Poverty is about more than homelessness in the Okanagan - InfoNews

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Poverty is about more than homelessness in the Okanagan

Overcoming the stigma of poverty is the focus of a forum in Kelowna Saturday.
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February 28, 2019 - 5:30 PM

KELOWNA - Through initiatives like Journey Home, there’s been a huge focus on homelessness in the Okanagan over the past few months but Christine Mettler says there is much more to poverty than not having a home.

Mettler is the sole employee of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition working outside the Lower Mainland. And, that’s just for one day a week in Kelowna.

“Journey Home is just focused on homelessness,” she told iNFOnews.ca. “The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition has a much broader view on poverty. We look at housing. We look at health care. We look at income supports. We look at education. We look at these other issues in their entirety.”

The coalition was launched in 2008 after the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that B.C. was the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction strategy and that having a strategy could save the province billions of dollars.

Mettler was hired in 2017 and has been focussing her energies over the past few months on working with the Living Experience Circle – people who have been homeless and are advising Journey Home on its strategies – and training them to be leaders and advocates.

That will culminate Saturday with a forum called Combating Stigma and Poverty Shaming.

“So many people have talked to me about the stigma and discrimination they’ve received in the mental health care system, in the child care system, in the foster care system and in the justice system,” Mettler said. “A lot of people do really fantastic work and a lot of people are really trying their best, but it’s still a really, really big barrier that a lot of people continue to face and it can be incredibly frustrating and a huge, huge barrier to actually geting out of poverty.

“So many people are ashamed to even identify a certain way or ask for help because of what it means about them and about their personal failures. Because that’s the way our society tends to talk about poverty, that it’s a result of personal failure instead of a systemic failure.”

Yet, studies have shown that cuts to social services have a direct impact on the levels of poverty.

Saturday’s forum will provide an update on poverty reduction strategies in the latest provincial budget and some testimonials from people living in poverty but the goal is to come out of the session with some action plans – and to build bridges with other groups doing similar work in Kelowna but not necessarily coordinating their efforts.

“Kelowna is a little bit fractious right now,” Mettler said. “There are a lot of different groups working on a lot of different things but, in terms of a broader coalition, it’s a little bit fractious. We’re hoping to get the right people in the room to build that vision together and do some actions together.”

Mettler noted that her group is focused on advocacy, which can range from getting people to speak up at supportive housing public hearings to putting on forums to working to break down institutional biases towards the poor and homeless.


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