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‘Poverty not a character flaw’: Removing stigma, highlighting services in Salmon Arm crucial

Groups in the city hardest hit by poverty are seniors, single parent families and newcomers
Volunteers at First United’s Food with Friends lunch on Wednesday, Feb. 8, were Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond, Paul Cox, Marten Lettinga, Dave Wood, Debbie Hewitt and Rev. Jenny Carter. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Macaroni and cheese, corn chowder, chili, borscht. Large pots and dishes of food are placed on tables lined up in the large room.

“Delicious” seems to be the most common description of the free noon meal that’s being offered at First United Church in Salmon Arm. On this Wednesday, Feb. 8, about 25 people are sitting at small tables, eating and chatting.

This is part of the Food with Friends initiative begun in April 2020.

At that time, lunches began being offered outside in response to the pandemic, down the back lane from the District Education Centre on Shuswap Street, directly behind the Crossroads Free Methodist Church.

Now, things have evolved, with free lunches available five days a week for anyone who would like food or companionship.

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12 to 1 p.m., spearheaded by Chrissy Deye, tents provide shelter over chairs and tables set up for a free potluck-style meal. Wednesdays, lunch is indoors at First United.

“I don’t think enough people take advantage of it,” said one older person enjoying their indoor meal.

On Friday, Feb. 10, about 45 people were at the outdoor lunch, the sunshine attracting a few more diners than usual.

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond, who is chair of the city’s Social Issues Advisory Committee which includes about 10 member organizations, sometimes lends a hand at the First United meal. She and Erin Jackson, the city’s chief administrative officer, want people in Salmon Arm to be aware of the services offered in the city – not by the city, but by the many community organizations within the city which help fight poverty.

“Poverty is not a character flaw; it’s an economic condition and there are tools to overcome it. I think people who live in poverty think it’s their fault,” remarked Wallace Richmond.

“Or that others are judging them. We don’t want them to be living in shame,” added Jackson.

Read more: B.C. introduces poverty reduction plan to cut child poverty by 50 per cent

The city commissioned a social impact assessment with the goal of improving the overall quality of life and well-being of vulnerable families and citizens living in Salmon Arm. It included data from the 2016 census as well as a consultation process in 2020 and 2021.

About 13 per cent of Salmon Arm’s population was estimated to be living in poverty. In addition, 14 per cent of all seniors in Salmon Arm were in the same situation. Jackson said a low income measure used across Canada considers the low income level for a single person as $26,000 per year while it’s $54,000 for a family of four.

Although the statistics have likely changed, Wallace Richmond said two things learned from the study were: 1) people living in poverty or close to poverty in Salmon Arm weren’t always sure what services they could access or where they could access them; and 2) it verified that the people most at risk were seniors, single parent households and newcomers.

Jackson pointed out that poverty is not always obvious; a lot of people are struggling in silence.

“There are a lot of people who are going under the radar.”

Read more: The price of child poverty: Schools, community notice more people in Salmon Arm struggling

The city is looking at ways to better inform citizens about the dozens of resource providers in the community, one of which will be increasing local information available on BC 211, billed as a free, confidential, multilingual service that links people to resources.

Wallace Richmond noted dozens of groups and probably hundreds of people work in social development in the Shuswap.

“As an elected official, I hear – which kind of makes me cringe if I’m honest – is ‘nothing is being done.’ It’s disrespectful to the people who spend their life’s work doing this (working in social services). And things are being done.”

Emphasized Jackson: “We want to really spotlight what is being done in the community. So much good work is being done.”

Jackson said it’s clear people in Salmon Arm want to help other residents living in poverty, but they don’t always know what to do. Workshops and making information more accessible for residents are in the works.

Read more: Salmon Arm to spend $15,000 to help define responsibilities around social wellness

While the city isn’t in the social services business, it can bring up, advocate for and make informed decisions on things such as public spaces, bylaws, lighting, inclusive events and more, said Wallace Richmond. She noted everyone has a role to play.

“I have yet to meet someone who wants people to be poor and miserable.”

At First United, Rev. Jenny Carter sees community lunches as not only providing people with food, but building connections between community members.

“If you’re sitting down with your neighbours, and get to know them as people, it’s very hard to say, ‘Well, they just aren’t trying hard enough.’

“The days that make me most happy are the days when I know it’s a lawyer coming in, sitting down and eating lunch with some of the living rough folk. That’s what it’s about, it’s about breaking down the walls between people.”


Looking for resources in Salmon Arm?

Asking for help can be hard, but a community of support is available in Salmon Arm. Below are some services available. Also, if you’d like to help, many organizations can use volunteers.

• Shuswap Family Resource and Referral Society

Supports families and individuals of all ages, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and provides referrals for services. Available Monday to Thursday, 9 to 5 p.m. Call 250-832-2170.

• Shuswap Immigrant Services Society

Welcomes and supports newcomers to the community. Call 250-804-2726.

Volunteers needed! See their website for opportunities:

• CMHA Shuswap-Revelstoke Service Navigation Drop-in

Got questions about mental health, substance use, housing, or something else? CMHA can help. Drop-in service navigation support is offered Mondays to Friday at CMHA Studios, 433 Hudson Ave. NE. Call 250-832-8477 ext. 102.

• NeighbourLink Shuswap

Provides practical ways of serving anyone in hardship. Email or call 250-832-3272.

Volunteers needed! Do you have a skill/time/furniture or appliances you would like to contribute? Get in touch!

• South Shuswap Rides

Provides door-to-door transportation service to seniors, people with disabilities, people who are unable to drive, and those who do not have a vehicle in the South Shuswap. Visit Dispatch: 250-463-4341.

Volunteers needed! Have time during the week and interested in becoming a driver? Get in touch with South Shuswap Rides at 604-789-4636.


Crisis and Information Lines

Sometimes people need immediate support or resources. Did you know that British Columbia provides phone lines for a range of issues? These services are free, confidential and can help you identify resources for your situation.

• BC211 – Free, confidential, 24/7 support finding resources in more than 150 languages. Dial 2-1-1

• 8-1-1 – Free provincial health information phone service – Dial 8-1-1 (7-1-1 for deaf and hard of hearing)

• 310 Mental Health Support – For emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health.

Call 310-6789 (no area code needed)

• Crisis Support – 1-800-SUICIDE if you are considering suicide or are concerned someone you know may be.

• Kids Help Phone1-800-668-6868 for access to a counsellor 24 hours a day

• KUU-US (Indigenous Crisis Line)1-800-588-8717.

• SAFE Society Transition House, 24-hour crisis and information line – 250-832-9616.

This is the first in a bi-weekly series stretching over two months on poverty, its effects and the services available. It is in conjunction with a campaign by the City of Salmon Arm and its Social Impact Advisory Committee to address poverty and help ensure residents know where to find resources.

Read more: Salmon Arm approves application for $50,000 grant to help reduce stigma of poverty

Read more: B.C.’s new poverty reduction minister and all of cabinet asked to ‘work fast’ following shuffle

Read more: Salmon Arm council to have ear of Premier Horgan, Liberal leader at UBCM
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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