ANTIGONISH: The chair of the Antigonish Poverty Reduction Coalition (APRC) says despite the organization working very hard on a community level to mitigate the effects of poverty, they need policies that address the root causes so they can achieve their vision.

The root causes of poverty, which include racism, sexism, colonialism, and capitalism directly impact people, and Waynne Sandler says they must be addressed at a systemic level to actually eradicate poverty.

“We have a vision of healthy and inclusive communities where everyone is able to participate fully and has access to opportunities and support to live with dignity and choice, free from inequality and poverty,” Sandler told The Reporter. “We know poverty hurts all of us and eliminating it will require a synergy between community groups like ours, and our representatives at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.”

Established in 2010, the APRC brings together organizations, groups, and individual community members committed to alleviating poverty in Antigonish town and county. Their mission is to reduce and eliminate poverty by working with communities to address the root causes through advocacy, education, and organizing for collective action.

Sandler, who is also the executive director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, explained the reality of poverty in Nova Scotia is “deeply concerning” and according to Statistics Canada, 17.1 per cent of Nova Scotian children live in poverty – Nova Scotia is the only province where child poverty rates have increased since 2015. She also said one in six households in the province are food insecure – this is the highest rate of any province. In March 2018 alone, Nova Scotians visited food banks 25,773 times.

In 2015, 21.9 per cent of the Town of Antigonish residents lived in poverty – with 31.7 per cent of children under five in poverty.

“I think we see that rural poverty rates in Nova Scotia tend to be a little higher, and we have a very high cost of living here in Antigonish, we’re a university town, we know affordable housing is a tremendous issue but we share the same minimum wage as the rest of the province,” Sandler said in regards to the 2016 Census results. “I think affordability is a huge issue that we see; people are falling further and further behind because the cost of living is increasing but wages and social assistance rates aren’t keeping pace and we’re continuing to see that growing gap.”

Working intensively with the community, the APRC developed a five-year action plan with more than 60 items for addressing local poverty.

A number of community initiatives were born from or strengthened by their work implementing that plan including; the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society which now has 14 affordable, accessible units, the Antigonish Community Transit Society which operates scheduled and on-demand bus service throughout the town and county, the Antigonish Emergency Fuel Fund which this past winter supported 141 families with more than $50,000 to cover emergency heating, and the Antigonish Food Security Association which cost-shared food boxes of local produce for 17 families and supported community garden boxes throughout the town.

“We’ve really started as an organization that wanted to bring together all of the separate initiatives that were happening,” Sandler said. “We knew there was some work happening around affordable housing, and work happening around food security, and we wanted to kind of bring everyone together to talk and support one another.”

Throughout the fall of 2018, the APRC hosted a follow-up series of People’s Schools on Poverty in the Antigonish area, consisting of six sessions, including an introductory session, four in-community sessions, and a concluding session. More than 150 people participated in various meetings. The process identified themes and priority areas of action and the main concerns that were identified were: housing, food security, transportation, income security, cultural and social isolation, and communication.

Sandler said it’s extremely important because they’re reactive, they’re doing the work in-community of trying to support people but politicians are needed at all levels to really be looking at addressing this through policy change and through decision making.

“While community members have been working hard on creating programs and services to help ease the burdens of living in poverty, at the end of the day, it is clear that community members need more,” she said. “By increasing communication, creating more inclusive programming, and continuing to advocate for legislative reform, community members hold the power to create stronger communities and make people’s lives healthier, easier, and more fulfilling.”