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Community Report

A better Halifax for everyone

We have a great deal to celebrate in Halifax. We’re a vibrant and growing city. But as we strive to become a bigger city, we must work hard to become a better one as well.

This means ensuring the benefits of innovation and growth are shared with residents from all neighbourhoods, perspectives and life experiences. It means working harder to make opportunities available to the 50,000 people in our community who live in poverty. And, it means creating better access to vital services that strengthen well-being and equity in all communities – rural, suburban and urban.

Ensuring our city's growth is inclusive takes focus and commitment -- from all orders of government, the business community, non-profits and community groups, and the public at large. The strategies and solutions required demand that we be open to working collaboratively in order to achieve the shared goals and aspirations we have for our community.

Poverty Solutions - Food

It's been said that the longest journey begins with a single step. We've highlighted examples of individuals and groups who are stepping up and leading the way by working collaboratively on solutions. We hope after reading them, you too will be inspired to take your first steps to stand with us to #BPovFree.

View the 2017 Community Report (PDF).

Highlights

Helping us see hidden poverty | Collaborating for positive change | Equitable access to active living | Reflecting the community you serve | Food for the soul

Helping us see hidden poverty

Poverty can be easier to see in a downtown setting than it might be in the suburbs. But just because it may not be as visible, poverty is an issue that affects individuals and families in all types of communities. Sackville is one of those communities.

To start to understand how poverty was being experienced in Sackville, Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett organized a public meeting. “We didn’t have a big agenda,” he says, “but we wanted to begin a conversation about poverty and housing vulnerability.”

Eighty-eight community members came to hear from service providers, ask questions and learn more about the day-to-day challenges that fellow residents were facing in their own community.

“You learn a lot by getting people talking. You also get to see their passion for change. We’re committed to keeping these conversations going and advocating for the resources we need.”

Housing vulnerability in Sackville can look a bit different than it might in downtown Halifax. You won’t see people sleeping on the streets or in a shelter but there are people rough sleeping in wooded areas and couch surfing. You may also see situations where two families share an apartment, or individuals are making choices between rent or their medications and food. And when someone is in need of a shelter, they’re sent to downtown Halifax.

One of the learnings from this meeting was the importance of knowing neighbourhood level data to define the unique needs and to help identify effective hyperlocal solutions. In the meantime, you can start by simply getting people together, asking the right questions and finding ways to coordinate efforts like Rev. Bartlett did. “You learn a lot by getting people talking,” he adds. “You also get to see their passion for change. We’re committed to keeping these conversations going and advocating for the resources we need.”

Collaborating for positive change

The Department of Community Services (DCS) has been working to transform its programs and services to the benefit of all Nova Scotians. In their discussions with clients receiving employment supports and income assistance, clients identified the lack of access to transportation as a significant barrier. When people can’t access affordable transportation options, they become isolated and are unable to fully participate in the community.

With a goal to improve access to transportation for their clients in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), staff at DCS reached out to the municipality to form a transit working group. The group is developing a pilot that will provide free bus passes to DCS clients receiving employment supports and income assistance who live along a Halifax Transit route, and to their spouses and children. The intent of the pilot is to determine how the department can best get bus passes to their clients and their families so they can make appointments, attend school and work, and become more involved in their community. The results of the pilot will help to inform how DCS can improve transportation for clients receiving employment supports and income assistance in other parts of the province.

Staff of DCS and HRM appreciate the work that United Way Halifax has taken on to engage the community in poverty solutions and help make the pilot a reality. And while everyone has a sense of urgency to get the pilot launched, we also want to make sure we all get it right.

This pilot demonstrates how intergovernmental collaboration can benefit everyone. In addition to providing an essential service to thousands more people, it is helping to advance the province’s work to reduce poverty while increasing transit ridership for the municipality. It’s also a good demonstration of what can happen when staff of different governments have the opportunity to work together – they can get to solutions that deliver real and positive change in people’s lives.

Equitable access to active living

An active lifestyle is an essential component of health and quality of life. For residents living in rural HRM, however, it can be challenging to find options for active living within their neighbourhood. One reason is because the barriers to activities can be as simple as not having safe walkways or trails.

