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In Edmonton, Anglicans help city mobilize against poverty

By Tali Folkins on January, 24 2017

Jane Alexander, bishop of the diocese of Edmonton and co-chair of EndPovertyEdmonton, says the church’s involvement in the initiative means a chance for it to show it’s serious about its commitment to the poor. Photo: Diocese of Edmonton

A collaborative anti-poverty initiative co-chaired by Jane Alexander, bishop of Edmonton, will receive $2.4 million in funding from the city over the next two years—and the diocese is undertaking a slew of its own projects to support it.

Alexander says she was thrilled when Edmonton City Council unanimously approved funding for the EndPovertyEdmonton Implementation Road Map, a citywide initiative of which she is co-chair, December 13.

“You know, it’s a tough year for everybody economy-wise, and we were asking for a lot of money, and they gave us every penny we asked for…We couldn’t believe it,” she says.

The money will help fund 15 of the 35 “priority actions” that make up EndPovertyEdmonton’s five-year plan for lifting 10,000 Edmontonians out of poverty. These 35 include, for example: designing and planning a new Indigenous culture and wellness centre; advocating the idea of a “living wage” among city employers; creating ways for vulnerable people to participate in city committees; giving a 60 per cent discount to eligible low-income transit passengers; and advocating for increased funding for mental health services.

The city will provide $1.265 million for the initiative in 2017 and $1.178 million in 2018.

City council also confirmed it would fund the creation of a new community development corporation for the city, intended to help revitalize vulnerable neighbourhoods—one of the “cornerstones” of EndPovertyEdmonton, Alexander says.

EndPovertyEdmonton will not be a separate agency, but rather an attempt to connect diverse groups and individuals and help them collaborate. More than 40 community agencies, from philanthropic organizations to schools to charities, have already aligned their own strategies with that of EndPovertyEdmonton, Alexander says.

“We’ve got incredible momentum around the shared vision to end poverty through the city right now,” she says. “We’re all trying to get to the same place using the same methods—it’s just fantastic.”

According to the EndPovertyEdmonton website, more than 100,000 Edmonton residents live in poverty, making less than $16,968 per year for a single person and $33,936 per year for a family of four. Roughly one in five of the city’s children—and nearly half of its Indigenous children—are living in poverty, Alexander says.

The oil price slump that began in 2014 has more Edmontonians worried about keeping a roof over their heads and having enough food to eat, she says.

“There are more people who are living on the edge—really, there are,” she says.

Affordable housing in the city has become very scarce, she says—partly as a result of a “knock-down” effect: the bad economic times force more people to seek cheaper housing, making it harder for the very poor to compete for it and pushing them into increasingly desperate circumstances.

“If you really are at the bottom…you just get pushed further and further down, if that were possible,” she says. “At the moment, the food bank is reporting greater numbers of people using it, of course, and I think that people are, in general, using a lot more of those kinds of resources to help them be able to keep their home.”

For its part, the diocese has been doing “a massive piece of work” in terms of educating members of the church about poverty, Alexander says. This includes encouraging both clergy and parishioners to become better aware of the poverty that might exist in their own neighbourhoods.

Another important principle behind EndPovertyEdmonton is the idea of enabling “wraparound services”—equipping anti-poverty workers to provide numerous services, rather than just, say, supplying clothing or shelter. Alexander says she is also trying to get parishes that provide food, clothing and other supports to the needy to build links with other agencies, especially those providing wraparound services.

One factor Alexander believes could be a “game-changer” in fighting poverty is increasing mental health services and supports. With that in mind, she says, the diocese is planning to have all its clergy certified in mental health first aid, a form of training intended to help people recognize the signs of mental health crises, and provide immediate help.

With the support of a $10,000 grant from the Anglican Foundation of Canada (AFC), the diocese is also creating an interfaith community action guide, a resource booklet with information for faith communities on how they can take part in EndPovertyEdmonton. As of press time, the booklet, developed in partnership with a local synagogue and other religious groups, was weeks from being published. The diocese also works with a local interfaith housing collective.

While many other jurisdictions also have anti-poverty plans, Alexander says, a unique feature of EndPovertyEdmonton is that reconciliation and the elimination of racism are at its heart, and much of the initiative, she says, is shaped by the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The diocese has been undertaking a number of initiatives aligned with these goals, including two more AFC-funded projects. One is an art installation that will feature a large tree, inspired by a traditional Métis story, that will serve as a focus of stories of healing. The other will work toward advancing Indigenous/non-Indigenous reconciliation in co-operation with other faith groups, and explore the effect it has on poverty, Alexander says.

What excites her most about the church’s involvement in EndPovertyEdmonton, Alexander says, is that it allows the church to show it’s serious in living out the gospel’s promise to the poor.

“It opens the door for us to actually say what we mean when we say that the gospel’s good news for the poor, I think—and so I unashamedly do it that way because this is what it’s all about,” she says. “It’s an amazing opportunity to show that we are not an organization that sits outside and says ‘I’ll pray for you,’ but doesn’t get its hands dirty and get involved in transforming a society.”

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By Tali Folkins| January, 24 2017
Categories:  News|National News

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer

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