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If poverty lives here…the community is poor

The Town of Amherst and SOAR Community Health Board hosted a municipal forum on poverty on March 22. Members of the organizing committee were: (front, from left) Colleen Dowe, Amherst Deputy Mayor Sheila Christie, Veronica Richards, Dawn Ripley, (back, from left) Sarah MacMaster, Connie Fisher, Janine Black and Bill Schurman.
The Town of Amherst and SOAR Community Health Board hosted a municipal forum on poverty on March 22. Members of the organizing committee were: (front, from left) Colleen Dowe, Amherst Deputy Mayor Sheila Christie, Veronica Richards, Dawn Ripley, (back, from left) Sarah MacMaster, Connie Fisher, Janine Black and Bill Schurman. - Submitted

Community health with Colleen Dowe

The Town of Amherst held a Municipal Forum on Poverty March 22 and the Springhill, Oxford, Amherst and Region (SOAR) Community Health Board (CHB) was asked to collaborate and assist.

This was a natural link for the SOAR CHB as Economic Well Being lines up with our Community Health Plan Priorities.  SOAR is committed to advocating for policies across our communities that support prosperity.  

The municipal forum had two presenting speakers, Robert S Wright MSW, RSW, consultant, therapist and the executive director of People’s Choice Counselling Clinic and Christine Saulnier PHD, executive director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Wright opened the forum with a challenge to participants. He asked them to consider ourselves responsible for our community and all of its citizens.

“If poverty lives here, then the community is poor. Amherst is poor.” Christine offered a broad perspective on what poverty looks like in Amherst and throughout Cumberland County.  Women, unattached elderly, lone parents, aboriginal Canadians, African Nova Scotians, recent immigrants, people with disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty. 

In Amherst over 25 per cent of the population lives in poverty and according to the 2016 Census that can be broken down as follows; almost 28 per cent of all women, over 22 per cent of all men, 42.5 per cent of children five and under and over 26 per cent of people 65 and over live in poverty.

Throughout the morning participants heard first voice stories from members of community who shared their story of how poverty directly affects them each and every day. Along with stigma and shame forum participants also heard about the struggle of pushing a stroller and walking children to daycare along the roads of Amherst because the sidewalks are not cleared, doing most of their grocery shopping at the Dollar Store, and rotting teeth. 

To quote Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

How can we do things differently?

Instead of giving money or food to a poor person: can we engage them in a conversation, asking a question: What do you need? How can I / we help?

Wright closed the forum stating that the town could develop a mission statement with respect to evicting poverty. “Poverty is a poor flat mate. You don’t want it living in your community.”

Who’s responsible for evicting poverty?

Are you? Am I?

We asked participants who they thought was responsible for poverty and a large majority felt it was the federal and provincial government and over 30 per cent felt it was responsibility of the individual.

“If you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem.” Which part do you play?

All three of our community health boards are currently looking for new members.

Bill Schurman and Linda Cloney, SOAR Co-chairs

Terri Ashley and Trudy Weir, SPAR Co-chairs

Joyce Gray, Pugwash and Area Chair

For more information about the boards or to learn how you can become a member please contact Colleen Dowe at 902-397-0376 or Colleen.dowe@nshealth.ca.

Colleen Dowe is the coordinator of Cumberland County’s community health boards

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