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Faith in Action Pre-Election Forum on Poverty - April 7th, 2005 PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Thursday, 21 April 2005 01:23
Faith in Action Pre-Election Forum on Poverty - April 7th, 2005 

A panel discussion with: 

Jacquie Ackerly - Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS)
John Miller - Green Party Candidate, Victoria/Beacon Hill
Jim McDermott - Democratic Reform Party Candidate
Steve Filipovic - Green Party Candidate - Victoria Hillside
David Stewart - Upper Room
Jeff Bray - Liberal Party Candidate - Victoria/Beacon Hill
Maurine Caragianis - NDP Candidate - Esquimalt
Jane Sterk - Green Party Candidate - Esquimalt
Rick Sandberg - Street Hope Chaplain

A summary, written by Janine Bandcroft, follows ...

Regrets:  Rob Fleming - NDP Candidate - Victoria Hillside, Sheila Orr - Liberal Candidate - Victoria Hillside, Reverend Al Tysick - Open Door, Carole James  - NDP Candidate - Victoria/Beacon Hill.

Moderator:  Kathleen Gibson

Kathleen asked that we get comfortable, leave our frustrations behind, be present here.  She made apologies for the sound system and asked that speakers attempt to project their voices where possible.  Susan introduced a symbol of the Table of Plenty motif with food, clothing, and a baseball cap.  Is it enough? she asked and invited us to open our hearts, prepare to listen and learn. 

Kathleen introduced the Faith in Action Coalition and explained its concern about the ethical implications of social services and its mission of humanizing welfare and social assistance to make it inclusive for all within a compassionate and caring society.  She explained the conversation this night will include representatives from faith groups, government, and social services agencies.  The evening is meant to be different from an all-candidates meeting, we're here to explore rather than score, understanding does not mean agreement, we'll proceed one person as a time, and attempt to finish at 9:15 pm.

Outline of evening: 

Part I - Service Providers
A:  What services do you provide?
B:   If your prayers were to be answered, what would true caring in our community look like?

Part II - Candidates
A:  What is the government's role in meeting the needs of the poor?
B:  What relationships are needed to meet the needs of the poor?

Question #1 - Service Providers - What services do you provide? 

Jacquie:  TAPS is unique in that it doesn't provide food, clothing, or counseling, but does offer legal advocacy for poverty law.  It's a small organization that deals with problems with income assistance and residential tenancy or landlord issues.  TAPS used to do more, but no longer has the capacity.  Now they teach people how to advocate for themselves, and they teach other advocates how to do that.  It's tough for folks to get inside the courts to attain justice, and TAPS is there to help with small claims issues.

Rick:  Street Hope has its roots in the Anglican Diocese.  It ministers to homeless teens.  The teen years are a perilous time, they can end up on a life path that's unpleasant if they don't get help at this crucial time.  Street Hope responds with a ministry of presence - they offer shoe box hampers of prepackaged food (as nutritious as possible) between 1 and 2:30 on weekday afternoons.  They'd do more if they had more resources.  Mostly seniors volunteer for this work, grandmas and grandpas, and their efforts allow kids a safe space away from the pressures of the street - if only for a while.  Rick sees himself as a Street Chaplain, a chaplain being a private pastor in historical times, now it's a more pastoral role combining spiritual with practical perspectives. 

Dave:  The Upper Room and the Open Door are two separate places with open hearts and minds for folks who have less.  The Upper Room offers 22 single rooms for men - 1/3rd have mental health challenges, 1/3rd have addictions problems, and 1/3rd are in rehabilitation or some form of training.  They offer counseling, have individualized plans for each residents, and do all they can to assist them.  They serve 100,000 meals each year, twice a day, and are only closed at Christmas.  The Open Door is a drop in center - downtown's living room.  It serves a community of people, community being at the heart of all of us.  The Open Door is a safe haven for people to warm up, get some food and warm drinks, and socialize.  It offers help with literacy skills, emotional stability, and health.  There are street nurses and doctors who work cooperatively for those they serve and for their own benefit.

Question #2 - Service Providers - If your prayers were to be answered, what would true caring in our community look like?

