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Dear BC Parties: Target Poverty

Letter from 200 groups urges plan with firm goals, timelines.

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Dare to commit to progress for the poor.

This is an open letter to all British Columbia political parties.

It is time for B.C.'s provincial government to launch a comprehensive poverty reduction plan -- a detailed and accountable strategy with concrete and legislated targets and timelines to dramatically reduce homelessness and poverty in our province.

Five Canadian provinces either have such plans or are in the process of developing them, but so far, not B.C.

As we approach the May provincial election, we are calling on all B.C. political parties to commit that, if elected to government, they will implement a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.

By any measure, B.C. has the highest rate of poverty in Canada. B.C. has recorded the highest child poverty rate for five years running. Despite years of strong economic growth and record low unemployment, more than half a million British Columbians -- 13 per cent of the total population -- live in poverty, and homelessness continues to rise. As we head into a global economic downturn, poverty risks getting worse unless action is taken.

We all pay for poverty. Study after study links poverty with poorer health, higher justice system costs, more demands on social and community services, more stress on family members and diminished school success. Effective poverty reduction will require the efforts of all segments of society (all levels of government, the private sector, non-profits, and citizens generally), but the provincial government must take the lead.

The policies needed to make a dramatic difference are known, and other jurisdictions that are setting clear targets and timelines are getting results. A comprehensive approach needs to boost the incomes of those living in poverty, but also build the social infrastructure, public services and assets that are vital to providing a path out of poverty.

We, the undersigned, urge all provincial political parties to pledge to adopt and legislate poverty reduction targets and timelines, and commit to implementing a comprehensive action plan.

We recommend the following targets and timelines:

Targets and timelines

- Using Statistics Canada's low-income cut off after tax (LICO-AT), reduce B.C.'s poverty rate from 13 per cent to 9 per cent in four years, and to 3 per cent in 10 years (meaning, effectively, a one third reduction within the mandate of the next government, and a 75 per cent reduction within a decade).

- Ensure the poverty rate (using the LICO-AT) for children, lone-mother households, single senior women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and recent immigrants likewise declines by 30 per cent in four years, and by 75 per cent in 10 years, in recognition that poverty is concentrated in these populations.

- Within two years, ensure that every British Columbian has an income that reaches at least 75 per cent of the poverty line (using the LICO-AT).

- Within two years, ensure no one has to sleep outside, and end all homelessness within eight years (ensuring all homeless people have good quality, appropriate housing).

In order to achieve these targets, we call upon political parties to commit, prior to the May election, to specific policy measures and concrete actions in each of the following policy action areas. Special attention should be focused on the needs of those most likely to be living in poverty (single mother households, single senior women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and mental illness, and recent immigrants and refugees).

Policy action areas

1. Provide adequate and accessible income support for the non-employed.

2. Improve the earnings and working conditions of those in the low-wage workforce.

3. Improve food security for low-income individuals and families.

4. Address homelessness and adopt a comprehensive affordable housing and supportive housing plan.

5. Provide universal publicly-funded child care.

6. Enhanced support for training and education for low-income people.

7. Enhance community mental health and home support services, and expand integrated approaches to prevention and health promotion services.

There is nothing inevitable about poverty and homelessness in a society as wealthy as ours. If we commit to a bold plan, a dramatic reduction in poverty and homelessness within a few short years is a perfectly achievable goal.

Signed by organizations and community leaders from across the province, including faith leaders, health organizations, doctors, businesses, First Nations and Aboriginal groups, labour unions, immigrant and refugee organizations, community service agencies, municipal councils, women's groups, and many more.

As of February 4, 2009, the list of signatories, now totalling 200, with more added daily:

