When Poverty Talks, Who Listens?

By Sue Gywnn

I have had the opportunity to contribute to many consultations from the perspective of someone with a lived experience of poverty. Over the years, these consultations have taken on many forms and of course have varied in their success.

The most successful consultations are based on an understanding that lived-experience perspectives are critical to include. It’s also important to remove as many barriers as possible for the person with lived experiences to be able to fully engage and participate as an equal.

I do this work though Poverty Talks!, a self-governing committee within Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC). I am also a member of the steering committee that guides Enough for All (E4A), the City of Calgary’s community-driven poverty reduction strategy that aims to reduce Calgary’s 2015 poverty level by 30 per cent by 2023.

Poverty Talks! and its members work to help E4A stay on track and keep the voice of people with lived experiences as central to the work being completed to achieve this goal. We conduct meaningful community engagement and use the information collected to steer the work being done by the groups in E4A.

To complete this engagement, Poverty Talks! and VCC make sure that before we set out to engage, we have a well thought out plan to remove barriers that could hinder community members from participating. This includes making sure that community members have meals and peer support at the event, that transit tickets to get to and from the event are provided, and that the spaces we use are physically accessible. But it’s more than that. We also provide an honorarium whenever possible to compensate people for their time.

The event will have accomplished its true purpose if the information collected will be put to actual use. We want to ensure that we are not collecting more data for the sake of data collection. This is, unfortunately, a common occurrence for people with a lived experience of poverty.

This model of lived-experience engagement has opened the doors to many of the E4A groups to conduct their own meaningful engagements. It has also allowed for Poverty Talks! to widen its own reach in the world of providing lived-experience consultation to other organizations and groups including Citizens for Public Justice and the Dignity for All campaign.

The Chew On This! campaign embodies all of the best practices for meaningful engagement. PovertyTalks! has partnered with the Chew On This! campaign for the past few years. Through that partnership, we have been able to encourage our peers, people with lived poverty experience, to reach out in a whole new way. It gives people living in poverty the chance to take their voices straight to members of the government. This unfiltered correspondence is by far the most direct, meaningful and barrier-free way for people with lived poverty experience to send their messages.

The point of approaching community consultation with a focus on engaging people with lived experience in this way is to get the best outcome for both sides. The lived-experience community members are heard and contribute in a real and meaningful way. Meanwhile, if an organization listens, the valuable information that they collect can offer direction, guidance, and meaningful action.

On October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Dignity for All organized our annual Chew on This! campaign, mobilizing people from across Canada to call for an end to poverty. Community organizations, faith communities, and citizens called on the Government of Canada to uphold and protect the rights of people experiencing poverty and other intersecting forms of systemic oppression in Canada.

Sue Gywnn was one of 22 presenters at 12 Chew on This! webinars that Dignity for All, along with our partners at Leading in Colour, Poverty Talks!, and the Tamarack Institute, hosted in the week leading up to October 17. This webinar series dug deeper into issues, experiences, and recommendations related to poverty in Canada.

Photo Credit: Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology/Flickr.

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