We live in communities that are filled with diversity. Normally, that diversity is a welcome and enriching part of life. However, when that diversity applies to income, it’s a much different story. In Waterloo Region , 1 in 8 residents lives below the poverty line. With that comes a whole host of challenges that those who live in more affluent conditions may not understand. There is a group of committed activists looking to address this, based on their own experience and stories.
ALIV(e) (or Awareness of Low Income Voices) is a collaborative group of individuals dedicated to advocacy by amplifying active and positive voices of low-income families and individuals struggling with poverty in Waterloo Region. In fact, lived experience with poverty is a requirement for being a core member of the group. One of their goals is to educate the public about the impact of poverty on peoples’ lives and on the community as a whole. In particular, ALIVE(e) received a grant from the Kindred Charitable Fund to create the Poverty Professors Training Program (Poverty Professors) to do just that! They are supported by the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region.
“Most people who are living above the line, don’t really know what’s going on,” according to Louise Walchuk, Chair of ALIV(e). Issues such as housing, food security, and transit can become incredibly complicated when you have no resources to fall back on.
The Poverty Professors intend to connect with community group such as churches, tenant groups, and service organizations, to help educate them on the realities of poverty. The plan is to have teams of presenters go out into the community to spread awareness. “People in poverty feel swept under the rug,” says Cathie Stewart-Savage, Secretary of ALIVE(e), “and it’s been the growth of tent cities that have finally forced people to accept that poverty lives in Waterloo Region.” The Poverty Professors hope that by bringing poverty to light, people will begin to see how poverty hurts all of society with the loss of potential of those who are struggling to simply survive. According to Cathie, “it’s almost impossible to reach your full potential when the basics, such as food and shelter, are so difficult to obtain.”
The Poverty Professors also hope to affect real change for those living in poverty as well. Partly, this will include pointing folks towards the resources they need, whether to deal with an eviction, or to access services from another agency. In addition, they would like to lift up the voices of those who feel disempowered by poverty. “ODSP decisions are made by those who have never experienced a disability and food hampers are packed by people who have never needed one,” adds Cathie. They are hoping to advocate on these and other issues.
Both Cathie and Louise stress the importance of sharing stories to shed light on the challenges and struggles of their community. They hope that with the grant they received from the Kindred Charitable Fund, they will empower people and initiate positive change, “allowing small voices to be heard.”