Putting food on the table in these inflationary times can be difficult for families on a limited budget. (File graphic)

Okanagan regional poverty and wellness strategy finds criticism

Bard directors want to see more specific details

Duplicating existing services for addressing poverty and wellness issues is overshadowing a regional strategy developed through extensive consultation and engagement with stakeholders and the public.

The Regional District of Central Okanagan board of directors had their first look at the Poverty and Wellness Strategy developed by the regional committee on May 30, which will be presented to regional municipal councils throughout this month for feedback.

Kelowna director Brad Sieben said his challenge with the strategy is to set up any regional entity as a backbone for adopting poverty and wellness strategy goals which are not duplicating what individual communities have already initiated.

“Not to mention who funds this backbone agency and how it is set up. I expected a little more tangible steps outlining here are the actions that need to take place as opposed to here is the landscape we are dealing with,” Sieben said.

“The struggle for me is what are the next steps behind creating this backbone committee and what would its mandate be.”

The poverty and wellness strategy was developed from a collaborative process among community stakeholders, First Nations groups and the regional district, funded by a $149,000 Union of B.C. Municipalities grant received in 2020.

Strategy presenter Jen Casorso said the strategy result is intended to be a foundation upon which future direction from stakeholders can be based rather than different entities pulling in different directions, with the over-arching theme of social service systems becoming more integrated and streamlined to reach those people who need them.

Casorso said study research found barriers blocking solutions to poverty and wellness include racism and historic colonialism attitudes directed at the Indigenous communities, the ongoing stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment, and child care, transportation and housing issues.

She said confusion also persists about what government agencies, provincial or federal, are where to look to find support that often exists for those in need.

West Kelowna director Rick de Jong voiced his frustration that despite the inclusion of municipal staff from Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country in the strategy development process, he has heard nothing about it.

“Coming to an elected official with this at the tail-end of the process and asking for our buy-in…I am both thrilled and shocked this good work has been going on and our (West Kelowna) staff has not kept us informed on its progress,” de Jong said.

“I suspect my colleagues (on West Kelowna council) will feel the same way about this.”

Kelowna director Gail Given cautioned studies such as this, although well researched, tend to end up collecting dust on a shelf if no conclusion is reached on which entity or different conveners are responsible for implementing its recommendations.

“We can’t take responsibility for another organization to achieve a collective impact,” she noted.

Kelowna director Luke Stack referred back to the Journey Home entity set up by the City of Kelowna to serve as a backbone agency for addressing poverty and wellness issues in his city.

“I feel with regards to true accountability and buy-in, I think that role needs to be taken on by the province as they are the ones with the most direct involvement. I think we should be at the (discussion) table but the province should take the leadership role on this,” Stack said.

Lake Country director James Baker added the provincial and federal governments are not taking on the roles they should be to address poverty, wellness or housing issues.

“I think anything the whole region can do to advocate for more funding goes a long way to upping the level of wellness in our region,” Baker said.

Following input from regional municipal councils this month, a final version of the poverty and wellness strategy will be submitted to the board for approval within the next month.

READ MORE: RDCO looking to improve poverty in the community

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