Rural poverty 'hidden' in Waterloo Region, advocates say

Poverty in Waterloo Region's rural areas can be hidden because people in smaller communities can find it more difficult to ask for help, local advocates say.

Rural Realities Network hosting a rural poverty forum Thursday in Baden

A forum being held Thursday in Baden will bring together local leaders from the four townships in Waterloo Region to discuss poverty in rural areas.

It can often be hard to pinpoint poverty in rural areas because it can be much more hidden away from view than poverty in an urban area, local advocates say.

"You may have people who have a million dollar farm but are poor themselves because they don't have the income to support that," Kristine Allison, of the Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries and co-chair of the group Rural Realities Network, told CBC News in an interview.

Trisha Robinson, executive director of the Wilmot Family Resource Centre in New Hamburg and also a co-chair of the network, agreed. She added it can be difficult for people in a rural area, where it can seem like everyone knows what everyone else is up to, to ask for help.

"We, as a rural people, are very strong and independent and we're used to looking after ourselves and we're not used to asking for help. To ask for help is really difficult sometimes," Robinson said.

Local forum to discuss rural poverty

It's the reason why the Rural Realities Network is hosting a forum Thursday to get local leaders to talk about poverty in rural areas. It is the first of what the group hopes are many forums where the topic is discussed. The mayors of the four townships – Wilmot, Wellesley, Woolwich and North Dumfries – will be on hand along with local advocates, staff from the region and other municipal leaders.

We have the same poverty level here, but it's hidden here because people know each other and they're proud and they want to make sure they look like everyone else.- Trisha Robinson, co-chair of the Rural Realities Network

The people at the forum, being held at the Wilmot Recreation Complex in Baden, will be looking at a needs assessment completed by the Woolwich Community Health Centre as well as a document on social planning, called Community Trends. They will break out into groups to discuss what the issues are and come up with some first steps to combating the issue.

Transportation, housing, isolation and an aging population are all known issues, Allison said. Each township has a different way of addressing the problems and, by meeting and discussing strategies, the hope is the groups can work together.

'We know the poverty is here'

Robinson said this forum is a starting point and they'll take all the information back to the Rural Realities Network and decided how to move forward.

She added while people may not see poverty in rural areas the same way they see it in an urban centre, it is there nonetheless.

"Poverty is everywhere. It's not [just] in the cities. We have the same poverty level here, but it's hidden here because people know each other and they're proud and they want to make sure they look like everyone else," Robinson said.

"In Kitchener, there's soup kitchens and there's places like hostels that people can stay in. We don't have any of that and so people, they don't want to stand out, they want to look like everyone else. But we know the poverty is here."


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