Dave told a story about a church with a huge pipe organ and a bellows boy.  After a concert the musician said "Wasn't I great?!!"  The boy reminded the musician how important he was to the success of the concert by refusing to enact the bellows for the next song.  He wanted to show that the church music required a team effort.  Dave hopes and prays that we can learn to say "we" and behave like a team.  Poverty is not solely a government or private or religious issue.  Dealing person to person we need to learn from each other.

Rick has a vision that the community will realize that there is abuse happening inside peoples' homes and this effects how youth behave.  Every kid on the street is victimized or traumatized in some way.  We need to quit denying this, and we need to stop blaming the victims.  If we can collectively get over that denial we can put resources towards healing abuses and addictions.  There are too many studies and not enough solutions.  We need housing including shelters, affordable housing, accessible & appropriate shelters, and adequate incomes.   In recent years the rent portion allocated from welfare dropped from $350 to $325 and it hasn't been increased for 20 years.  We need training, appropriate schools, personal support, and therapy.  Rick sees a community of people supporting each other, doing the best they can with what they've got, but we need help.  The Youth Agreement Program is the only good thing the BC Liberals have done amidst massive cutbacks during the past four years.  We need to look at where the problems are from, and decide how we want the story to end.

Jacquie feels justice and compassion are key elements to a better world for all.  In 1949 the International Declaration of Human Rights was a visionary document enshrining economic, social, and cultural rights.  In 1972 a covenant on economic, social and cultural rights was introduced.  The Canadian government signed both documents, and said we'd commit to ensuring the right to shelter, food, health care, education, clothing, and the ability to function as thriving communities.  During the past 10 years Canada has not improved, and the commitment to deliver moral justice is so eroded we now have thousands of individuals who are not eligible for income assistance.  Recently, in Victoria, 700 homeless people were counted in a single night.  (The audience responded with "Shame")  As a community we need to commit to justice and economic rights.

Kathleen announced there'd be 15 minutes for questions and comments from the floor. 

Question from Dave McCaig, a Democratic Reform Candidate in Victoria/Beacon Hill: "How has access been to MLAs.  Have they listened?  What do you expect from your MLA?"

Dave Stewart:  Access is "wide open."  Maybe because the Upper Room is known in the community, he has had access to Jeff Bray.  It's ironic that political tax donations are more rewarded than other charitable donations. 

Question from Ed of Gat Ministries Foundation (a new charitable organization currently in the visionary stage:  Is there a policy to encourage lifestyle changes, to take a person out of the gutter and get them a job?

Dave Stewart:  Yes and No.  Individually, yes, but you need to establish a relationship of trust.  Someone gave him $20,000 recently.  That's not enough to help very many individuals. 

Kathleen explains that much of the work in communities is done voluntarily.

Question from Cindy L'Hirondelle, researcher and writer about systemic causes of poverty.  Martin Luther King suggested a Guaranteed Annual Income, Cindy refers to a Guaranteed Liveable Income.  She worked with Steve Brodie on this and feels there's no way to solve it one person at a time.  Society tells folks to get a job, at the same time tells employers to cut costs whenever possible.  Technology eliminates jobs.  How are people supposed to get jobs when business is eliminating them?

Kathleen invites poor people to speak.

Kathy Koosen, Christian Actions Reflecting the Spirit (CARTS):  CARTS delivers food and hot chocolate and clothing on Friday nights in the downtown of Victoria.  During the past year she's noticed twice as many people in need.  First they try to reach them and establish a relationship of trust.  The key is in loving people in spite of their circumstances, to see them as Jesus would, as light beings.  She asks the politicians, "Will you help us do our work?"

Kathleen suggests we hold that question until later.

Dave writes a paper for the disabled, he's on welfare and is a previous drug addict.  Now he's at the 9/10 club working as a drug counselor.  He told Alan Lowe he wants a building downtown by election time.  Dave encourages others to give up drugs, and he helped a woman get off the stroll.  If 1000 businesses gave $20 each, he and his friends at the 9/10 club can have a building together in 2 months.  People need a place to wash and, as it says in Ecclesiastes, to enjoy some privacy. 

Vicky informs that the Out of the Rain shelter will be closing soon.  She's been in contact with the Mayor, asking for money to help.  She trusts everyone until they prove otherwise, and asks that we take care of kids so they don't fall to pedophiles and drugs.

John from GATS foundation says he's involved with housing and has been in discussion with the Mayor about it but hasn't had a response. 

