I recently found myself in a heated conversation about poverty.
A friend said, “if people want more money they have to work.”
It was suggested that people living in poverty need only pull up their socks; there are jobs out there for them and that poverty is a choice.
It turns out my friend is not alone. According to a 2011 report by the Salvation Army “The Dignity Project, debunking myths about poverty in Canada,” almost half of all Canadians agree. The report also found nearly 40 per cent believe people who live in poverty in Canada “still have it pretty good.”
About 25 per cent feel that people are poor because they are lazy and have lower moral values than average. Possibly the most disturbing statistic is 96 per cent believe that everyone deserves a sense of dignity, but only 65 per cent feel that being poor can rob you of your dignity.
In Cumberland County, approximately 30 per cent (or 9,000) of residents live in poverty To help make this more real consider that in every class room and many work places you visit, almost three out of every ten people are considered poor.
According to the 2016 Cumberland County’s Vital Signs report, 44 per cent of workers in Cumberland County earn less than $20,000 per year.
Poverty isn’t just a social issue, it is also a health care issue. Poverty makes us sick. People with fewer resources are less healthy than those with more. Poverty increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, respiratory conditions, depression and mental illness.
In Cumberland County, we have several resources to help with basic needs. There are food banks in Amherst, Oxford, Parrsboro, Pugwash, and Springhill. Recently two food pantries have opened in Amherst - one at Amherst Regional High School for students and one at the Rotary Park.
There are community meals in Amherst, Oxford and Springhill. There are several benevolent organizations that raise money to help with such things as heating, emergency shelter and the list goes on and on. Probably the most exciting resource is a new homeless prevention and outreach program operating from the Cumberland YMCA.
Although all of these programs are extremely important to help bridge the gap for dozens of families each month, they are still a band aid. We have to do better. We need to develop a poverty reduction strategy that includes health, income security, food security, employment, child care, early childhood education, housing and homelessness.
In their current Community Health Plan, the Cumberland County Community Health Boards (CHBs) made increased economic wellbeing a priority. The CHBs will advocate for healthy policies that support prosperity across our communities with an emphasis on our vulnerable populations.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colleen Dowe is the coordinator of Cumberland County’s community health boards.