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Creative ways for businesses to pitch in and help reduce poverty

by Kendall Worth

Business owners and people living in poverty should talk more, says poverty activist Kendall Worth (right). Photo Robert Devet
Business owners and people living in poverty should talk more, says poverty activist Kendall Worth (right). Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - I am writing this article giving consideration to a number of life experiences

First of all, I used to run a business myself. As some readers may already know I used to sell the Street Feat newspaper on Spring Garden Road. A lot of people in the Spring Garden area, including the local businesses have gotten to know me over my years of doing that. You can even say that at one time I lived the day to day life of a Spring Garden Road business owner... Every time I walk down Spring Garden Road these days  local people still remember me, even though it’s well over two years since Street Feat went out of business!

I am also a member, and up until this past spring a board member, of the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network. When different business people network together they can share ideas and learn a lot from each other.

And finally, I  know many others who live in poverty, including people on income assistance, CPP disability, the working poor and poor students attending the local colleges and universities.

I hear about their dreams of someday getting off the social assistance system and leaving poverty behind.

Business people often tell me that they are deeply concerned about the local population of people living in poverty. One way they show they care is by giving the panhandlers money.  

In conversations which I have had in the business community at time, they sometimes wonder why those living in poverty that appears able to work are not working. There are a lot of different reasons for that.

Some reasons I hear from people living on income assistance, others I hear from the business community.

Some people on income assistance complain that their caseworkers will not cover them for the cost of phones. For that reason they cannot provide phone numbers  where they can be contacted when filling out job applications or to put on resumes.

A lot of people I talk to say  that they want to get back into the workforce, but they don’t think that there are jobs to be had here.  They hear that of a lot of young people in Nova Scotia move to Ontario and out West to get good paying jobs . They worry that getting off income assistance will require them to leave Nova Scotia. Leaving Nova Scotia will require them to leave family behind, family who often are suffering from medical problems and need their help.

Some people on social assistance who have kids, (mostly single moms) want to work however some of the jobs they qualify for such as flipping burgers, cleaning and bartending require them to work evenings and weekends as well as regular Monday to Friday work week. Day cares are only open during regular business hours from Monday to Friday and they cannot arrange child care for evenings and weekends if they have to work shifts at those times.

Others feel that whereas they have no formal education that would qualify them for a good professional job, by working for minimum wage they would be no better off than on social assistance. Were they to get off social assistance they also lose their medical plan.  Archie Gillis, who works for the Entrepreneurs Disabilities Network, tells me that one of his clients who is currently covered under pharmacare would otherwise pay $10,000 a month.  

Sometimes, but not always, there are ways around these hurdles.

For single moms who can’t find day care in the evenings and on weekends, perhaps one creative way to solve this problem is to have daycare  that  is open evenings and weekends. This is just one creative solution the business community could consider.

As for having to leave the province, everyone I talked to felt that people should not have to leave the province.

And if you don’t have a phone you should talk to Red Bear. This organization will provide you with a phone number with a voice mail for no charge.

I recently had a conversation with Michelle Strum, a business person who runs the Alteregos / Backpackers Coffee Shop on Gottingen Street. She cares a lot about poverty. She told me that she only hires people who live within walking distance from the Coffee Shop. She believes that it is important for community to come together to reduce poverty.  

Business owners often forget, or perhaps have never understood, all the barriers those in poverty face in terms of the job market. And those experiencing poverty often forget, or perhaps have never understood, the wide-range of job opportunities that exist, from part-time very casual work to skilled labour.

It would be marvellous to bring the two communities (meaning the business community and the community of people living in poverty) together somehow.

Everyone benefits from the elimination of poverty. If business owners heard from real people about their challenges, I think many would create opportunities. And if those in poverty heard about the types of tasks and jobs and careers some businesses are offering, I think they'd realize there are more options than they thought possible.

One thing to keep in mind is that 85 percent of the job market is never advertised. These jobs are filled by word of mouth. For those living in poverty and outside the business community, they have very little opportunity to hear about these jobs. So a true connection needs to be made between those in poverty that want to find a way to work and the business community.

It isn't only about educating those in poverty. It is also about educating the business community and building strong connections. Perhaps a forum or monthly networking event of some sort needs to happen. Active interested business owners need to get behind a concept of communicating with those living in poverty.

The problem is that people living in poverty don’t believe the business community even cares about them. This is not true. This belief partly comes from the fact that business people never visit places like the drop-ins and soup kitchens where people living in poverty hang out.

We need a plan. When the business community comes together, there might also be an opportunity for government collaboration. This type of planning takes a long time.

The sooner we get started the better.

 

 


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Topics: Poverty
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