Kym Hothead asks "How will we get homes?"  Shelters are fine, but they're different from homes and we need homes.

Scott Connor lives on a disability pension and says it's impossible to live on such paltry amounts and we all know that.  He agrees with Jacquie about the need for economic justice and refers to the silent majority of the world's poor.  1.2 billion live on less that $1 a day, and 2.8 billion live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank statistics.  If all the world's money were divvied up, every individual would have $8,000 according to CIA statistics.  Poverty is a global problem.

Bruce Burnett is on Income Assistance, a street musician.  "Who's going to pay for the Guaranteed Income," he asks.  The Open Door is expanding its recreation center for people who want to drink coffee, but where are the rehab centers for people who want to get off drugs?  The Liberals and the NDP didn't do anything to help.  Nobody in the world has a Guaranteed Income, he says, Cindy yells from the crowd that Brazil does, Bruce says it doesn't count because they're a third world country.  He's mostly concerned about drug rehabilitation.

Vicky suggest we need solidarity, we need to work together to solve our common problems.

Sue Hendriks is a new employee at TAPS, an Income Assistance Advocate.  She's only been there for six weeks, yet everyday the need for homes, money, also dignity and respect becomes apparent.  She's keeping a record of Ministry staff that are abusing clients, and these systemic problems will be reported to the Ombudsperson.  It's tough to do anything about abuse, but if anyone's interested in helping or knows of any complaints they're invited to contact her.

Kathleen apologies that there's not enough time to hear from everyone in the audience and moves us to

Part II encouraging those running for public office to give attention to the folks they've heard from as they go, although some of what they heard just may be surprising or new.

Question #1 - What is the government's role in meeting the needs of the poor?

Jeff Bray thanked the FIA for organizing and hosting the forum, said he remembers a harm reduction forum, and has met with members from the FIA.  Jeff made reference to the elderly, the frail, the large population the government is responsible for, whether it's federal, civic, or provincial.  It's about collecting tax dollars and turning those into programs.  The government is meant to be an agent for change in neighbourhoods, they're meant to act as 'connectors.'  Government should evolve - currently, if there's a need you form a board, a non-profit, and go looking for the money.  There are a lot of agencies doing this because that's how governments ask that it be done.  Governments ought to evolve to work with individuals rather than encouraging organizations to fight for money.  We need new ways of measuring the success of service agencies.  He spent eight years working for the MHR in Vancouver, then became a bureaucrat, and saw lots of good intention to meet the government's needs.  Governments should work with each other, but there's not much of that in communities.  We ought to empower civil servants to be accountable to the local residents, and be open to the needs of the community. 

Jim McDermott is a new politician, previously an engineer, a maintenance technician, a business owner, a lobbyist for supportive childcare, an advocate for special needs kids, and PAC president at Victor School which enrolls all special needs kids.  He feels government's role is to provide for all equally and fairly.  Nobody should go to bed hungry and homeless.  If there's money for games then there should be money for the homeless.

Steve Filipovic remembers an experience in grade four when he was reading about Canada and how rich we are in resources with such a small population.  Now we have 20% of people living in poverty, something is wrong.  He feels we need a strong political will, unity is centrally important, we ought to work together towards our common goals.  We have the resources and the answers can be found within the local organizations, all we need is the political will to put their suggestions into action. 

John Miller agrees we need a Guaranteed Liveable Income.  It's pitiful to expect people to live on $500 a month welfare.  We should allow folks to house, feed, and educate themselves.  Tax money ought to be designated to this, it'll pay off in the long run.  We need a long term approach so people can get off assistance, get a job, pay taxes, and contribute to society.  We need to move beyond saying it's not affordable, because it makes economic sense and is ethically and morally the right thing to do.  There's a lot of development for housing in Victoria, gentrification is a concern - where long-time residents are displaced from neighbourhoods as housing prices go up.  All new developers could put 20% into affordable housing - he'd appreciate hearing comments about that. 