Try Do, a collaborative group composed of healthy living practitioners, including United Way Halifax, wanted to understand what is required to create more equitable access to active living opportunities in rural communities. Try Do began working with community organizations in East Preston, that were also interested in improving access.

Try Do engaged East Preston residents to determine how roadways and trails were being used and to identify what was keeping people from walking and wheeling in their community. A key component was to engage resident leaders like Claudette Colley, an employee of the East Preston Daycare Family Resource Centre.

“Our community is beautiful, and people do want to get out and be able to enjoy it. Unfortunately, with the high speed limit and no paved sidewalks, it’s just not safe to do so,” says Claudette Colley, Program Coordinator for the East Preston Family Daycare Resource Centre. “We do a walking club every Friday and we have to go into the city. We’d like to be able to walk safely in our neighbourhood.”

The assessment identified a number of ways to create safer walkways and trails. These include: basic road shoulder maintenance, lowering speed limits, revitalizing the Preston area trail system, and establishing a pace car program and other initiatives to encourage safer road travel.

While the community and Try Do have now identified these needs, the next steps are to continue to engage with multiple levels of government and other community groups like the Ratepayers Association, to find opportunities to work together towards solutions.

Reflecting the community you serve

Creating opportunities to build an inclusive and diverse community is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. This has certainly been the case at TD Canada Trust.

“We work in a diverse country, and believe our employee base needs to reflect the communities we serve,” says Scott Belton, senior vice president of TD Canada Trust for the Atlantic Region.

Celebrating diversity in the workplace is a core value and an important part of TD’s culture. It’s something they’re proud of, and hold themselves accountable to for how they measure success.

“When our workforce is underrepresented in any particular group, it means we’re missing important talent,” says Belton. To minimize these gaps, TD works hard to ensure they attract diverse applicants, but also take time to ask the right questions and try to address the issues and systemic barriers that may prevent members of marginalized communities from coming forward. For Belton, it’s also important to admit where you’re behind. For example, he’d like to see more members of the Black and Indigenous communities represented in TD’s management ranks. “For a workforce of our size in Atlantic Canada, our management teams can be more diverse,” he adds.

“We work in a diverse country, and believe our employee base needs to reflect the communities we serve. When our workforce is underrepresented in any particular group, it means we’re missing important talent.”

So are there lessons from TD that can be applied to other organizations? Belton offers a few. First the commitment has to start at the top. Whether you’re a five-person team or a fifty-person team, the senior leader or leadership team needs to get behind it. Second, be honest about the opportunities you have to expand the diversity of your team and how you’re going to do it. ‘Who is on your hiring panel? What applicants make it to your shortlist?’ Third, reach out to organizations that can help. Whether you’re hiring for an entry level position or senior executive role, there are organization in our community that can help find phenomenal talent that expand the diversity of your team. And that Belton says, adds great value to your business.

Food for the soul

As gathering places for everyone, public libraries are continuously evolving to reflects the needs of the communities they serve. No longer are they just a quiet place to read. Today, staff are serving a wide spectrum of needs – mental health, food insecurity, housing vulnerability and helping to strengthen community inclusion and belonging.

For children and youth, libraries are also a great place to just hang out (and many do so for hours on end). This was the case in Sackville. Library staff were noticing kids would come from school, stay until closing and not eat the whole time they were there. Knowing the kids must be hungry, staff decided to step up their programming to develop a creative menu of after-school programs and food workshops.

To do this, staff reached out to partners in community including the Cobequid Community Health Board, Kinsman Club of Sackville and the local community garden. They started with simple stuff like providing healthy after-school snacks and eventually the program expanded. Today, library staff are teaching kids how to prepare meals and building their food literacy and know-how. They’re also collaborating with the youth themselves, providing opportunities for them to direct the type of food they prepare and programming they’d like to see.

One of the great things about this program is the relationships it enables staff to build with kids. “We see them on a daily basis and get to know them well,” says Tara Eldershaw, youth and teen services librarian. “We know, for instance, who might be struggling and what they might need,” she adds. When they can, staff will collect toiletries, clothing, and shoes and quietly distribute when they know there is a need.

Tara acknowledges it’s not always obvious who may be in need or how you can help. “I am grateful that we can be there for people – sometimes to just listen and other times to help navigate or refer people to resources in the community.”

Poverty Solutions - Food