About 150 Red Deerians were tasked with coming up with tangible ways to alleviate poverty in the city at a one-day poverty reduction conference on Monday.
“If we end up with a report that says we need to communicate and collaborate and educate, we’ve not done our jobs. We want to go for some quick wins,” said Tricia Haggarty-Roberts, co-chair of Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA), during the conference at Black Knight Inn on Monday.
The event, Prosperity for all: Preparing for Poverty Reduction by Creating a Vibrant Community, challenged citizens, businesses, seniors, school districts, faith groups, charities, and professionals to come up with strategies that the alliance could focus on over the next six months to a year or two.
Results will be revealed at the alliance’s April 17 meeting.
Participants were to focus on eight populations that more often struggle with poverty in Red Deer — like aboriginals, recent immigrants, and seniors — and come up with ways to assist them through 10 key investment areas. They include affordable housing, early childhood development, education, demand-driven jobs and skills training and upgrading, appropriate income supplementation or income replacement, assistance with the creation of assets for low and modest-income households.
High school students Suzan Mohamed, 17, and Martha Gatluak, 18, talked about how important education is in reducing poverty.
Mohamed’s family escaped the dangers of Somalia, where she couldn’t go to school.
“Growing up in Somalia was horrible. We were afraid to go outside because if you went outside you might die. I saw people getting killed in the streets. My family and I were only safe when we stayed at home,” Mohamed said.
She was scared when she finally started school in Red Deer.
“The biggest difficulty I had was the English language. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t speak the language or even understand it.”
Now, Mohamed wants to go to college to become a nurse.
Gatluak, of Sudan, said she was also grateful to go to school in Red Deer.
“We always prayed to live in a safe country and go to school,” said Gatluak, whose family had to live in a refugee camp.
But it is difficult to live and work in a new country when you can’t speak the language, she said.
Mayor Morris Flewwelling encouraged conference participants to recognize poverty as an economic issue, not just a social issue, to help the 15 to 18 per cent of people who live in poverty in Red Deer.
“Social issues tend to get pushed down, cut quickly when things are tight, times like now,” Flewwelling said.
“It was when housing and homelessness became an economic issue that it drew the full attention of the senior governments, the federal government and the provincial government, and programs were developed.”