Aboriginal Neighbours
Jim Abram, Director, Area C, Strathcona Regional District and Former President of the Union of BC Municipalities
ACCESS (Aboriginal Community Career and Employment Services Society)
ASPECT (Association of Service Providers for Employability and Career Training)
Association of Neighbourhood Houses of Greater Vancouver
Atira Women's Resource Society
BC Aboriginal Child Care Society
BC ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now – BC)
BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance
BC Asset Building Collaborative
BC Association for Community Living
BC Association of Social Workers
BC Civil Liberties Association
BC Coalition for Health Promotion (Duncan)
BC Coalition of People with Disabilities
BC Community Nutritionists' Council (BCCNC)
BC Federation of Foster Parent Associations
BC Federation of Labour
BC Federation of Retired Union Members (BC FORUM)
BC Government and Service Employees' Union
BC Government Retired Employees Association, New Westminster and District Branch
BC Health Coalition
BC Healthy Child Development Alliance
BC Healthy Living Alliance
BC Lung Association
BC Nurses' Union
BC Persons With AIDS Society
BC Retired Teachers' Association – Vancouver Branch
BC Soccer Association
BC Teachers' Federation
Britannia Community Services Centre Board
BC Community Economic Development Network
Canadian Cancer Society, BC & Yukon Division
Canadian Centre for Community Renewal
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Canadian Mental Health Association – BC Division
Canadian Mental Health Association (Richmond Clubhouse-Pathways)
Carnegie Community Action Project
Castlegar and District Community Services Society
Castlegar and District Health Watch
Castlegar United Church
Central Coast Teachers' Association
Centre for Native Policy and Research
Centre for Population Health Promotion Research, UBC
Changing the Face of Poverty
City in Focus
Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC
Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE)
Coastal Community Advisory Committee (Vancouver Coastal Health)
CoDevelopment Canada
Columbia Institute
Commercial Drive Business Society
Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 464
Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Western Region
Communicopia
Community Advocates for Little Mountain
Community Connections Society of Southeast BC
Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria (Community Council)
Council of Senior Citizens of BC (COSCO)
Creston Valley Teachers' Association
Delta Teachers' Association
Charlotte Diamond, children's entertainer
Dietitians of Canada, BC Region
DisAbled Women's Action Network (DAWN) Canada
Division of Prison Health and Education, UBC
Doug Donaldson, Municipal Councillor, Village of Hazelton
Duncan City Council
Eagle Valley Community Support Society (Sicamous)
EMBERS (Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society)
Ending Violence Association of BC
Faith and Society Committee of the BC Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Faith in Action (Victoria)
Faith Lutheran Church (Powell River)
Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks
Fernie City Council
First Call BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver
First United Church Mission
411 Seniors Centre
Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House
Gallery Gachet
Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women – Canada (GAATW-Canada)
Grandview Woodlands Area Council
Grandview Woodlands Drug and Alcohol Coalition
Greater Trail Community Skills Centre
Greater Victoria Citizens' Counselling Centre
Growing Together Child and Parent Society
Mike Harcourt
Health Officers' Council of BC
Health Sciences Association of BC
Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC & Yukon
Clyde Hertzman
Hospital Employees' Union
Interfaith Summer Institute for Justice, Peace and Social Movements
Island J.A.D.E. Society
Jewish Family Service Agency
Julia and Ed Levy, ILLAHIE Foundation
Justice and Peace Unit of the (Anglican) Diocese of New Westminster
Justicia for Migrant Workers BC
KAIROS BC-Yukon (Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives)
KAIROS Prince George
Kamloops and District Elizabeth Fry Society
Kingcrest International Neighbours
Kitimat District Teachers' Association
Joy Kogawa, novelist and poet
Murry Krause, City Councillor, Prince George
Learning Disabilities Association of BC (LDABC)
Lutheran Urban Mission Society
Donna Macdonald, Councillor, City of Nelson
Gabor Maté, M.D., author and health practitioner
Michael McKnight, CEO, United Way of the Lower Mainland
John Millar, Executive Director, Population and Public Health Program, Provincial Health Services Authority
Mission Teachers' Union
Barry K. Morris (Rev.), for the Longhouse Council of Native Ministry
MOSAIC (Multilingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities)
Mount Seymour United Church
Debora Munoz, City Councillor, City of Prince George
Nelson Area Society for Health
Nelson, BC Diocesan Development & Peace Committee
Network for East Vancouver Community Organizations (NEVCO)
North Okanagan Child Care Society
North Okanagan Early Childhood Development Coalition
Northern Society for Domestic Peace
Oceanside Coalition For Strong Communities (Parksville)
Okanagan Skaha Teachers' Union
Overseers Canada (Latin Amercan immigrant collective in BC & Canada)
PACE (Prostitution Alternatives, Counselling & Education) Society
Pacific Community Resources Society
Pacific Northwest Labour History Association
Parent Support Services Society
Parksville Qualicum KAIROS
PEDAL (Pedal Energy Development Alternatives)
Pivot Legal Society
Port Alberni City Council
Powell River City Council
Prince George Diocesan Council for the Canadian Catholic Organization of Development and Peace
Prince George District Teachers' Association
Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society
Public Health Association of BC
Quest Food Exchange
Raise the Rates Coalition
Surinderpal S. Rathor, Deputy Mayor, City of Williams Lake
Angela Reid, Councillor, City of Kelowna
Revelstoke Social Development Committee
Revelstoke Women's Shelter
Revelstoke City Council
Richmond Community Health Advisory Committee (Vancouver Coastal Health)
Richmond Family Place Society
Richmond Women's Resource Centre
SOS (Settlement Orientation Services)
Salsbury Community Society
Lynne Sinclair, City Councillor, White Rock
Skeena Diversity Society
Social Planning and Research Council of BC
Joel Solomon, President and CEO of Renewal, Executive Director of Endswell Foundation
South Vancouver Neighbourhood House
St. James Anglican Church Social Gospel Coordinating Group
St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church, Castlegar
Sto:lo Tribal Council
Streams of Justice
Sunshine Coast Community Services Society
David Suzuki
Sylvan United Church
Terrace Anti-Poverty Group Society
The Advocacy Centre (Nelson)
The Church of St. John the Divine
The Sisters of St. Ann (Victoria)
Tides Canada Foundation
Touchstone Family Association
Toxic Free Canada
TRAC Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre
Trail Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Seniors (SPCS)
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
United Way of Campbell River
United Way of Castlegar
United Way of Greater Victoria
United Way of North Okanagan Columbia Shuswap
United Way of Powell River and District
United Way of the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen
United Way of the Fraser Valley
United Way of the Thompson Nicola Cariboo
Urban Coalition (Vancouver)
Vancity Credit Union
Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture (VAST)
Vancouver Island Human Rights Coalition
Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG)
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
Vancouver South Presbytery of the United Church of Canada
Vancouver-Burrard Presbytery of the United Church of Canada
Vibrant Abbotsford
Vibrant Surrey
Victoria City Council
Victoria Diocesan Council of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
West Kootenay Labour Council
Wilson Heights United Church
WISH Drop-In Centre Society
Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT)
Ellen Woodsworth, Vancouver city councillor
YWCA Vancouver

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