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Spotlight on Poverty: Amanda Ens

11-21-17

“Ensuring that the voices of those affected by poverty are heard is absolutely necessary in order to end poverty.” – Amanda Ens, CWP Board Member for Western Region

At Canada Without Poverty, everyone on our Board of Directors knows poverty first-hand. Their lived experience informs our work and is essential to effectively ending poverty in Canada. To honour their experiences and share their insights, we began our Spotlight on Poverty blog series where board members could tell their stories in their own words about poverty from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

In 2015, we profiled board members Harriett McLachlan, Wayne MacNaughton, Derek Cook, and Laura Cattari.  We are bringing back the series for Giving Tuesday 2017 with a new installment highlighting our Board Member for the Western Region, Amanda Ens. You can support stories like these and our work to eliminate poverty in Canada with a one-time or monthly tax-deductible donation.

Q. What’s your story: how has poverty impacted your life?

In my lifetime, I’ve experienced poverty in a number of ways. I experienced poverty for my early childhood while growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan. I experienced poverty again as a young parent working on a University degree. As an Albertan, I’ve been negatively impacted by economic downturns on two separate occasions. As an Indigenous person, I’ve also witnessed the severe effects of poverty on First Nations peoples.

Q. Why is the first voice perspective so critical to ending poverty in Canada?

There are so many misconceptions about poverty in Canada – they range from “just get a job” to, “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps – why can’t you?” The first voice perspective is incredibly important, as it sheds light on how people come to be in the situations that they are facing. Poverty situations are often without fault, but poverty is not victimless. The Home Safe Documentaries done several years ago by CEDNet and SkyWorks is a good example of showing how Canadians often find themselves in situations that are beyond their control. When an entire sector that has employed a great deal of people, experiences financial losses, people who work in those sectors suffer the most. Sometimes, mental health challenges become so overbearing that they are the only thing that individuals can focus on. Everyone has challenges, but I cannot stress how important it is to ensure that Canadians recognize, that not all Canadians are born into the same circumstances. Equal opportunities and supportive networks (or social capital) are resources that some Canadians take for granted.

Q. How do you see poverty as a violation of human rights?

In my role as Director of Services and Impact for Calgary Legal Guidance (a poverty law clinic), I have a number of fantastic staff that work on meeting the needs of vulnerable people experiencing poverty. I asked my staff person Rachel Shepherd – Homeless Outreach Program Advocate – to weigh in on this, too. The UN has determined that we, as human beings, have the right to adequate shelter.  Canada is violating our human rights obligations by not providing safe and affordable housing to all citizens. Children certainly should not be subjected to homelessness or inadequate housing, as we know the effects this can cause long-term issues. Adverse Childhood Experiences can influence risk and protective factors.

Q. Is there anything unique about poverty in Alberta versus the rest of Canada?

When I first started working on poverty reduction in 2009, Albertan’s were skeptical about the idea that poverty even existed within the province, due to the oil and gas industry and the high incomes associated with the many people working within that industry. The solution to poverty (at that time) was focused on charitable giving (which corporations willingly and generously continue). Reports started to come out about the discrepancy between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Poverty reduction at that time, was a new topic for the province, although many other provinces had been working on poverty reduction/elimination for many years. One of the projects that I was fortunate to participate in, in 2014, was a living wage calculation for Central Alberta communities. Through this calculation, the project was able to determine what type of income was needed for individuals and families in various communities (both urban and rural). A living wage calculation takes a communities cost of living, available services and individual and family budgets into account – in the project I worked on, we used very “no-frills” budgets to arrive at the final calculations. The project discovered that the cost of living in rural communities was higher due to transportation costs, and lack of services. This was surprising to the group. We took this project one step further and polled businesses through the Chamber of Commerce, to determine how they felt about the calculations. The vast majority of those polled, determined that they would expect individuals and families to have far more options and that they would expect that all Albertans would be able to experience a higher quality of living than the one that we accounted for in the calculation. That project opened my eyes to recognizing that it was not just social services agencies, volunteers and government departments that could be involved in solutions for ensuring that all Albertans had access to opportunity and quality of life.

