Mayor Don Iveson’s Taskforce to End Poverty in a Generation had its final meeting on May 30, 2016. Actually the meeting was really a celebratory gathering, a time to acknowledge the work and leadership of so many.
In particular we celebrated the publication of End Poverty Edmonton’s Roadmap to Guide Our Journey which is based on the EPE’s Strategy to achieve a poverty free city within a generation. Both of these documents have been endorsed by Edmonton’s City Council and indeed, City Council has already been involved in implementing certain aspects of the strategy even before the Roadmap was finalized.
Thanks to a partnership with the Alberta Government, the City will be launching a low income bus pass that will provide a 60% discount on the standard fares for public transit. The program is being launched in 2017 with three years of funding in place. The total cost is estimated to be around $12.4 million and will be split 50-50 between the province and the city. Approximately 20,000 low income families will benefit from this savings. For more information about how the subsidy works, click HERE.
As well, City Council recently passed a motion to support the planning phase for the creation of a standalone Community Development Corporation. The CDC will focus on low income neighbourhoods and the development of affordable and supportive housing, retail shopping, job creation and ultimately build stronger, healthier communities. Through a collaboration between the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Community Foundation, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, and Homeward Trust (Edmonton’s organization that funds Housing First efforts), the intent is to create a CDC that will be community owned and driven by community needs and aspirations.
During the Task Force’s work, it heard from young people living in poverty and often on the fringes of community life about the importance of decriminalizing poverty. Unable to afford public transit, they shared stories of being fined and eventually taken to court when they could not pay the fines. This kind of thing happens to the homeless all the time, regardless of age, and their clear and compelling message about such treatment of the disadvantaged prompted action from the city as well, long before the Roadmap or even the EPE Strategy were finalized. New rules, along with training of Transit Officers who do the checking and the ticketing, were instituted because of the challenges put before the Task Force by 10 articulate young people.
All of these accomplishments are a testimony to the momentum of the Mayor’s Task Force, the diligence it had in engaging citizens throughout its work, and City Council’s openness to new ideas to address the suffering of more than 100,000 neighbours who are living in poverty. They are a testimony to the tone set by the Mayor from the get-go around openness to new ideas and basing strategies and actions on a People-First mindset, a fundamental principle brought to the table by Indigenous leaders, citizens, and elders.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight the importance of the leadership and thinking provided by the Task Force’s Aboriginal Roundtable. Not only did they help all of us better understand the challenges faced by Indigenous people, they enriched all of us with their cultural and spiritual approaches to making life better for everyone. The EPE Strategy is rich with the influence of the Aboriginal Roundtable and instead of being integrated throughout all of the strategies, we ended up with a strategy that clearly and comprehensively frames the work required to not only advance poverty elimination but also to advance reconciliation across our community.
The end of the Task Force is really just a new beginning. While there will be task force members who continue on with the roadmap work, new people and organizations will be invited to join the implementation efforts, whether in a stewardship/governance role, as advisors, and/or as deliverers of services and initiatives identified in the roadmap. The inclusion of diverse cultures and perspectives will continue as well ongoing engagement with the general public
I was fortunate to be a part of the Mayor’s Task Force to End Poverty. Fortunate to have my mind challenged and my heart nurtured by others. We argued. We laughed. We worked through differences. We stepped up when needed and sat down when others stood before us. We listened to the naysayers and then carried on. And as I mentioned earlier, we have a new beginning before us. We need new leaders, new voices, fresh perspectives carrying the implementation of the EPE strategy forward.
A tip of the hat to Mayor Iveson for having the courage to say “Enough” to poverty and for his passion and caring for all Edmontonians. It’s true, Mister Mayor, you couldn’t have gotten this far on your own, but it’s also true that we couldn’t have gotten here without you. Ending poverty in a community requires leadership and local government’s commitment to the work.
Also a tip of the hat to Bishop Jane Alexander, the Mayor’s co-chair, who worked and spoke tirelessly about the Task Force, its importance, and for reminding us that ending poverty is a just cause and a human rights issue we must resolve.
For the first time in my long life of actively pursuing the end of poverty and homelessness, I feel hopeful that we can actually do this in my community. I hope you feel that way too about your community.
It’s about time, don’t you think?
See my interview with Mayor Iveson and Bishop Alexander in the current issue of The Philanthropist, which is doing a series of articles on the theme of Poverty and Human Rights.