In Edmonton, Anglicans help city mobilize against poverty

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

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

Alexander says she was thrilled when Edmonton City Councilunanimously approved funding for the EndPovertyEdmonton Implementation RoadMap, 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 ofmoney, and they gave us every penny we asked for…We couldn’t believe it,” shesays.

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

The city will provide $1.265 million for the initiative in2017 and $1.178 million in 2018.

City council also confirmed it would fund the creation of anew community development corporation for the city, intended to help revitalizevulnerable neighbourhoods-one of the “cornerstones” of EndPovertyEdmonton,Alexander says.

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

“We’ve gotincredible momentum around the shared vision to end poverty through the cityright now,” she says. “We’re all trying to get to the same place using the samemethods-it’s just fantastic.”

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

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

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

Affordablehousing 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 cheaperhousing, making it harder for the very poor to compete for it and pushing theminto increasingly desperate circumstances.

“If youreally are at the bottom…you just get pushed further and further down, if thatwere possible,” she says. “At the moment, the food bank is reporting greaternumbers 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 theirhome.”

For itspart, the diocese has been doing “a massive piece of work” in terms ofeducating members of the church about poverty, Alexander says. This includesencouraging both clergy and parishioners to become better aware of the povertythat might exist in their own neighbourhoods.

Another importantprinciple behind EndPovertyEdmonton is the idea of enabling “wraparoundservices”-equipping anti-poverty workers to provide numerous services, ratherthan just, say, supplying clothing or shelter. Alexander says she is also tryingto get parishes that provide food, clothing and other supports to the needy tobuild links with other agencies, especially those providing wraparoundservices.

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

With the support of a $10,000 grant from the Anglican Foundation ofCanada (AFC), thediocese is also creating an interfaith community action guide, a resourcebooklet with information for faith communities on how they can take part inEndPovertyEdmonton. As of press time, the booklet, developed in partnershipwith a local synagogue and other religious groups, was weeks from beingpublished. 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 reconciliationand the elimination of racism are at its heart, and much of the initiative, shesays, is shaped by the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The diocese has been undertaking anumber of initiatives aligned with these goals, including two more AFC-fundedprojects. One is an art installation that will feature a large tree, inspiredby a traditional Métis story, that will serve as a focus of stories of healing.The other will work toward advancing Indigenous/non-Indigenous reconciliationin co-operation with other faith groups, and explore the effect it has onpoverty, Alexander says.

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

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

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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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