From the outset, it could very well be too much to ask: how do we end poverty? How? How can we as a community even begin to start to chip away at such a monumental issue with so many challenges, which seemingly leads to dead ends? The answer is very simple, really: we have to acknowledge it. That’s what happened Thursday when the 2013 Alberta Capital Region United Way campaign kicked of in Edmonton at the Expo Centre with 700-plus supporters in attendance. This year’s campaign has a lofty goal — $23.6 million — and took a diversion from past campaign kick-offs.
In the past, kick-off lunches have been inspired with stories from people who have benefited from United Way programs and agencies. They have ranged from convicted criminals, to single parent families, to people with disabilities, to people with addiction issues and many more. Their stories have been inspiring. They have shown United Way dollars changing their lives. Yet, there has been common theme in almost all of them: poverty. Because if you don’t have money, maybe you turn to crime; if you don’t have money to provide for your family, maybe you turn against the people you love the most and break up your family; if you don’t have money and you become disabled and can’t get proper resources, maybe you turn to drugs or alcohol.
“Imagine this. Each and every day you wake up, you are focused on one thing – surviving - day-by-day. You’re not sure if there will be enough money to meet the rent, pay the heat or put food on the table for your family,” United Way campaign chair Gary Bosgoed described to the crowd. “Your transportation is limited. You catch a lift with friends, you walk or you take public transit – that is, when you have bus money. And university for your kids? Well, that’s for other people. Your biggest worry today is finding the money to buy their school supplies – and as for the class field trip, that’s just not in the budget.”
The numbers are quite staggering, Poverty is a way of life for 120,000 people in the Alberta Capital Region. And here’s the figure that is most startling: 37,000 are children. “Kids,” says Bosgoed, “who aren’t concerned about the latest in video games or fashion trends – but they are concerned about getting enough to eat.” Under those conditions opportunities can be hard to come by and the challenges can become endless.
Yet, there is hope. United Way has done extensive research and has come up with a plan: Creating Pathways Out of Poverty. Funds from this year’s United Way campaign will go to three key areas: education of children from early years to high school to help them reach their full potential; providing income support to folks who are homeless or have low incomes, and creating wellness, physically and mentally, without the worry of fear and violence in our communities.
“Poverty is not something that one organization, government or group can tackle alone. It takes all of us working together with measurable and specific goals in mind,” says Bosgoed.
Perhaps, then, the question isn’t how can we end poverty, but rather this: How can we not?
(Cam Tait is a semi-retired Edmonton Journal columnist who is the Special Project Advisor for Challenge Insurance in Edmonton.)