Poverty activists say new report presents concrete solutions for city

People who work to prevent poverty say they're optimistic about a new road map for Halifax and will be watching for action by city councillors.

Report by United Way and the regional municipality presents 129 ideas for action

Activist Wayne MacNaughton says he thinks city council can act quickly on some anti-poverty initiatives in the next budget cycle. (CBC)

People who work to prevent poverty say they're optimistic about a new action plan to help low-income residents and urge councillors to get moving on it.

The report called Building Poverty Solutions was compiled by the United Way of Halifax jointly with the regional municipality. 

The report presents 129 steps, many of which are shorter-term fixes, such as:

  • Make public transit free for seniors and youth aged 18 and under.
  • Develop a public database of housing-bylaw infractions.
  • Complete a feasibility study on how to implement a basic income.

"It's an interesting step; it's a good step, I think," said Wayne MacNaughton, who has worked to raise awareness about poverty issues for many years. MacNaughton was one of more than 1,000 people who gave input toward the report. 

The report contains many "small things" that could be done at a local level to make life easier for people living in poverty, he said.

The report also recommends longer-term steps such as working with other levels of government and citizens on anti-poverty issues, which MacNaughton said are important to achieve permanent change. 

The report grew out of conversations that started a year-and-a-half ago with the mayor and councillors, said Sara Napier, the president and CEO of United Way Halifax. 

Sara Napier, CEO of the United Way of Halifax, says the report will not sit on the shelf. (Shaina Luck)

The councillors were interested in finding out what kind of actions they could take immediately, as municipal governments often have the most direct effect on people's lives. That led to the report being written over a "very rapid" period of about seven months, said Napier.

"We did that because there's already been so much good work done in community of understanding issues of poverty, of social justice and more," Napier said.  

Napier said United Way was able to compile and add to work that was already done, and it's committed to measuring results and making sure the content of the report is not forgotten. 

"That's been a concern of ours from the very beginning, and we've said this in every meeting and every discussion that we've had: this report will not sit on a shelf."

Two weeks ago, Napier presented the finished report to the city's community planning and economic development standing committee. Councillors voted to refer the document to staff to analyze and report back on which actions can be taken now and which require further study.

Mandy Kay-Raining Bird, the chair of Basic Income Nova Scotia, says the report is a blend of immediately achievable goals and longer-term goals. (Shaina Luck)

Mandy Kay-Raining Bird, the chair of Basic Income Nova Scotia and a professor at Dalhousie University, said she was pleased the report took a definitive stance on basic income, advocating for a feasibility study to be done by the city. 

"I think that an initiative like this draws attention to poverty. It demands that something be done. It doesn't allow us to ignore this inhumane situation that exists," she said. 

Kay-Raining Bird said while city council will not accomplish everything in the report on its own, she thinks the report combines the "the immediately doable" with "what could be possible." 

Keeping the issues in view

Wayne MacNaughton says there is an urgency for this council, which is halfway through its mandate, to act. 

"I think it's the first council we've had in the 20-odd years that I've been in Halifax that's actually kind of listening to the issue and trying to figure out ways to do these things," he said, but adds there must be some pressure from the public to keep the issues on the council agenda.

"What needs to happen is they need to come back from that committee with some recommendations that can be implemented right away, in the next budget cycle for the city." 

MacNaughton said it's well within the city's power to implement things like a free seniors' bus pass or better enforcement of housing issues. 

"Things like that, that can show that they're taking some progress on it. Otherwise it will just sit on a shelf," he said. 

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca