SURREY - About 21 per cent of people in Metro Vancouver were living in poverty in 2006, according to Census data.
Of that population, about 16 per cent were in Surrey. That translates to 70,500 people, or approximately one in five people living in poverty in Surrey.
Vibrant Surrey has partnered with several organizations, such as the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force and the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. (SPARC BC), in an eight-month poverty research project.
Dozens of stakeholders gathered in Surrey last Friday to take part in a poverty reduction forum, utilizing data from the research as a starting point for coming up with community-based solutions.
"We want to take this information and put it together for a Poverty Reduction Action Plan that will work for the city," Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve said.
"With a growing gap between the rich and poor in society in general, priorities of levels of government may need to change to address these issues."
Housing, transportation, income and support were key focuses of the forum, but it went beyond that.
Groups at the forum discussed how each of the four issues affected groups such as seniors, aboriginal, single-parent families and immigrants.
Villeneuve was part of a discussion group that looked at the challenges Aboriginal people face in the community.
Her group came up with the idea that the City of Surrey could require that developers have a social inclusion component in applications, such as hiring Aboriginal workers to help with their project.
Jonquil Hallgate, director of the Surrey Urban Mission, also participated in the forum. Her group looked at immigrants in Surrey and how to better support them.
Hallgate said in her experience at the mission, many immigrants come to the region and find their qualifications aren't recognized here, and end up in poverty as a result.
She would like to see better supports for those people while they obtain the qualifications they need to support their families. One way that could happen is by the city implementing a healthy settlement program.
A common thought among nearly all of the discussion groups was that access to transportation is a serious issue affecting Surrey. Several groups came up with the idea of free community shuttle buses to connect town centres. Some groups thought the city and business community should fund the project.
Childcare affordability was another key issue that came out of the forum. Some participants said the City of Surrey could help by offering facilities to agencies that offer affordable childcare.
When it came to provincial and federal levels of government, the forum resulted in many ideas, such as allowing people to receive income assistance while going to post secondary school and providing benefits for people transitioning off of Income Assistance and into employment.
Looking at transportation, forum participants recognized that people with disabilities receive discounts on transit passes, but those on income assistance do not. The group thought establishing discounted passes for those living in poverty would increase accessibility.
Lorraine Copas, with SPARC BC, the organization that collected a large portion of the data, said people are really concerned about the high levels of poverty across the region and across the province.
She said the research and last Friday's forum is about making realistic change.
"The group really wanted it to be evidence based and really wanted it to work towards solutions," said Copas.
"We looked at who was in poverty, what does that mean based on our community experience, and what are the types of solutions we could put forward either that could be done at the local level or could involve other partners coming to the table as well."