Community group leaders want your input on how to reduce poverty in Sault Ste. Marie.
They want to find out what you think of a new, draft poverty reduction plan which they hope will be fully supported by city council.
To that end, the United Way Sault Ste. Marie and District will be holding three public input meetings, being described as "Conversation" sessions.
They will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on May 24 and May 31 in Room M1030 at Sault College, and from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on June 7 in Room EW 205 at Algoma University.
The sessions are for a maximum of 25 people, a minimum of 10.
To register for a session, call the United Way office at 705-256-7476 and press 0 for reception.
The draft poverty reduction plan has been compiled by Gary Vipond, United Way Sault Ste. Marie and District chief executive officer, Dr. Gayle Broad of Algoma University's NORDIK Institute and Jennifer Miller, an Algoma Public Health (APH) public health nurse.
"The big thing is getting the word out and that we're seeking people's input, we're not saying 'here's the plan, live with it,' we're saying 'here's the plan, tell us what's important to you, have we got it right?'" Vipond told SooToday.
"Anybody from the general public is welcome, and that's who we're hoping to appeal to in these sessions."
After the sessions, with the draft poverty reduction plan in hand, Vipond hopes to present it to city council at its June 27 meeting.
"We want to make sure (through holding the public input sessions) that what we bring to city council is truly representative of the needs of our community," Vipond said.
"We'd like to get council's endorsement of the plan."
"We'll be meeting with the mayor early in June to review it personally and we have involved some councillors throughout the whole process."
"To have a formal city plan that says 'this is what we're doing as a community (to reduce poverty),' that's what's been missing (in past efforts to reduce poverty in the Sault), I believe," Vipond said.
"We're hoping to get city council's endorsement, which would make it a community-wide plan…I don't know if we've had the whole community behind a poverty reduction strategy before, I can't think of one."
"To have all organizations in the community and the city behind the plan, personally I think that's what needed for the plan to be successful, that's what has happened in other communities."
The three officials from the United Way, NORDIK and Algoma Public Health have already gathered input from consultations with approximately 50 community partners.
Those partners include the Huron-Superor Catholic District School Board, Sault College, Breton House, John Howard Society, Women in Crisis, Victim Services of Algoma, the Soup Kitchen Community Centre, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, March of Dimes and many others with an interest in helping those afflicted by poverty.
Vipond did not go into specifics as to what the draft plan consists of, but said it will focus on housing for the homeless, food for the hungry and skills training for the jobless.
Clearly, the need for another shot at reducing poverty is there.
"We (United Way) run some programs that deal with issues of poverty, we see quite a high demand for them, people are having difficulties paying their rent, utility bills, feeding their families, and we receive over a thousand calls a month for various types of assistance," Vipond said.
What comes after the public input sessions and (hopefully) city council's support?
"Over the course of the summer, after the presentation to council, we'll establish working groups and encourage them to start meeting and working together," Vipond said.
Will there be funding from any or all of the three levels of government in implementing the poverty reduction plan?
"Certainly any components of the plan will have an opportunity for the working groups to identify some projects and needs, and apply for funding from various levels of government," Vipond said.
However, Vipond said the poverty reduction plan will likely be more of a 'made in Sault Ste. Marie' solution.
"Certainly it would be nice to have somebody come in and build a big building (to address housing, for example) but I don't think realistically that's going to happen, I think we need to come up with solutions locally," Vipond said.
"We can't rely on government to come in and throw money at everything."