Changing What We See

Twenty years ago today, the UN declared October 17 as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  

I’m sure we all have pre-conceived images floating around in our head – images that we connect to events or circumstances.  When someone says the word summer, maybe you think of beaches and waves and brightly-coloured sand toys.  

What about the word poverty?  What kind of image do you see then?  Perhaps that of a disheveled, unkempt person pushing a shopping cart?  Maybe it’s the image of a child in a Third World county – bare feet and stomach distended from malnutrition.

I’m willing to guess that almost none of us conjure up the image of a tidy little child, sitting next to your child in the classroom -  because it’s what you don’t see, that you don’t know.  Maybe you don’t know that the child’s family can’t afford school supplies.  Or that money is so scarce, they are also very grateful for free in-school lunches and snacks.  Or how about the quiet young teen who sits next to you on public transit every day ?  Maybe you assume he’s going to school every morning when actually he’s heading to a low-paying job to help put food on his family’s table.  His grades were  good – good enough for post-secondary, if he’d stayed in school long enough to graduate - but he can forget about that kind of future because his family couldn’t survive without his pay cheque.  

The fact is, poverty doesn’t have a set image –it can and does affect anyone, at any time.  Financial advisors recommend we all have three-months living expenses set aside in case of emergency.   But how many of us do?   Could we all honestly say we are prepared for job loss or an unforeseen financial emergency of another kind?   There are a lot of different reasons people find themselves living in poverty – where each and every day is a struggle and challenge to survive.

So what does poverty look like in our own community ?  With 120,000 people in the Alberta Capital Region living in poverty, and 37,000 of them being children, it looks expensive.  Very  expensive.  In the province of Alberta, it costs between $7.1 and 9.5 billion dollars a year to just manage poverty.  

As community members we can’t afford to let poverty continue to exist.  It costs us as a community, it costs us as taxpayers and it takes a HUGE toll on our human capital – our people.  These are families, children, seniors, young adults - all whom are being robbed of living with dignity and hope, not being able to reach their potential.  These are people who could very well be your neighbours, your family, your friends and yes, co-workers.    It’s time to see poverty clearly and start sharing the vision of a poverty-free region.   

Start now and start here by visiting a brand new website in our city launched just today:  This is a collaborative effort of Edmonton's Poverty Elimination Steering Committee, which unites 26 organizations under a shared vision to end poverty within a generation.  United Way is proud to be one of the organizations participating in this difficult and bold effort.  Please help us change the face and the vision of poverty in our community – learn the facts, what you can do and join us.  It’s definitely time for a change and together, we can create pathways out of poverty.  

References and Links
Allan Undheim, VP Community Building and Investment on CBC Radio talks Poverty with Mark Connolly

Defining Poverty – United Way video produced in Fall 2013