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A tent with a polite message asking people to stay out sits in Point Pleasant Park near the old stone house and the municipal parks building Wednesday. - Francis Campbell
A tent with a polite message asking people to stay out sits in Point Pleasant Park near the old stone house and the municipal parks building Wednesday. - Francis Campbell

The poverty line in Halifax Regional Municipality is a long one.

The United Way and the Community Planning and Economic Development committee of regional council came together in March 2017 to work on an anti-poverty strategy for the municipality of more than 430,000 people.

“We are not a fully prosperous community because not everyone is experiencing prosperity,” said Sara Napier, president of United Way Halifax.

Sara Napier is president of United Way Halifax. - File
Sara Napier is president of United Way Halifax. - File

Napier and Mayor Mike Savage co-chaired the Poverty Solutions Advisory Committee, which is comprised of a diverse group of 22 community leaders. After engaging with 1,139 contributors, nearly 40 per cent of whom had had experienced living in poverty, the committee created a poverty solutions report earlier this year with 129 action ideas.

The ideas fell into the seven key categories of quality jobs and livable incomes, transportation, food security, housing and homelessness, access to health and well-being services, education and learning, and systemic change.

“We’ve really defined our own (United Way) funding framework to focus more and more on not only poverty alleviation, but ultimately, our goal is poverty eradication, which many people might say is not realistic, but we think it is really important to at least strive for that,” Napier said.

“In a city like Halifax, where there is so much vibrancy and so much growth, which we should all celebrate and be excited about, we (should) not create a point in time where the gap for those who are not experiencing that prosperity gets bigger.

“How are we making sure that our eyes are wide open to what’s going on in our community?”



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Halifax poverty rate higher than national average

The poverty numbers in the report are eye-opening. Using the low income measure after tax, the report authors concluded 58,830 people in HRM live in poverty. The poverty levels varied from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, with a range of seven per cent to 33 per cent across 12 municipal communities.

Napier defined the poverty line, the low income measure, as an individual living on $16,000 a year or a family of four living on $35,000 a year.

Poverty costs the province $15 billion to $2.2 billion, including employment insurance and low-income transfers.

The rate of child poverty in the municipality is 18.7 per cent, ranging from 3.7 per cent in one neighbourhood to 48 or 49 per cent in the areas of Dartmouth North, Fairview and Spryfield. The report indicates that 33 per cent of people living in Dartmouth North and 30 per cent of those living in Fairview and Spryfield are living at incomes below the low income measure.

One in seven HRM residents are food insecure — they are not certain where their next meal might come from — and food bank usage across the province has increased by 41 per cent since 2008.

One in four HRM wage earners spend 30 per cent or more of their income on housing.

Some groups at higher risk

The review identifies the people at higher risk for poverty as female and single-parent families, children, youth in care, people with disabilities, racialized groups, Indigenous people, recent immigrants, people with mental illness or substance addictions and the LGBTQ community.

“The main contribution from the city is that when the centre plan is done we will have some density bonusing for tall buildings that will generate affordable housing but the need is thousands of units and the best case scenario for the centre plan is a couple of hundred units over 20 years,” said Coun. Waye Mason (Halifax South-Downtown), who was chairman of the planning and economic development committee when the anti-poverty strategy was first broached.

“That’s not going to cut it.”

Mason said the city kicked in an initial $20,000 to the anti-poverty plan when it was in its infancy and it will look into long-term tax deals and reduced municipal fees for companies that build affordable housing.

“Housing precarity and housing challenges are everywhere,” Mason said. “There are people who are facing housing challenges from Sackville to Woodlawn to Sambro. But the housing issue is provincial.”

Poverty is everyone’s issue, Napier said.

“Our stamp on that is that everyone has to provide input and effort behind these issues,” Napier said. “It’s not HRM’s issue, it’s not the province’s issue, it’s not the United Way’s issue or any one organization’s. To get to these what we would call ‘wicked’ problems that require really collaborative solutions, everybody has to care and everybody has to do something.”

Napier said the anti-poverty strategy will be a long-term plan with incremental implementation beginning in 2019. It has no defined budget and its funding should come from private-sector and individual-donor investment, different levels of governments and foundations, she said.

“It takes a collective effort to support and change our community for the better. We all have a role to play and looking at others with compassion is critically important.”

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