Juggling. It’s a required skill for many families in the Shuswap. Keeping all the bills in the air.
But despite how families might try, poverty can be insurmountable.
A total of 1,630 children in the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, or 18 per cent, are living in poverty. Those numbers come from the 2019 BC Child Poverty Report Card recently released by First Call, a B.C. child and youth advocacy coalition.
The numbers have dropped a little from last year, which saw 1,760 kids, or 19.5 per cent, in poverty. They’re still in the one-in-five range, however.
The report card also includes numbers specific to Salmon Arm. This year’s report states 620 children in the city, or 17.1 per cent, live in poverty. That’s 70 fewer children than last year’s report which showed 690 children or 19.4 per cent of Salmon Arm kids.
Children in single-parent families have a much higher rate of poverty than those in two-parent ones: the rate is 50 per cent in the Columbia-Shuswap region for children in one-parent families while it’s just eight per cent for those with two parents.
The statistics mirror those B.C.-wide, with B.C’s just one per cent higher. (First Call numbers for this year’s report rely on 2017 data while last year’s were from 2016.)
Provincially, the gender inequality gap persisted with the median income for female one-parent households at $44,960 while it’s $62,550 for their male counterparts.
The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition states that the poverty line in 2019 for a family of four in B.C. was $40,000 per year.
Living the statistics –
Poverty statistics in town and throughout the region are not surprising to people who work with children and families.
Carl Cooper, assistant superintendent of instruction for the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District, sees needs increasing. While breakfast programs in the school district, and some lunch, used to be confined to particular areas or “have-not” schools, not any more. Pretty well all schools provide them.
“There are families in poverty in all our catchment areas – and that’s a change.”
In most elementary schools, breakfast programs see 20 to 30 students a day, he says. Shuswap Middle School sees about 70 to 80. The programs are open to everyone, so poverty of time, not just finances, can prompt participation.
Cooper says the school district is putting more money into schools, so schools aren’t having to ask parents for funds like they have in the past. And he sees parents working as hard as they can. Many community organizations also support students in different ways.
Karen Bubola, manager of the Shuswap Daycare Society, says costs are going up for everything while parents’ paycheques aren’t keeping up.
“When they tell me what they’re paying for rent, I almost fall off my chair.”
She says things like the provincial government’s daycare fee reduction has helped, which, for instance, gives parents of babies $350 off their monthly bill.
The daycare has also improved and increased the food it provides so children are getting hearty, healthy snacks, which help them start their day well.
Diana Mangold worked with Second Harvest food bank for more than 12 years and now manages Churches Thrift Store.
“I think it’s worse,” she says of poverty. “There just seems to be more and more lower income people struggling all the time.”
One key solution she sees is affordable housing as well as more counselling of all types available to support people.
Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond, chair of the city’s social impact advisory committee, says the city is applying for a $25,000 grant focused on social supports for poverty reduction. Her hope is it can help direct resources in the most efficient way, much like the housing task force has done or the cultural master plan.
“It’s typical of society – we don’t have a money problem necessarily, we have a distribution problem.”
Adrienne Montani with First Call made a number of recommendations with the report card which include providing universal programs like affordable housing and child-care investments, and significantly raising income and disability assistance rates to bring them in line with actual living expenses.
Asked about solutions to child poverty, Carl Cooper doesn’t have one. He just knows it’s more prevalent everywhere.
“It can break your heart, right?”