KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A group of poverty activists wants you to think again if you think poverty issues are mostly a provincial matter.
“A lot of things come into play for people living in poverty, things like school boards, food security, gentrification, transportation, recreation services, libraries, community developments of all sorts,” said Wayne MacNaughton. “Those are all issues for our city councillors to deal with.”
MacNaughton was one of the speakers at a press conference, organized by the Community Activist Network Nova Scotia (CAN-NS) to raise awareness about poverty as a municipal election issue.
No grocery stores
Kendall Worth, chair of the Benefits Reform Action Group and a frequent contributor to the Nova Scotia Advocate, talked about food security.
“There are too many areas where people are not within walking distances from stores where they can get affordable food,” said Worth. “I live on Gottingen, and the nearest places are either the Quinpool Road or the Barrington Street Superstores. That’s too far. Convenience stores may be closer, but those are simply not affordable.”
Transportation is also a problem, added Worth, with cabs not affordable and public transit iunreliable. So what is a person to do when you can’t carry all the grocery bags?
Don’t let candidates fool you
Ann Duffy, speaking on housing issues and inclusivity, called on people on low incomes to not be fooled by smooth talking candidates. “Do they stand where you stand, are they really connected to the community”, she asked.
“As citizens we need to make sure we are part of the centre plan, which the new council will ratify, said Duffy. “All new development should have ten to fifteen percent affordable housing. It is done in a lot of major cities, so why not here?”
Duffy also called for stricter regulation and more intensive inspection of rooming houses, and possibly the introduction of rent control.
School boards, poverty and education
Tina Roberts-Jeffers, a mother of three young kids, talked about the need for quality education.
“Poverty really affects children. Children are at the greatest risk. Not having access to that quality education makes things worse, it’s a cascading and interrelated process,” she said.
In this context she highlighted the importance of public transit, given that many students in the city are deemed to live too close to a school to warrant school bus service. “The expectation is that you will walk. It’s hard, especially in the winter,” she said.
Elected school board representatives and councilors should talk more, Roberts-Jeffers observed.
“Make sure that there is housing near schools, and I mean housing that people can really afford. You have the school boards voting on schools that will stay open, and council voting on where new development is to happen, and sometimes there is no communication.”
An audience member raised the issue of children with special needs.
“Children with special needs have rights like everyone else. These rights are being denied, they are losing services every day through the school board. There are a lot of children who aren’t having their needs met and they are falling through the cracks,” she said.
Press conference without press
Many of the questions and much of the subsequent conversation focused on the lack of media at the otherwise well-attended press conference.
“People speaking from experience about poverty are not first voice people, but last voice people,” observed Sharon Murphy. “Your voices are never heard. What can we do to engage people. This is a press conference, so where are the people from the press?”
Duffy thought the malaise around media reporting on the municipal election was more general.
“Whatever reporting occurs about municipal issues is just plain boring,” said Duffy. “The whole election doesn’t seem to matter to them. For instance, there has been no reporting on school boards at all.”
Not just the press was absent. Municipal candidates were equally hard to find. Only Brenden Sommerhalder, candidate for Halifax district 8-Peninsula North was in the audience.
CAN-NS meets on the third Thursday of the month at the JBO Centre, 2103 Gottingen Street, Halifax.