GOULBOURNE: Does where you live have to matter?
Does where a citizen lives in Niagara impact that person’s ability to create a better quality of life?
Recently, Statistics Canada released data from the 2016 census on the incomes of Canadians, and it appears times are getting better in our country. The federal agency shared that the median income of Canadian households rose to $70,336 in 2015 from $63,457 in 2005, a 10.8 per cent increase.
So, what does this mean for you?
In 1992, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development launched a program called Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing. The social experiment enabled 4,600 families living in poor neighbourhoods to use a government voucher to either move to a pre-determined wealthier neighbourhood, to any neighbourhood they wished or to stay in public housing.
In 2008, Stefanie Deluca wrote in her article titled Ending Urban Poverty: Neighbourhood Matters that “researchers have found that 40 to 50 per cent of jobs are obtained through social networks that” share “information about positions or offer concrete help during job searches.”
“Areas with higher family incomes and greater levels of education usually have more people working in living-wage and middle-income jobs who can serve as employment resources.”
In 2016, Harvard researchers Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence Katz decided to reach out to the group of Moving to Opportunity’s 4,600 families and learned that those people who moved to nicer neighbourhoods were earning significantly more than those who stayed in public housing.
So is one solution to improving the standard of living for families living in poverty in Niagara, to increase their access to education and employment resources in their neighbourhood?
There have been several initiatives in Niagara that are worthy of note, and here are just a few that seem to be moving our neighbours to opportunity.
In 2010, District School Board of Niagara launched DSBN Academy in 2011 at Empire School in Welland and, due to its success, moved it to the former West Park Secondary School building in St. Catharines in September 2013. The DSBN Academy vision is “achievement through opportunity,” whereby one of its “key strategies” is “strong community partnerships.”
In 2014, The John Howard Society of Niagara’s Job Gym teamed up with Camp Old Navy to enable youth from Welland, Pelham, Fort Erie, Port Colborne, St. Catharines and Lincoln to gain hands-on retail training plus employment counselling. In the past, the Boys and Girls Club of Niagara and YMCA stepped up for our youth.
In 2017 and just a few months ago, Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, Niagara Workforce Planning Board, YMCA Employment and Immigrant Services, Rel8ed.to, Business Jumpstart, Niagara Community Observatory, Niagara Connects and Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation teamed up to create Linking Niagara. The mission is “to connect employers, job seekers and employment service providers and promote smarter hiring practices across Niagara.”
These three programs are but a few examples of the excellent work being done in our region by education, not-for-profit and/or business organizations. There are some themes worthy of note.
First, the organizations involved are all regionally focused, which has enabled them to rise above the often parochial approach to decision-making in Niagara. Second, they have combined to create hubs of activity that enable children and adults from any neighbourhood to gain equal access to services. Third and finally, a leader’s ability to embrace pioneering solutions that boldly challenge Niagara’s current state appears to be the secret sauce in all of these initiatives.
For months and years to come, research studies will be completed regarding the 2016 census to determine if the citizens of Niagara and those living in our poorest neighbourhoods are doing better, worse or the same. One thing is true, together we can provide expanded access to educational and employment services for the betterment of all of Niagara’s citizens including those living in our poorest neighbourhoods if we are ready to disrupt the status quo.
— Damian Goulbourne was mayor of Welland from 2003 to 2010 and has been a Niagara College faculty member in the business, hospitality and environmental division since 1999.