Yes, There IS Poverty in Whistler
Vital Café: Yes, There IS Poverty in Whistler was held on February 19th at the Whistler Museum & Archives. Reserve your seat for March's Vital Café: No Community Without Learning. No Learning Without Community
Story by Sara Jennings from Whistler Community Services
“A Food Bank In Whistler?” Yes, we have a food bank in Whistler and yes, there is poverty in Whistler. I have worked at the Food Bank for over 10 years and I still get met with this question, mostly from visitors, folks new to the community, or people I meet outside of Whistler. Then there are the statements and judgements I continue to hear from locals, “I don’t want to donate to a bunch of ski bums,” or “a roommate of mine used the food bank and I don’t think they needed it.” Time and time again I spout statistics that change their perspective – most of our food bank clients only come 1-3 times in a year, a lot of the clients are in their 30’s-50’s and a growing percentage are 65 years and up. Many of them have lived in Whistler for several years. And the young folks, are the first to lose their jobs, have less resources to fall back on, and often have some of the highest housing costs.
And I know the stories. Stories of sharing a single potato for dinner between two adults the night before coming to the food bank, because that is all they had. The story of a mother crying in my arms as she broke down never thinking they would be in this position. The stories of countless donors who have come in to share money, ‘because you guys helped me out when I needed it.’ The story of folks who by all appearances look young and healthy but have struggled with years of complicated health issues. And the stories of those we can’t currently help; people who come in to get warm during the day but have no place to lay their head at night. People who struggle with mental health and sit on a waiting list trying to get the assistance they need. These are our community members. Whistler can be a hard place, but we are also a community. And what kind of community would we be, if we told everyone who couldn’t make it (even after years of living here) that they should move on?
Yes, there is Poverty In Whistler.
So the Community Foundation of Whistler invited Whistler Community Services to have a conversation with a small group of interested locals. The event was aptly titled: Yes, There Is Poverty In Whistler.” There weren’t many folks in the room, but it is an important discussion to have and to continue having. It is also important that we move on from talking and focus on action. What can individuals do to affect poverty in Whistler? Before we go down that road – let me share an analogy with you.
There are a group of adults standing around a river – maybe they are there for a picnic? A kid comes floating down the river, in distress. An adult runs into the river and pulls the drowning kid to safety. Another kid comes floating down the river also struggling to keep afloat, another adult runs in to save them. More and more kids come floating down the river and soon all the adults are in the river pulling out kids. At this time one of the adults breaks away from the group and leaves. The other adults are infuriated. They are too busy pulling drowning kids out of the river to confront the adult. After a while there are no more kids floating down the river, and sometime later the adult who had left returns. The other adults confront this individual in anger “Just as we needed you most, when there were so many kids who needed to be rescued you left us. We needed your help. How could you just leave?”
The lone adult responds, “I wanted to know why the kids were floating down the river, so I went upstream to have a look. There was an old bridge that the kids had to cross on their way to school. It had a large hole in it and when some of the kids tried to jump over the hole, some of them fell in. I got someone to fix the bridge.”
When faced with a problem to solve – whether it is climate change, racism, or poverty – if you don’t address the root causes “fix the bridge” then all you are doing is pulling people out of the river and the problem will persist. It is still important to have supports in place to pull people from that river, but as a community we can also help build a bridge to minimize the amount of people who face poverty here in Whistler.
At the conversation table
There were a lot of ideas shared at the CFOW event, and as we split into groups – I mostly heard about the ones offered at my table. A lot of them were great pulling from the river ideas – that will help address the individual needs but will also help us strengthen our community fabric which in turn can be a bit of bridge fixing. There was discussion about the importance of community, in a town where there aren’t many families that have been here multi-generations, so the fabric of our community and the supports people find are different. We talked about the need to build that community for ourselves, and how Whistler has done a fairly good job for many members of our community – but others may be less involved in the fabric of Whistler life and feel they don’t have those supports when they hit hard times. There was of course a lot of discussion about housing, which is one way we can help fix the bridge. Whistler has done a great job at housing many of our middle-income earners with Whistler Housing Authority units. Now what can we do as a community to ensure our low-income individuals and families have access to safe, affordable, stable housing? What about our most vulnerable populations dealing with homelessness, addictions, and/or mental health concerns?
We didn’t solve the cause of hunger in our community, and that was not the purpose of the evening. But discussions were had, and I hope that many of the folks who attended now understand a bit more about poverty in Whistler and perhaps they will start to take personal action to assist their fellow Whistlerites and also advocate for change on a system level.
Yes, There Is Poverty in Whistler. But yes, we as individuals and as a collective community have the power to help change that.
For more information on poverty in Whistler, come visit us at Whistler Community Services. We are located at 8000 Nesters Road and would love to talk to you about how you can help. Or drop me, Sara an email at email@example.com.