Shelley DeCoste has learned to live with her cerebral palsy — it’s the poverty that comes with it that she struggles to deal with.
“It’s really sad to have to rely on other people, especially when, you know if given the chance, you can have some kind of job,” she said.
DeCoste considers herself lucky because she has part-time work in a kitchen but said many people don’t have the same opportunities.
She’s hoping meetings at more than two dozen communities across the province, including one in Kelowna on Friday night, will help tackle poverty.
Shane Simpson, minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, said the government has received plenty of feedback so far.
“Affordable housing is very much at the top of everybody’s list, mostly affordable rental. We’re hearing about mental health and addictions. We’re hearing about the opportunities for people to get skills upgrades, so that they can break the cycle of poverty,” Simpson said.
“The things I hear most is people struggling with not feeling valued. People who feel invisible, that they’re poor, that they think we as a society don’t recognize them and the value they have.”
According to the government, nearly 678,000 people in B.C. live below the poverty line, including one in five children.
“We know that those young people born and raised in poor households don’t stay in school. They suffer emotionally, and their health suffers as well,” Celine Thompson, Bridge Youth and Family Services executive director, said. “And that continuing effect cascades throughout generations.”
“We have families as a result of poverty right now that are so vulnerable, that it’s heartbreaking. They have an inability to secure basic housing security, food security. With all of that pressure, it becomes almost impossible to raise a family and allow a family to thrive.”
To break the cycle of property, advocates are calling for solutions that include affordable housing, more supports for mental health and addictions, better training opportunities and a boost to the minimum wage.
“We’re committed to a $15 (an hour) minimum wage. We put in place the fair wage commission, and they’ll be reporting in the coming weeks,” Simpson said.
As for DeCoste, she’s hoping people will give those in poverty a chance.
“It gets kind of depressing. You don’t want to be here, you want be out doing what you can,” she said.
Simpson said the final poverty reduction strategy will come into effect this year.
“There will be legislation that will set out targets and timelines, that will lay out accountability and the mandate,” Simpson said. “And then there will be the detail of the plan itself. Both of those pieces are being worked on now.”