Surrey’s Poverty Reduction Strategy

Recently the City of Surrey unveiled its Poverty Reduction Strategy  to tackle one of the most important social issues in the City. This strategy will not only include actions on a local level but will also cooperate with provincial and federal authorities to fight against poverty. The City of Surrey wants to not only improve access to job search and social services, but  also wishes to do more in area of education and  literacy. We recently asked Councillor Judy Villeneuve, President of the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society and Chair of the Social Planning Committee, some questions regarding the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Councillor Judy Villeneuve

What is the history behind the creation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy and how long has the City been working on it?

The City started working on the plan as “poverty reduction” was identified as the one of the major social issues in Surrey that Surrey’s Social Planning committee wanted to address as poverty affects individuals ability to become health, active members of communities.  It also compliments the goals of our OCP, Plan for Social Well Being, and our Crime Reduction Strategy.  The Vibrant Surrey Board had access to funding to work on this issue in 2010 and approached the city to work as a partner.  We garnered further support through the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society and the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Community Task Force as a way of including the community in our endeavour to lay a framework to address this issue.  The Social Planning Research Council of BC was hired to do an analysis of the 2006 census which provided the economic base of accurate information to move forward in presenting the number of people in our city living below the poverty line.  We know have a database available through SPARC BC for the city and organizations to use in the future planning endeavours to target initiatives to break the cycle of poverty in people’s lives.  The census information will also be updated with 2011 data.

Knowing that we have had challenges with the willingness of the BC government to allocate dollars for different projects, why should we expect them to cooperate now?

There has been plenty of talk about the BC government’s “Family First” agenda, their recent move to do 7 pilot projects in the province with targeted families living in poverty, there is a wide spread call amongst organizations in BC as well as the Surrey Board of Trade calling for the creation of a poverty reduction strategy, BC has one of the largest populations of children living in poverty, and there is an upcoming provincial election next spring, so I believe the time is right.  We have our plan in place and the community on board, so we are the perfect target for some provincial funding investment.

When it comes to the creation of local economic development should we create more BIA’s and call on the business community to work with communities and City officials?

The Poverty Reduction Strategy recommendations can only move forward if business, politicians, community organizations,  faith groups, unions, and individuals work together.  The Plan is designed to let each group know what they can do and job creation is one of the keys to moving people out of poverty.  Surrey has a strong base of business associations and more town centered BIAs are needed to focus on particular areas as the City is so large and transportation costs a major issue.  Creating jobs close to home is a common goal.
Our Economic Development Plan is targets business enterprise and supports our educational institutions to develop a skills- based workforce.

The Federal government continues to cut funds for  a number of services. Why we should expect them to adopt a national strategy to tackle the poverty issue?

I personally believe that the Federal government is moving in the wrong direction for Canada.  Until we have a national housing strategy, childcare funding, and more incentives for building a strong workforce and middle class, Canada will not be able to compete in the global world.  I think we need to change a government who is destroying the social, economic, and environmental  foundation of our country.  I believe many people across party lines feel this way too.

How  does this plan intend to create /promote education and literacy initiatives?

The recommendations in this plan point out the important work that our School District, libraries, and post secondary institutions are doing in this area.  It also points out that Surrey’s funding levels are half of what other cities receive for community funding programs and university seats.  The City and Boards of Trade know literary and education are key components of breaking the cycle of poverty and will continue to work together advocating for a fair share of funding in these areas.  Surrey is also hosting one of the largest refugee populations in Metro Vancouver and many new immigrants, so our move toward an inclusive and sustainable City is dependent on an educated and financially secure resident base.

Can you give us more informations about the implementation plans?

The last meeting of the Steering Committee on the Poverty Reduction Plan decided to produce an implementation plan by fall, which will give direction to all levels of government, community organizations, and faith groups to move forward on recommendations that they are able to implement in the short and long term.  We will be considering adding people to the Vibrant Surrey Board and planning a forum next spring where people will be able to report back on their progress.  This allows us to set benchmarks and record progress.  I can assure you that the plan will not lay on a shelf but will make a positive difference in the City.  The Plan to date does earmark what has been done in a successful way which will be used as examples of initiatives making a difference that can be developed further as well.

Esmir Milavic
Born in Bosnia, Esmir’s interests are in journalism, politics, communications, history, culture, sports, books and technology. He has contributed to some of the most innovative independent media projects to come out of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the earliest members of Surrey604, Esmir now resides in Sarajevo working with Bosnian FACE TV.