How many children do you think 14 school busses can seat? The answer is just over 1,000, which is also how many children in Penticton are living in poverty.
According to the B.C. Child Poverty Report Card, that’s about 19 per cent of children in the city.
While that number is three per cent lower than the Okanagan as a whole, experts say more can and should be done to eliminate child poverty.
“For houses with young children, the biggest expenses are housing and childcare, those are number one and number two,” said Ian Gerbrandt, director of child, youth and family services with OneSky Community Resources in Penticton.
The centre provides support to people of all ages in the community and offers multiple services for expecting parents, new parents and beyond. This includes a pregnancy support program, childcare programs, a lending library for free educational toys, a supported child development program and more.
Gerbrandt said the newly-implemented federal affordable childcare benefit has made a significant difference for those struggling to provide for their children, but not everyone may be taking advantage of it.
“The first thing our staff will ask a family is if they’ve filed their income tax. A lot of these funds still flow through the income tax, and I’m always surprised that there’s still a lot of these families who are maybe behind on that,” said Gerbrandt. “So we work with the Penticton and Area Access Centre to make sure they’re getting the benefit they’ve earned and deserve.”
He said the centre’s partnership with the Access Centre and other organizations in the community makes helping these families a much easier process because they can direct them to the services they need even if they can’t provide them themselves.
“A lot of our programs are just to help you out however we can. Another example is the United Way, we work with them to distribute infant child car seats to families. So it’s all of these little things that start to add up that can help families make the month and deal with the grind of poverty,” said Gerbrandt.
Gerbrandt said before the federal affordable childcare benefit, the centre used to receive requests mostly centred around finding childcare for families, but now housing seems to be the biggest obstacle facing most families living below the poverty line. He said the centre can access a family assistance subsidy to help with short-term financial needs with families they already have a relationship with.
“That’s for if you need short term help to kind of get through a rough period. But that’s a brief interim solution so then we’ll set goals to work toward in the future,” said Gerbrandt.
He noted that it can be a hard process for families to seek assistance since they have to open up and share personal information about their finances and living situations. It’s even harder if they need to access more than one support since it’s likely they’ll have to share this information repeatedly with more than one person.
Though the stereotype of a person living in poverty is someone unwashed, in ill-fitting clothes, possibly begging for money, the reality is those facing this struggle often go unnoticed. Gerbrandt said the general public would be surprised at just who in the community is facing these types of struggles.
“There’s a lot of working families that have moderate incomes in our community – you know Penticton is awesome – but the people making modest incomes are the people who serve our coffee or the ones who work in the craft beer industry, or the manufacturing industry, and others. So people who are working hard but still struggle to make the end of the month,” said Gerbrandt. “Where we see it the most is single parents, and families get squeezed more here because housing is so short.”
Anyone needing assistance, financial or otherwise, can receive support by stopping at the OneSky Community Resource centre on 330 Ellis St. or by calling 250-4925814. For more information on the resources provided by OneSky, visit www.oneskycommunity.com.
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