Monday, June 24, 2013

On Poverty Reduction...

So I was called a hippie today.... (by someone who is just as much a hippie as I am--and a fellow clergy person) but more on that later.

I was invited to spend this afternoon and tomorrow morning at a meeting to discuss poverty reduction within this community.  And, seeing this as a valuable way to spend my time (although there are lots of other ways to spend that time), I chose to go.

Our first task in this strategic planning process was to define poverty.  Which really is harder to do than it sounds.  I mean in some ways poverty is one of those "I can't define it but I know it when I see it" types of things (although the reality is that often we don't see it when it is right in front of us).  And certainly poverty definitions have a sense of context and perception about them.  What are basic needs and rights when it comes to shelter?  What is a secure food supply?  What makes a safe place?

Then we identified our stakeholders in the discussion.  And in addition to the homeless, and seniors, and those of set/fixed incomes (such as disability), and the working poor, and those who go through episodic poverty (one of the realities of this community is seasonal shut-downs that sometime last for months), we started to realize that all of the community has a stake in reducing poverty.  I suggested it is because of the reality that when the least of us is healthier then we are all heathier (which is the first time I was called a hippy).

We continued to work on vision and mission statements.  And tomorrow we get closer to brass tacks.  In the end the committee that is being formed will not do this work.  The committee will help created a framework for the community to do the work.  Because we need a transformed society to actually do something meaningful about poverty.  And because there are a lot of myths out there (eg: well people just need to pull themselves together and work harder, if people could manage better/work harder they could solve things themselves, it really isn't my problem/doesn't impact me, that everybody has equal chances to succeed).  If we don't engage the community and challenge the myths then we will get nowhere.

One of the interesting things about the day was something really only mentioned in passing.  The committee that has been working on these issues thus far has done some work on determining what a Living Wage would be here.  For a two parent, dual income, family with 2 children that number is both parents working full time at $15.55/hr (in conjunction with federal and provincial tax credits that they would be eligible for).  And then 60% of their income would go to shelter food and child care.  Just for fun I did the math.  That wage, assuming working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year--no vacation time--comes to a gross family income (before tax credits are added in and statutory deductions are taken off) of $64 688.  Which means no frills.

But here is the kicker.  My gross income for this year will be roughly $67 200 (although a third of that is tax free due to the Clergy Residence Deduction which makes a "real" income of closer to $73 000).  Which means we are not all that far above that no frills line.  And if you asked I would not say we were only just above that Living Wage line.  I am still pondering what that means...

So what do you mean when you say poverty?  What is the path to making a difference in your mind and context?  How do you transform your community so that all families within it can thrive?

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