By Vanessa Broadbent
Between the affluence of wineries and orchards in the South Okanagan, it’s hard to imagine that there’s much poverty in the area. But despite what most visitors see while passing through, the communities of Oliver and Osoyoos are no exception and have residents living below the poverty line.
An upcoming community discussion hosted by South Okanagan Integrated Community Services and Desert Sun Counselling and Resource Centre, in part with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, is aiming to bring the issue of local poverty to the forefront.
Nancy Aatelma of Desert Sun Counselling and Resource Centre said the organization was recruited to help host the event.
“There have been numerous discussions across the province in larger centres, but nothing has been organized in the South Okanagan,” she said. “The Provincial government wants to hear feedback from all regions regarding how poverty is impacting their communities.”
Attendees will be split into small groups where they will have a discussion based on two predetermined questions, which have been used at similar events across the province.
From there, the answers will be collected and put in order of their priority, said Aatelma.
Aatelma noted that the South Okanagan isn’t generally seen as a low-income area – but that’s not true.
“We feel it is important to host this event as we have many clients living at or below the poverty line,” she said. “Also, the South Okanagan is a tourist destination and as such, there’s a delusion that there is no or little poverty here which is false.”
According to the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, B.C.’s poverty rate is the second highest in Canada – 13.2 per cent based on the Market Based Measure. But only four per cent of citizens are relying on social assistance.
The Coalition also says that one in five of those living in poverty are under the age of 18, and 49 per cent of children in single mother-led households are below the poverty line.
Aatelma hopes that the discussion will be a step towards destigmatizing poverty.
“We hope to draw attention to the needs and hardships that locals struggle with on a daily basis.”
The Community Discussion on Poverty in the South Okanagan is on Wednesday, March 7 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Sonora Community Centre in Osoyoos. Anyone interested in attending can register by phoning 250-498-2538 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.