Jane Sterk is a former school teacher who feels that the government's role is to change attitudes.  Economic profitability, currently, depends on 20% poverty and this economic model doesn't work.  It's flawed from the beginning, founded on wrong beliefs, we need to believe, instead, that everyone has a right to nutritious food, housing and health care.  The Green Party supports the Guaranteed Liveable Income - it's the first phase towards moving to a better society.  It allows dignity, a home, and choices.  She doesn't want to live in a society that accepts that 20% poverty is acceptable.  We're currently functioning with a business model based on consumption, and it's not a viable social model, particularly because it forces 20% poverty.  We need to value environment, social health, and the economy - a triple bottom line approach is what the Green Party endorses.  20% poverty is a crisis, unacceptable.  We ought to take care of the crisis, and move to an alternate model.  We need to support families at risk, intervene if necessary so they can keep their kids and educate them and offer hope.  It's unacceptable, in a wealthy province with resources, to accept a model that finds fault with the poor and expects everyone to be rich.  We can work together to create the society we want.

Maurine Caragianis remembers that Gandhi said there are people so poor they can't see God except in the form of bread.  Government's role is not to create or contribute to poverty.  We've seen increasing poverty, it's a tragedy that we could have such a situation in such an affluent place.  Government's role is to be caring and compassionate and to be responsible for maintaining the Charter of Rights which says everyone deserves housing and food.  Education is the key to eradicate poverty in the future.  We ought to create a model of education that is life long.- that's the key to the future for all including the economy.  Government ought to take a visionary role and be responsible to ensure that housing is available, to help build with native communities, and this is tough work when land is so expensive.  Partnerships are needed, not necessarily individual ownership, we do need guaranteed housing.  Children can thrive under the most difficult situations as long as they have food and shelter.

Kathleen - the FIA has been building up to Question #2 for a year.  The safety net is important, we will not stand by and watch folks get thrown onto the streets.  We asked for help from the community and learned that Vicky is right - poverty is relative.  On Ash Wednesday of 2004 the FIA coalition found compassion on the streets during its sleepover.  'Neighbours' was formed with retired folks offering various forms of advice about housing and legal issues.  The FIA felt they needed to engage with government, we're all in this together, we all live here and we all need to work out our collective problems. 

Question #4 - Recognizing it will take all of us to build a compassionate community, what will you do to make sure the poor are protected as governments change?  Consider the spirit or soul of the people you're dealing with and how you will partner with the faith communities.

Jeff Bray said it's a really long question and the solution lies in allowing the mechanism of government to work more locally for individuals.  The relationship has to be engaged rather than a situation where people tell government what they want and then government builds it.  We must have debate.  Four years ago he spoke about the importance of this.  We spend millions to build housing, and have maybe helped only 30 families.  Why not use the money to provide direct rent subsidies (audience member yells that's a subsidy that keeps the rich rich but doesn't ultimately help the poor).  Also, Jeff says, he's concerned about recognizing only one constituency or community, says we need to be concerned about getting too close to any particular group. Currently the government makes programs, gives referrals, and then the programs end.  We need to take on the issues individually and tie all the solutions together so the story is only told once and the person gets whatever they want.  We need one big agency that serves everyone.

Steve Filipovic guesses that service agencies would please the government if they'd just do their job and clean up the problem but it's not that simple.  We need to think sustainably with the triple bottom line in mind, we ought to paint a picture we can all strive towards.  Presently the business model runs the government, we need a home model because BC is our home.  We need a united population with a good collective vision.

Jim feels everyone must be brought to the table, including legislators, business, labour, social providers, researchers, and those living without food or homes.  How about an Adopt an MLA project - an idea he got from a special needs program where an MLA would go live with a special needs person and see what they require.  They spend some quality time to get an idea of how they're affected by government policies.  We need to listen to peoples' concerns, and bring hope to those in need.

John said faith based groups would like to have the opportunity to deal with peoples' spiritual needs.  A Guaranteed Liveable Income would free up that time since the paperwork for the basic necessities would be dealt with elsewhere.  He believes that charitable donations should be treated equally to political party donations.  The problem with government and with politics is that it's run by money.  If we eliminate the business and union contributions, then we don't need expensive tv commercials.

Jane believes the relationship between government and the groups who serve the poor is very important.  Government ought to set standards, like implementing a Guaranteed Liveable Income.  People who know the needs of the community are working in the communities.  Government should ask them what they need, set the standard, and let the service agencies serve.  Government bureaucracies are not good at providing services, it's better to support the experts in the community.  Jane advocates a fluid relationship to create a society where everyone has decent housing, food, education, and health care.  We could create a megastructure that allows service agencies to connect with those who are in need.  We need a government with a common ethic, that is collaborative, that has a cooperative approach. 

