Community members led by the Chatham-Kent Prosperity Roundtable have begun developing a five-year plan to address poverty.
Phillip Mock, project co-ordinator for the roundtable, said members will be consulting with people living in poverty, farmers, businesses, non-profits, faith-based communities and governments at all levels to come up with an action plan.
“We talk about poverty. I think a lot of people imagine individuals on social assistance and in the depths of poverty, and that’s understandable because they are struggling severely,” he said. “That being said, there are many people in our community who are struggling as well.”
Mock said there are also small business owners, people working full-time minimum wage jobs and seniors who are facing challenges.
“There are multiple faces to poverty, and so it’s not just about one group of people and the haves helping the have-nots,” he said. “This is all of us coming together to figure out this action plan and put real things into action.”
This type of strategy is not unique to Chatham-Kent, said Mock. Other communities have brought groups and individuals together to solve challenges.
He said an example is grocery store owners who were having trouble filling shifts and single parents struggling to find work due to transportation and childcare issues.
After working together over a 10-month period, they came up with a solution where the single parents would apply once to a group of grocery stores and go through a centralized training program.
The single parents would then work at different grocery stores based on how their availability corresponded with the open shifts.
“It’s a win-win approach that tackles these challenges without adding a huge amount of money, time and effort with little impact,” said Mock. “We’re just changing this up. We’re changing up the model for how we work together.”
Mock said the plan will look at challenges such as housing, transportation, childcare, food security, income security, employment and access to education.
With Chatham-Kent regularly hitting record-high average home prices, he said there is a “housing crisis” affecting many people in the community.
“Housing is critical as a basic need for everybody and, when housing prices are skyrocketing, even people who have lived in this community for 20 to 30 years are struggling to cover their rents now,” he said.
“We’re finding that even homeowners when they try to move to a new part of the community for work, they’re struggling even just to find a place because there’s so little available within their price range.”
The group will be holding consultation events in Thamesville, Bothwell, Tilbury, Wheatley, Dresden, Wallaceburg, Ridgetown, Blenheim and Chatham. Town halls will be organized at local restaurants and businesses within these communities.
“This isn’t just a Chatham plan. This is not just a Wallaceburg plan,” he said. “This is everybody coming together across all these different towns, and we hope that we can work with different people in each community to create community-specific plans that tie back into the larger plan.”
The plan is expected to be launched in February, but Mock said the group wants to show there are already actions underway when they make that announcement.