The recently released report that showed child poverty in Alberta grew by 20,000 between 2008 and 2009 (from 53,000 to 73,000) should be of deep concern to all Albertans. Poverty is a complex issue, and while it’s certain that the economic downturn contributed to the increase, it’s clear that to really impact these figures meaningfully and long-term, new approaches are needed.

While I’m no expert, I am an Albertan. And I hate the idea that we can live in the most prosperous province in the country and have 73,000 impoverished children. If you are an Albertan, I’d like you to consider a few things with me. First, let’s talk about what we should maybe stop doing if we want to end poverty in this province:

1) Stop saying “Get a job!” Sure, there are some people who are fully capable of working but less motivated than necessary to access readily available employment opportunities. But blanket “get a job” statements directed at anyone without a job reveal a lack of sensitivity and understanding of the barriers that some people face. Perhaps you don’t have physical or mental health barriers; perhaps you don’t struggle with addiction, or developmental disabilities, or social impairments, or lack of education. Count your blessings and be grateful. We – all of us in this province – need to appreciate that not everyone is the same. If you are a high functioning individual with strong competencies, good on ya. Not everyone is so fortunate and a little sensitivity to that truth can go a long way. Most Albertans are very compassionate people; we all need to stop tolerating¬†the type of ignorance statements like this portray.

2) Stop waiting for “someone” or “the government” to do something about it. Yes, we need a legislated, comprehensive poverty reduction strategy in Alberta, and yes, we have a wonderful, growing group of “someones” (such as the Poverty Reduction Coalition and like collaborative efforts gaining momentum around the province) dedicated to substantial poverty reduction. But the truth is, we can (and should) all be taking responsibility to fight poverty. Everyone can do something to help. Albertans are some of the most ingenious, industrious people anywhere on the planet. I know that if we developed a community response that involved zero tolerance for poverty and an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, we could really turn this thing around.

So, if we should stop doing those things, what should we, the John Q. Public types, do about poverty?

How about this:

1) Seek first to understand. People who live in poverty do not need us to tell them to get a job. They need us to understand what they’re facing and show a little kindness and patience.

2) Talk about it. Our media-infested society lives by the sound bite and it’s far too easy to just move on to the next interesting story in our thoughts and conversation. But poverty doesn’t go away just because we’re not talking about it. So if we keep it in our coffee shop chatter and our water cooler conversations and our neighbourly noodlings, perhaps we’ll all be more aware and thus more inclined to do something about it. Y’know, instead of wishing someone else would.

3) Support the agencies who work to reduce poverty. Volunteer. Give your money. Donate items to a fundraiser. Give! Invest in your community.

4) If you understand the barriers and limitations that cause people to remain trapped in a cycle of poverty, perhaps you can help improve their lot through mentorship. Would you take the time to help someone else learn the skills that have helped you succeed? In his research on Aboriginal youth in care who overcame severe obstacles to live stable, productive lives, Dr. Martin Brokenleg credits the personal resiliencies these youths developed to the presence of a strong, healthy adult/child relationship in their lives. YOU can help pull a child out of poverty. In our area, you can volunteer to become an In School Mentor and in just one hour a week, make a difference in the life of a child.

We can all do something. I hope we all will.

Tell me what you think.