Carbon tax in Alberta is an unpopular topic. However, approximately 28% of the total 5.4 billion expected revenue from carbon tax will be going straight back to Albertans in the form of household rebate cheques, and that is a step forward in reducing poverty for Alberta residents. The rebates associated with Carbon Tax will have a significant impact on vulnerable individuals and families. Full rebates are being provided to single Albertans who earn $47,500 or less and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less. These income guidelines for rebates may seem high, but in a province with a high cost of living, these lower-income households will benefit from the rebates.

Q. What drives you to do this work and be part of the anti-poverty movement?

People in poverty are usually in situations that are beyond their control. When these types of situations exist, services and supports need to be in place at both a government and non-profit level. I have had the opportunity to work on poverty reduction at both a municipal and non-profit level, and as a volunteer. I have seen the tremendous impacts that policy changes, community conversations, grassroots initiatives and programs may have on individual lives. I want to continue to play a role in positively impacting the lives of vulnerable people, especially for Indigenous peoples.

Q. What’s one thing the government needs to do to end poverty right now?

While I do believe that the solution to poverty is multi-sectoral, place-based and that it must focus on many impact areas, if I had to choose one solution, it would be offering a basic income. The Basic Income pilot projects that are currently running in Ontario are going to have a tremendous impact on individuals and families – one that Canadians will be unable to ignore. Establishing a Basic Income is paramount to ending poverty and improving outcomes related to food security, education, workplace training for advancement, appropriate & affordable housing, and health concerns. Sheri Torjman’s Poverty Policy from 2008, focused on the tapestry of solutions needed to reduce and ultimately end poverty, continues to be relevant today.

Countless individuals have worked to get a federal poverty reduction strategy on the radar of the Canadian government. The brilliant individuals currently working on Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy has the opportunity to positively impact 3 million Canadians. Ensuring that the voices of those affected by poverty are heard is absolutely necessary in order to end poverty.


Amanda Ens (Western Region) brings 17 years of experience working in government organizations, Adult education, facilitation, youth engagement, community development, Indigenous relations, and poverty reduction to her current role at Calgary Legal Guidance.  Amanda has Cree roots in Saskatchewan, and is passionate about social justice for Indigenous peoples, and for those inequitably affected by poverty.  Amanda has worked in urban and rural communities across Alberta, including positions as; an Aboriginal Initiatives Coordinator for Central Alberta Child and Family Services Authority, a Community Facilitator for The City of Red Deer, and as a Regional Lead of Business Development, for Bow Valley College.  Before joining Calgary Legal Guidance as a Director of Services and Impact, Amanda worked as an Indigenous Strategist for Vibrant Communities Calgary, implementing the Aboriginal Poverty Reduction goals of Calgary’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: Enough for All.

Amanda’s work in poverty reduction is extensive. She is the proud co-founder of the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance, and currently serves as a Board Member for Canada Without Poverty.  She also founded a national community of practice for the Tamarack Institute, dedicated to poverty reduction for First Nation, Metis and Inuit peoples.  Amanda often works to coach and mentor organizations in their poverty reduction efforts, and has presented at national, provincial and local conferences on the subject. Amanda currently volunteers for the University of Calgary’s Graduate Students Association as an Awards Committee member, and for Calgary Learns as an Indigenous Advisor for the Indigenous Literacy Program.  She has also acted as a champion for employment inequities, and children’s charities, as a Board member and volunteer with various non-profit organizations. Amanda is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Adult Education to compliment her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree.  Amanda is the recent recipient of the Indigenous Graduate Student Award at the University of Calgary.  When she is not working, studying or presenting, she spends her time at hockey rinks, mentoring female youth athletes.