MLA Jackie Tegart explores Revelstoke poverty reduction initiatives

MLA Jackie Tegart, who is heading B.C. government Community Poverty Reduction Initiative, visited Revelstoke recently.

MLA Jackie Tegart (left)

Last month, MLA Jackie Tegart was in Revelstoke to learn about local poverty reduction initiatives. She spent two days touring the community to learn about what is happening here.

During her trip, she visited the Early Years Centre, WorkBC, Local Food Initiative, Okanagan College, Community Connections, and met with the poverty reduction working group and city council.

Tegart is the MLA for Fraser-Nicola and is heading up the government’s Community Poverty Reduction Initiative. We asked her over email why she came to Revelstoke, what she learned from her visit and what lessons she’ll be bringing to the rest of the province.

Revelstoke Review: What brought you to Revelstoke to look at poverty reduction initiatives here?

MLA Jackie Tegart: The Province has been very interested in the work underway in Revelstoke for some time now. We were invited to visit by the local Poverty Reduction Committee. Beyond the Province’s work on the Community Poverty Reduction Initiative, Revelstoke is one of a handful of communities throughout B.C. that has a local, community-level, poverty-reduction plan. Coming to Revelstoke to learn more about how this community is approaching the important and complex issue of poverty reduction was a great opportunity we couldn’t pass up. In addition to visiting and learning more about Revelstoke’s poverty reduction efforts, I also spoke at the official opening of a brand new affordable housing unit, as well as toured the Tourism Infrastructure Project, both very important projects for the city of Revelstoke and its residents.

What work, if any, stood out to you the most during your visit?

As the designated provincial government liaison for the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Community Poverty Reduction Initiative, one of my roles is to visit communities currently involved with the initiative. However, I am also responsible for making and expanding connections and linkages with communities outside of the initiative that are also engaged in local poverty-reduction work – communities like Revelstoke.

There are a number of great ideas and projects that the city, service providers, businesses and community organizations are doing in Revelstoke to help their citizens, and reduce or eliminate poverty. What really stood out to me was:

— Revelstoke BC Early Years Centre and Community Literacy Hub: I toured of the facility and it really impressed me. I cannot say enough about the importance of having a resource like this for families in the community. The partnership between the centre and the school district is a model for others to follow. It has everything in one place, under one roof, so that families can easily access a range of services. It breaks down the barriers of locating appropriate supports and provides a holistic approach to providing services for children and families.

— How well all of the service providers, agencies and resources are working together: Revelstoke is a wonderful example of true collaboration and of a shared commitment by a range of stakeholders to address social issues.

— The range of services and supports that are available in a community the size of Revelstoke is remarkable, and commendable. For example: Columbia Basin Trust’s commitment to, and involvement in, supporting communities (including Revelstoke) through local grants; Local food initiatives  (eg. food bank, community garden); Focus on housing and homelessness and the need to have a range of housing options to meet all the different needs of individuals and families in the community (e.g. emergency shelters, affordable housing, etc.).

What lessons have you taken away from your visit?

— It’s so important to take a multi-sector approach to address poverty in a community – we need to have all the key community players at the table. Everyone has something to contribute – we’re stronger together.

— It’s important to have support from local government. This may include having a Social Planning Committee comprised of community social sector professionals, business representatives, community members and City councillors.

— Small resort communities face unique challenges, including housing affordability, and they often have the highest cost of living.

— All partners in Revelstoke are working together and doing an outstanding job on behalf of low-income families in their community.

— Revelstoke can act as an example to other communities, and will be able to help the B.C. government learn more about the specific barriers that local families are facing.

— Communities like Revelstoke will also provide insight, at the provincial level, by sharing what’s working well and what could be improved.

What aspects of what’s being done in Revelstoke do you think can be duplicated elsewhere in B.C.?

It’s important to remember that every community is different with their own specific barriers and needs, so each community can adjust their approaches to fit the specific needs of their residents. However, it’s also important to share best practices and innovative approaches that are working. To this end, many areas of Revelstoke’s poverty-reduction efforts can be used as examples for other communities, including:

— Local government support and involvement;

— Focus on community economic development;

— Early Years services;

— Financial literacy, including volunteer tax clinics and assisting individuals and family to access the range of tax benefits available (eg. Canada Learning Bond);

— Food initiatives, such as community gardens and community kitchens. These types of programs bring everyone together to explore local food growing and preparation.

The NDP has been critical of the fact B.C. does not have a formal poverty reduction plan in place. Revelstoke has its poverty reduction working group to address issues. How is the  province proposing to help local agencies deal with these issues? Is the government working on a poverty reduction plan?

No government wants to see any child or family living in poverty. A legislated poverty plan does not guarantee success. At the provincial level, we are providing the main ingredients for success by growing the economy and creating jobs, and providing target supports that make a direct different in the lives of individuals and families who need them. Supports at the provincial level are directly helping individuals and families in communities throughout the province. In fact, the number of children living in low income in B.C. fell by 53 per cent between 2006 and 2013 — that’s approximately 84,000 fewer children living in low income. No other province has matched B.C.’s declining child poverty rate. More information about specific supports can found at: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/supporting_affordability/index.htm

At the community level, we are continuing to work with local governments to provide support to their poverty reduction efforts. It’s important that all players in B.C. communities come to the table. There is no one organization that can address the issue of community poverty on their own. As the Community Poverty Reduction Strategies Initiative liaison, I will continue to work with communities across B.C. to further reduce poverty in our province.