Plan 45 000 – Poverty is a grim reality for too many people, disproportionately affecting groups on the margins of society. It is generational, foreclosing on future opportunities for those as yet unborn. A local group aims to change all that for families and individuals in the west-end borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
The CDN-NDG Poverty Reduction Roundtable presented a 5-year action plan to help alleviate poverty at a recent borough council meeting. The aim of ‘Plan 45 000’ is to reduce poverty for 45,000 low-income residents in 5 key areas including housing, revenue & employment, transportation, food security, and access to information and resources. CDN-NDG’s former Mayor Russell Copeman kickstarted the process and Mayor Sue Montgomery renewed the group’s mandate to come up with an effective strategy to be implemented in a relatively short time frame. The report has been tabled and the new mayor has it in hand.
It’s a tall order but James Hughes, President of the Poverty Reduction Roundtable is optimistic this goal can be achieved. “There are a couple of flagship recommendations in the report,” he says. Top of the list is clean, safe housing. The group wants to see an inspection system put in place to ensure the housing stock is in conformity with all norms. Right now, inspection is based on complaints, a double-edged sword for tenants. “For reasons of fear of reprisals from landlords they’re not reporting,” he says.
Another essential component concerns social procurement policies. The city is a big buyer of goods and services so why not favour suppliers who pay their own employees a living wage? “We’re trying to take it to a more structural, systemic level, ” he says. Makes sense, the city can model good corporate behaviour for institutions on its territory. Hughes even envisions a time when a poverty reduction coordinator might pay an establishment a visit and have a conversation about the matter. “It (the city/borough) could be a role model for all of them.” A coordinator could pick a hospital on the territory and ask, “Would you consider this approach?” This suggestion may raise a few eyebrows, but nothing ventured nothing gained. “We want to take it on the road,” he says. They’d also like to take it up the ladder. “Obviously, the city can do more, the province can do more, the federal government can do more.”
Transportation is just about everybody’s pet peeve these days and for a host of reasons. However, for individuals living below the poverty line, the headache’s not only about seemingly interminable road construction, late buses, or overcrowded metro cars. Sometimes a bus pass has to be sacrificed to buy groceries or other necessities. One recommendation that stands out is a tariff-free zone for certain bus routes at off-hours. This is probably more realistic than reducing fares or offering free transit for some users like seniors. “It may not be terribly expensive,” Hughes says. “It could be a pilot project,” he says, adding the borough has the political power to bring the STM on board.
Another catchphrase we hear today is “food security”. What does this mean? The borough sponsors many activities for kids. The local uptake would be for municipal organizations to provide healthy food for all children without stigmatizing anyone. ” We think this is simple and powerful,” Hughes says. The program would be universal. One example: at half-time, the soccer team could provide oranges for players. Would this mean no cake or comfort food on special occasions? No, he says. The devil is in the details. “We’re not trying to change their practices today. We’re going to really take some time to think this through.”
Access to information is another flashpoint for many people regardless of their income level. Lack of services in English has been a longstanding battleground for the Anglophone community. A disproportionate number of residents in the borough are immigrants particularly in the Côte-des-Neiges area where more than 100 languages are spoken. Information and services in the maternal language of residents are pivotal. A key recommendation is to ensure that info and services are relevant to the community and widely available. This means offering them in as many languages as possible. “Access to information ties the others (recommendations) together,” Hughes says. “The city could do a lot better in terms of dissemination of information.”
Some might wonder if the plan is perhaps too ambitious given the 5-year timeline. “A lot of people in social services are engaged with this on a continual basis,” Hughes says. “The mandate flows from the mayor in council. They have the initiative to move it forward. It has been fully approved.” The CDN-NDG borough is equipped with the resources and has “hundreds of partners on the ground.” Ideally, the Roundtable would like to see a coordinator councillor at the borough council and an advisory council to help steer the project plus an annual report. Ultimately, it’s about, “putting the machinery in place,” to get the job done, he says.