Maurine says government should be relationship building rather than offloading responsibilities to service agencies.  She feels that's irresponsible and has seen the effects of it with care giving, poverty, and contracting out.  The Charter for Public Education is a good document, and all education providers and political parties have agreed to it but not all have kept to it.  Government isn't a vaulted organization that is above us, it's you and me.  We are all the village that is raising the children.  Maurine suggests we create a charter to eradicate poverty, create a guaranteed standard of living, invite all to work to end poverty. 

Questions from the Audience:

#1 - Leo Young - there are many kinds of poverty including poverty of the spirit.  He sees an abundance of that as a mediator who helps folks with difficult conversations.  Healthy families produce healthy adults.  Are you willing to put resources into creating healthy families by raising taxes, transferring money from other places, so we can raise children without abuse? 

Jeff Bray - the federal government is moving towards early money for children and families and encouraging the provinces to do that too.

Jane- of course everyone is going to answer yes to this question because it's the right thing to do, the only answer we can give.  First we need to deal with the needs and the crisis, then health promotion and prevention.  Resources in the local communities are required for this, and education is essential. 

Maurine - many supportive resources have been taken away, we must restore, then increase, plus education is suffering because of job losses.  We need to move quickly to restore what was taken during the last four years.

Jim - resources for children are good, but no good if they're just placed on waiting lists.   He worked for five years to eliminate waiting lists. 

#2 - Vicky - Why do churches close their doors?  We can all relate to the Tsunami, we have a social and spiritual tsunami happening right now.  She's tired of hearing all the same old pre-election foreplay, it's smoke and mirrors politics.  She doesn't mean to be disrespectful.

#3 - Stephanie Lovett - mental health and women's rights advocate.  Everyone's concerns are valid.  Going to a grief counselor when young was a joke, there was more good advice to be got from families.  Loss of community is a concern.  Have you heard about Club House - http://www.iccd.org?  It's set up for folks over eighteen with a mental illness diagnosis.  It builds community for those who are isolated with mental illnesses.  There's one in Nanaimo and Port Alberni but not Victoria yet.  They're trying to build a safe place where folks are accepted for who they are.  In the end there's more therapy done chopping carrots than going to the 15th floor, with all due respect.  Normal is only a setting on a dryer.

#4 - Marina is involved with FIA, and is an educator who works with people with mental illnesses, helps them develop spirituality.  Housing is her concern, and she's heard about 'beautifying' the downtown of Victoria which usually means removing the 'undesirables.'  Is there a partnership between the City of Victoria and the Provincial authorities, Marina wonders?  What can folks do to make sure the downtown people aren't displaced?

Jeff - whoever's in government can form that partnership.  Zoning rules are only general rules - people need to advocate to the government for what they want.  In False Creek there was a coup when people demanded coop plus 'regular' housing, and it's turned out to be quite successful.  There are much lower risks when kids are in mixed housing situations.

Maurine - the healthiest communities have diversity and include all economic levels.  There's a CRD study on housing and the housing trust, it's mostly used as a football for the 13 municipalities to argue over.  The moral responsibility lies with all communities to pressure the local government so the province can be a partner.  Diversity equals healthy individuals. 

#5 - Dave - questions whether government should be in the service delivery business at all.  The Upper Room sees individuals with concerns.  33% are functionally illiterate.  What is the direct role of government?  If not to build communities, then it ought to be to facilitate local organizations to trust each other's help. 

Jane - service providers know better how to provide and the government's role is to provide funds and set the standards.

Jeff -the government provides the money, the community provides the service.

Much heckling from the audience asking "where's the money?!??"

Kathleen intervenes and suggests we argue later, listen now, respect the space.

Jacquie says we've covered a lot of territory, let's take it away but don't keep it at home.  Think about it, bring the issues up in our communities.  Put our words into action, continue the conversation. 

Kathleen says she appreciates Leo's arbitration skills, it's time now to end, important to have these pent-up conversations that people have held in because there's no opportunity for such discussions.  She reminds the audience that the Faith in Action Coalition has published policy recommendations and has questions prepared for all-candidates forums and invites folks to visit the website at http://www.faithinaction.ca or call 250-383-7169 for more information.  Thanks to everyone for attending!

Much applause.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 April 2005 01:23

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