Red Deer, which has a provincially high family income average of $105,000, also has a soft underbelly of poverty that includes the working poor, the young, people with disabilities, aboriginals and recent immigrants, said Mayor Morris Flewwelling.
“That is evidenced by the way our food bank flourishes, our clothing bank flourishes and some of the domestic abuse situations triggered by the stress of not having enough.” He estimates 15 to 18% of Red Deerians can be described as living in poverty.
The mayor was attending the Poverty to Prosperity conference in Red Deer on Tuesday organized by the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA). Tricia Haggarty-Roberts, assistant executive director of the Safe Harbour Society in Red Deer, is a spokesperson for the group.
“We have the homeless on one end and individuals and families who are struggling who certainly require services. We’re looking at the need for inclusion, at kids who can’t join Scouts or can’t join a recreation program because they can’t afford transit to get there. That’s a poverty deficit that we have in our community and we’re looking at options for more inclusion. We are eager to get Central Albertans involved in making our communities vibrant and accessible for all citizens,” she said.
Joe Ceci, a former Calgary alderman who coordinates the Action to End Poverty in Alberta group, said Calgary has about 100,000 people living in poverty, or below the low income cut off.
“There’s not one approach or a silver bullet to address poverty in our communities. We need to evaluate and monitor on an ongoing basis because we know the cost of poverty is between $7.1 and $9.5 billion annually in Alberta. This is what happens when people go to jail, go to hospitals and don’t get the kind of jobs they are capable of. Unless we do more work together we are going to pay that external cost.”
He estimated the cost of strategies to reduce poverty, like making day care more available or having the province match federal child tax credits like many other provinces do, would be half the cost of poverty itself.
“As mayor, what gets to me is that poverty affects children in larger numbers, often single parent families,” said Flewwelling. “There are programs to help, but if we could redistribute some of our income, some of our taxation or property taxes in a different way,” we could solve a lot of the problem.
Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. are the only provinces which don’t have a provincial poverty reduction strategy, but Alberta is suppose to have one by this fall. Alberta Premier Alison Redford promised to end poverty in 10 years during the last election campaign. Human Services Minister Dave Hancock also spoke at the conference about provincial plans to help end poverty.