Ten Years Together - Inclusion
For ten years, I’ve had the privilege of going to work every day to try and make this place even better for everyone.
That’s why the Ten Years Together series is starting with stories of inclusion. A city, a society ultimately is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable and the most marginalized. It works when it listens to all voices.
For ten years now, I’ve been saying that the promise of our community is very simple: no matter where you come from or what you look like, no matter how you worship or whom you love, you belong right here. Whatever your gender or how your daddy was, whether you are able-bodied or living with a disability, you deserve a shot at the life of your dreams – a great Canadian life.
This is so much heightened today as we are forcing ourselves to have a long-delayed and difficulty conversation about whether we truly are living in a community where everyone is living that simple dream. It felt so different a decade ago – it was a no-brainer to be the Grand Marshal of the Pride Parade and my faith, while a big topic of conversation outside of Calgary, hardly seemed to matter here.
However, things have changed, and we are much more aware of our neighbours who are not participating in that dream the same way – particularly Black and Indigenous people, other people of colour, and gender and sexually diverse communities. This has been tough for me, as I know it has been for so many Calgarians. Can we simultaneously be proud of our accomplishments as perhaps the best example of pluralism in human history while understanding that there is so much more work to do?
I believe we can do both. We need to celebrate what’s been achieved, certainly, but also commit ourselves to anti-racism in our government and in our lives.
It’s all part of the same story of inclusion – working to make sure everyone belongs, everyone feels safe and everyone has an opportunity for themselves and their families to succeed.
We asked three Calgarians to tell us about inclusion in our community over the last decade.
Kim O’Brien, the President and CEO of United Active Living, tells her story from her time as the Steering Committee Chair for the Resolve campaign when she ran Horizon Housing.
“We realized, about ten years ago, that we had to have the development of a lot more affordable housing in Calgary,” she said. “It was never going to be that easy, but the spirit of Calgary ran through.”
Resolve brought together nine local non-profit and charitable housing agencies, along with developers and a community aiming to end homelessness, and raised $74 million over six years. In total, the fundraising amounted to more than 1,800 homes being built to house Calgary’s vulnerable population.
“It was a recognition that we are better together. Nobody else had done it, and we had the audacity to say, ‘Let’s give this a go!’”, adds O’Brien. “I think, not just for those of us in the sector, but in the general community, there was a sense that this was a meaningful, long-term solution.”
While much of the fundraising was done in the years before our current economic downturn, Kim thinks that we’re only just getting started.
“Are we going to choose about what we’ve lost, or about what we can create? Calgarians have proven time and time again, that in moments of adversity, we are always going to think about what we can create.”
(You’ll be hearing a lot from me about housing in the weeks and months to come. COVID has not only exposed some of our weaknesses; it has shown us a path forward. We know what to do. With some dedicated support from the Governments of Canada and Alberta, coupled with our community spirit and resilience in Calgary, we can end chronic homelessness in two years. Let’s do it.)
Meaghon Reid, with Vibrant Communities Calgary, thinks about the progress this city has made in our Enough for All poverty reduction strategy, the development of which was one of my core commitments in 2010. Through champions like The City of Calgary, The United Way of Calgary and Area, and the incredible community leadership of Cathie Williams and Steve Allan, this strategy was passed unanimously by City Council in 2013 before being transferred to VCC to be delivered.
Meaghon notes the change that happened in that time. “People who lived in poverty in our city often felt really unseen, 10 years ago. Our solutions were reactive and not very strategic,” She says that attitude has shifted. “If my neighbor lives well, then I live well, too. The person I want to look out for is the person who doesn’t have what I have. My neighbour’s strength is my strength.”
The strategy brought together neighbours, social agencies, governments, donors, volunteers, and anyone who wanted to make a difference to help fundraise, build resilience, and establish systems and policies which would have enormous, wide-ranging effects over the next seven years.
“We now have over 75,000 people who are able to access low-income transit, so they’re able to get around the city, spend time with family, and shop in local shops. We have almost 50,000 people that go to community hubs. We have more than 11,000 people that have gone to financial empowerment programs,” she says. “That is extraordinarily powerful, as a statement and a legacy. That legacy lasts for generations. That means that someone’s kids, their kids, and their grandkids are on their way out of poverty for the rest of their lives. And that’s an incredible thing.”
And who were these people that were being helped?
I think that the most impactful single thing Council has done is to implement the Sliding Scale low income transit pass, which allows people living in deep poverty to access transit for as little as $5.30 per month. Colleen Huston with the Disability Action Network offers this story.
“One of my favourite stories is this mum, she went to go buy the (Low Income) transit pass. And this was just after sliding scale was brought in and sliding scale created that equitable access to affordable fares, tied to income. She was used to paying a certain amount a month. She couldn’t even afford one or two passes. So there she was digging in her purse, getting ready to pay that money to get her kids to work and school. And just as she goes to pay, the woman working the desk says to her, ‘That’ll be $10.’”
Stunned, the mom responds, “I’ll take five.”
“What has this done for high school completion, to unleash that potential for Calgarians,” ponders Huston.
That story made me cry when I first heard it. It beautifully encapsulates the first line, and summary, of the Enough for All strategy: “my neighbour’s strength is my strength is my strength”. My neighbour’s success is my success. And yes, my neighbour’s failure is my failure. Each of us has a stake in every other one of us. That’s how I grew up in Marlborough, and it’s how we achieve our true promise.