The Richmond Seminar on issues of Crime and Economics

Hearing these words, “…will they take my children away because…” from a young mother is a sobering thing hear in a country such as ours, in a time when we are so privileged and prosperous. But this is what I heard at least five times from students, young mothers, who sat in on the seminar on poverty in Vancouver. I was invited to sit in a group seminar in Richmond recently to see, hear and talk about this ever changing social issue. It was a good turn out, and everyone participated. I think some really great ideas came out of it.

My particular interests lay in the youth criminal justice system, and monitoring what direction we are going in as a society in terms of changing laws, implementing policies and specific ideals that we would like to see in the future. For the young women who sat in this seminar, they did not seem to care about what lay in the future of Vancouver, or Canada, but were mainly concerned with the here and now. The economy is front and centre in everyone’s minds, and for the single mothers, the working class and the working poor, the degree of uncertainty of what lays ahead in the future is causing a lot of anxiety as job lay-offs are front page news.

For young mothers, or any mother, the care of her children is first and foremost. One study from SFU is showing that an upward trend in families becoming homeless is increasing by 1.6 percent by 2010 for the city of Vancouver—perhaps a very conservative number in my opinion. The cause of this increasing rate is said to be directly related to the difference between wages and cost of living, not vacancy rates. For mothers who are single and work full-time, their options are extremely limited. One of the speakers noted that from her research, tax exemptions and full subsidization of social programs are doing very little in these hard economic times, and along with increases in food and fuel, more families are now making the choice between food or rent. She added that the predicted rate of inflation will in itself be the main contributor in the increasing rate of homelessness for families.

According to one speaker, the government is stepping in to help, but the problem maybe to little too late as resources are limited and more government budgets are up on the cutting block. Issues of affordable housing and good paying jobs are reluctant avenues that the current federal and provincial governments really want to touch upon because taxpayers are demanding tax relief instead of more social programs. The dilemma is that low and middle class people are going to feel the effects of this economic slowdown for months ahead, and money will be stretched further as personal debt, wage cutbacks and inflation will eat away incomes, taking down hundreds to the point of outright poverty.

Of the suggestion, or exit strategies for young mothers facing eviction from their home, students loans and extended families were the top of the list. Students loans are a hot topic right now because Banks are getting tighter compared to just six months ago, and with the rate of students becoming delinquent on their loans, it is understandable that the process is becoming more ridged to qualify. For many young mothers this could be the difference between becoming homeless or surviving. The strategy is that going to college or university will be a huge benefit, but the downside will be the mountain of debt accumulated once the four years are up.

As for the young mother’s concerns about the State taking her children away goes, “the odds are very slim because,” according to one speaker, “even the Department of Human Resources is faced with a shrinking budget and thus needs to be very selective of who they can assist or not.” The government will assist people who are in need, but it can only do so in a very limited means. Most families will probably receive basic assistance such as utilities and shelter money, but the main cost of living will be placed on the families regardless of what economic circumstances they face.

Awareness and education seems to be what all of us agree on as the immediate course of action. Getting the message out to people that there are places to go to, ways of managing, saving money and seeking financial help. Once people can prioritize and adjust their lifestyle, dealing with the economic crunch maybe a little bit more manageable. Also, community groups and organizations are great places too for information, help and resources. But the collection all of the information and getting out there seems to be weak point according to our group. Maybe our government could do a little extra more there too?

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