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Poverty-reduction minister Shane Simpson tours Stamps Place, a low-income Vancouver housing project where he lived as a child, in October 2017. Photo by Jason Payne While the findings of a new government report on poverty — housing is expensive, wages are low, and families struggle to feed their kids — may be predictable, the extent of these challenges across so many B.C. communities is an eye-opener, says the politician in charge of making this province more affordable.

“There is often a focus on Metro Vancouver, South Island, urban areas, and this report clearly identifies that issues of poverty and people struggling with the vulnerabilities of that is provincewide. It’s an issue in communities where it may seem invisible,” Shane Simpson, Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister, said in an interview Thursday.

“(The report) talks about the numbers of people who are looking for an opportunity to change their circumstance, and dismisses what at times has been a past view that people chose poverty … But in many cases they can’t even see the pathway forward to be able to (leave poverty). They are struggling with the hard work it is to live poor.”

The 60-page report, “What We Heard,” was released Thursday after members of a government-appointed advisory forum gathered input between October and March from 5,000 people about living in poverty.

At 28 community meetings and 100 small-group discussions, forum members were told housing — not necessarily owning a home, but having a safe, secure place to rent — was by far the biggest concern.

“In every part of the province, people spoke up about how high housing costs limit people’s opportunities and forces people to cut back on food, turn down the heat, and live smaller, more isolated lives,” the report said.

The report does not, though, include any recommendations for change or any estimates on how much it will cost to reduce poverty in B.C., the only province in Canada without an official poverty reduction plan.

Simpson said his ministry will table legislation in October with targets and timelines for a plan, and that the money will be allocated in the February 2019 budget.

“We’ve been creating this problem in B.C. for a very long time, and we will not solve it in a year. We know that it is going to take some time,” Simpson said, when asked if his ministry could be moving more quickly.

“I’ve heard the frustration from people who are looking for a quick fix, a quick resolve on some of these issues, — and I get it entirely — but I do feel the need to do this right.”

On the matter of housing, participants who were poor and members of certain groups, such as immigrants, First Nations, families with children, those with disabilities, and LGBTQ2S+ members, said low vacancy rates meant landlords could discriminate against them.

They called for more affordable housing; better rent controls; specific rentals for groups in need, such as seniors and youth leaving foster care; and more low-barrier housing for the homeless.

“In many communities we heard that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people living on the street. People spoke to the lack of shelter space overall, and limits on how long those who need shelter can stay,” the report stated.

Another major issue for families was finding safe, affordable child care, especially if parents’ jobs involve shift work or part-time hours.

Participants felt judged when using food banks, but said they were a necessity. They called for incentives to increase fresh food donations to food banks; diverting food waste from grocery stores to community kitchens; expanding school meal programs; and creating more community […]

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