Time for a Poverty Prevention Strategy

07-30-12

How do you prevent youth, living in poor disadvantaged communities, from resorting to desperate acts to help them feel a sense of worth and social inclusion?  By investing in community security and policing initiatives or into their lives, futures, and the community infrastructure around them?

Of course, ensuring their security is important, however protecting someone from becoming a victim of crime does not arm them with the skills required to establish financial self-sufficiency. Creating opportunities for social mobility and financial security does.

The Ontario government recently gave $5 million dollars to the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) following  a tragic shooting that left two Toronto youth dead – aged 14 and 23 – and many others injured. The shooting took place in Kingston Galloway – a regressive low income community plagued by a history of crime.

Although programs like TAVIS serve a purpose, they do no turn poverty filled communities into affluent ones filled with empowering socio-economic opportunities and low crime rates.

“Although it is difficult to directly correlate crime with individuals living in poverty, it is evident within numerous studies that the greater the inequality of income in a community, the higher the incidence of crime (Ludwig, Duncan & Hirschfield, 2001).”

But, let’s be clear, poverty does not equal crime. Not all people struggling with poverty resort to crime. However, people living in poverty do not have enough resources to meet their needs and have their social, economic, and cultural rights protected. As a result, some resort to acts of desperation in an effort to meet those needs and protect those rights.

To help gain further perspective on this sensitive subject, consider a quote from the late British sociologist, Peter Townsend, who eloquently stated the following in a House of Commons report on poverty :

Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty
when…their resources are so seriously below those commanded by
the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary
living patterns, customs and activities.”

This truth is exacerbated when people also “lack” the skills required to help mitigate the burdens associated with said deficiencies. An example of this are the poor youth with low literacy skills, living in disadvantaged homes and communities, wind up involved in gangs, dealing drugs, and in conflict with the law.

In a news article in the Toronto Star (July 18, 2012) about a highly publicized shooting that took place on July 12, 2012 in a neighborhood in Toronto, ON, David Hulchanski –  a Professor of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto – was quoted as saying “…the number of people living in poverty in Toronto has increased significantly over the past 30 years and poor neighbourhoods are becoming more socially and geographically isolated…and more racialized”.

Although news stories about the shooting could be classified under headlines like “Evidence of Gun and Gang Violence in Canada” – due to the correlation between gangs and guns – it can also be classified under a headings like: “More Evidence of Canada’s Growing Poverty Problem” because research shows there’s a correlation between crime and poverty.

According to a 2011 Report by The Guelph and Wellington Task Force on Poverty, “Poverty is frequently accompanied by… a rise in crime rates”. The Toronto Strong Neighborhoods Task Force published a paper in 2004 highlighting the link between disadvantaged communities and crime.  In 2012, The National Council of Welfare published a special edition Poverty Profile on racialized groups – “A Snapshot of Racialized Poverty in Canada” – which shows racialized neighborhoods experience high levels of poverty.  A 2009 report titled, “In From The Margins” by The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology, which ties these reports together, highlights the correlation between poverty, marginalized populations, low income communities, and crime.

Kingston Galloway, like many low income communities, is an example of the poor, isolated, and racialized communities Professor Hulchanski referred to. It is identified as a “priority” neighborhood by the City of Toronto due to the significant and complex socio-economic challenges found within it.

For instance, this community has a high concentration of subsidized rental units owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (THCH), few social and geographical options for the community to benefit from, and it has a high population of visible minorities.

Where you find poverty and few opportunities for socio-economic progression and development, crime is often not far behind as highlighted in “Crimes of Desperation – The truth about poverty-related crimes” (2008).

Without poverty prevention strategies in place, this is unlikely to change.

In an effort to help foster change, policy makers and strategic planners need to focus their efforts on preventing, reducing, and eliminating poverty and crime because clearly intervention programs are not enough.

Kingston Galloway will see an increase in security due to the Ontario government recently contributing millions of dollars to TAVIS and the THCH will also boost their security. However, neither of these initiatives and intervention strategies will address the root causes of the crimes – poverty – which could be eliminated for a fraction of the cost.

Governments continue to pour money into intervention programs, yet, poverty and the youth deaths, youth crimes, and youth incarcerations associated with crime persists.

That says something.

How many more youth lives will be lost and taken – due to poverty, violent crimes, or the justice system – before it is understood that “prevention is better than cure”?