Will the District of Port Hardy create a low income recreation pass program to help out families struggling to get by?
Don Kattler, who works in the Strategic Priorities Division of the Ministry of Children and Family Development as a member of the BC Community Poverty Reduction Initiative, made a presentation to Port Hardy council on Tuesday night about child poverty issues running rampant in the district.
“I believe that we can agree that poverty is a difficult issue to discuss,” said Kattler at the beginning of his speech, “So, why am I here? I am not here to talk about what hasn’t been done and what we aren’t doing as a community. I am here to provide the mayor and council with a picture of poverty in Port Hardy through statistics and to facilitate a discussion about an opportunity to improve the health of low-income people by removing barriers and promoting social inclusion. I believe it’s about the future and what we can do moving forward together.”
Kattler stated he believes the district has the ability to create opportunities for low income families to enjoy recreational activities, before adding all the data he is presenting is “only for the District of Port Hardy. Most poverty data in Canada excludes on-reserve First Nations due to data limitations. I would like to state that generalized results of poverty assessments fail to capture the real depth and breadth of the experience of living on-reserve. And it should be noted that a disproportionate number of Aboriginal children and families are living in poverty, both on and off-reserve in Canada.”
Kattler stated the most problematic figures for the area “are for children and youth,” noting the most concerning statistic deals with children in the 0-5 age group, which shows a staggering 32.8 per cent of children and youth here in town are living in poverty, and that the provincial average is 18 per cent.
“Our percentage as a community is 14.8 per cent higher than the provincial average,” he said, adding, “And for 0-17 years, we have 29.8 per cent of children and youth living in poverty.”
The provincial average for 0-17 years is 18.5 per cent, making this area 11 per cent higher than the provincial average.
“I would also like to dispel a myth that most people and families living in poverty are receiving social assistance benefits,” added Kattler. “This is simply not true. Most low-income families have gross incomes significantly below the poverty line, with many of those working at minimum-wage jobs. In fact, the vast majority of poor children in BC live in families with some earned income, and over half live in families where at least one person has a full-time job.”
He then stated the 2018 government statistics on poverty in the area “don’t paint a good picture. The most problematic numbers are for children and youth. These numbers are significantly higher than the provincial averages.”
Kattler then moved into the bread and butter of his presentation, namely, a request to institute a low income recreation pass program.
“I would like to acknowledge the recommendation of the Parks, Recreation and Culture Committee to offer free once a month swimming and ice skating,” he said. “I know the intent is well meaning, but I really believe there is opportunity to do more as a community. A low income recreation pass program gives individuals, families and seniors the same opportunity as others in our community. It provides them the freedom of choosing what day and time to access recreation like everyone else in our community. It normalizes access by removing barriers and stigma.”
Kattler then listed some of the benefits of a low income recreation pass program, such as having a direct impact on improving the health of low-income people via allowing them to enjoy the district’s recreational activities.
The program would also require low income families to file personal income taxes, which he said is one of keys of reducing poverty in Canada. “This is the only way to access funding from federal and provincial programs,” noted Kattler. “Proof of income for low income recreation pass programs may indirectly open the door to additional financial resources for some people in our community.”
All told, Kattler noted that “Given the severity of the poverty statistics in our community, I would suggest that providing a free annual pass would have the most impact and would be the easiest to administer for the District. It’s an existing pass program and it would not identify a person as someone living in poverty, again reducing stigma and barriers.”
He added that it is his hope that a low income recreation pass program will be “a beginning. We are not going to solve poverty overnight, but we can take small steps, move forward and work together as a community to make Port Hardy a better place for everyone to live.”
Council thanked Kattler for his presentation.
“I appreciate the request,” said Coun. Pat Corbett-Labatt, adding they will get back to him in the future after talking it over.
Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas said he appreciated all the information presented from Kattler and they will “be in touch.”