AMHERST – In the months following their election, Mayor David Kogon and members of town council set addressing poverty as one of their priorities moving forward.
That commitment will come to fruition on Thursday when the town and the SOAR Community Health Board host a municipal forum on poverty at the Community Credit Union Business Innovation Centre on Ratchford Street.
“It’s something the mayor and council set as a priority when they were first elected and this forum is one of the steps they are taking to address the issue in our community,” Amherst’s recreation director Bill Schurman said. “Poverty is something that has a huge impact on our community. Thirty per cent of the population of Cumberland County lives in poverty and approximately 44 per cent of the working class earn less than $20,000 a year. There are some significant challenges.”
The forum is by invitation only and speakers have been lined up to talk about the impact of poverty on the community. Among those speaking will be Halifax activist Robert Wright, who was the former executive director of Family and Children’s Services for Cumberland County, while Christine Saulnier, the Nova Scotia director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, will also speak.
Saulnier co-authored the 2017 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia.
There will also be three or four real-life situations in which presenters will read stories of those living in poverty.
There will be a number of breakout sessions and a wrap-up at which time a report will go to council for possible action.
“It will be opportunity to look at poverty and have a discussion about poverty through a municipal lens,” Schurman said.
Colleen Dowe, chairwoman of Empowering Beyond Barriers, said any discussion about poverty is positive since it’s something that too many in the community face on a daily basis. She said it’s something that other communities are watching.
“We’re very pleased this is going on,” she said. “People get excited when we have an open discussion on poverty, the issue often is you’re not learning anything new. The people who come to the table are the people who always come to the table. They’re the ones who know it exists.”
Dowe, who also coordinates the community health boards in Cumberland County, hopes the forum and what council does after reaches out to those who don’t normally go to sessions on poverty.
She said there are a lot of people in the community who still don’t get how big of an issue poverty is in Amherst and Cumberland County.
“We’re hoping this will be the first step in changing some attitudes and raising some awareness,” Dowe said. “We need to move things forward.”