process different?
We need to unthink and rethink about how we look at and deal with poverty, and come to a common understanding — moving people out of poverty rather than just supporting those living in poverty to get by. From surviving, to thriving. As a collective process though, it must come with the help and collaboration of everyone in the community. Those who experience poverty and service providers are key in helping change things, by identifying what gaps or barriers exist and what systemic changes can help make their lives better. It is proven that where poverty and/or affordability challenges exist, everyone is impacted. According to the Tamarack Institute, a think-tank/capacity-building organization that specializes in poverty reduction initiatives and which has been coaching Revelstoke through its process, the collaboration piece is key. “Multi-sectoral collaboration between governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, and people with lived experience of poverty has been recognized as a core principle of effective poverty reduction work since the establishment of Vibrant Communities in 2002.”
The idea of “nothing about us without us” adapted from the disability movement is being applied to poverty reduction, which moves away from the typical top-down decision-making approach about projects, programs and policies that might affect those experiencing poverty without including them in the process in a meaningful way.
Because change takes time, it’s important to have patience throughout this process. While the momentum is high and the desire to see action is high, it’s important to leave space during this emergent year of the process for discussion. While some may be tired of so much talking, the truth is, that this discussion is in and of itself, action. Action, which will lead to bigger and systemic changes that can have a lasting positive effect on people’s lives. When we reflect on the progress that has been made so far, we can see that Revelstoke has been committed to this from the beginning. It’s up to all of us now, to determine what change we want to see, and how to achieve it.