2. Examining the multifaceted layers of well-being in Calgary
After several months of collaboration and engaging over a dozen leading experts, we published our Community Well-being report, Beneath the Surface, in March. Poverty is always about income, but it’s not only about income, and this report contains information on 50 indicators of well-being to paint a clearer picture of the path we need to take to improve poverty in Calgary. In the lead-up to the report’s release, our collaborators knew that the report was more than just an opportunity to share and report on data. It was a springboard to a conversation about solutions and innovative approaches to achieving a city where poverty can’t exist. In June we had that conversation, hearing from six dynamic community leaders who challenged us to explore where we are and where we need to go to get to a city where there is enough for all.
3. UNAFORD: Raising awareness about the affordability crisis
VCC launched a parody luxury storefront that treated the items required for everyday living, such as bread, eggs and toilet paper, as luxury items—because, for many Calgarians, they are. The storefront, ironically named UNAFORD and complete with all the elements of a high-end boutique, including a security guard, drove home the message that basic living shouldn’t be a luxury. The installation was active for two weeks and received considerable attention from passers-by, the news media and on social media. It also sparked a conversation about living wages.
In 2023, we tried new approaches to engaging with our community (have you checked us out on Tiktok?) and raising awareness of issues and solutions. Throughout the year, VCC released five podcast episodes, 21 videos and 37 blogs; was interviewed by news media more than 100 times; and had more than 156,000 hits to our website.
4. Affordable housing advocacy
When the City of Calgary proposed its new Housing Strategy, we were pleased to see some of the proposals to get housing built. The strategy was chock-full of tools to close the affordable housing supply gap and move towards fostering more inclusive communities. We were pleased to support the recommendations and worked to get others mobilized to support them too. Several organizations were rallying support, so we amplified their efforts. We also kicked off a campaign that provided tools to our Champions and broader community to get involved. We were grateful to see so many Champions alongside us in this important advocacy.
5. Identifying Calgarians at extreme risk of homelessness
VCC partnered with the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary to explore the total number of people at risk of homelessness and what the circumstances are that brought them there. This study uses a multi-faceted approach to identify that a shocking 115,000 housed Calgarians, living in approximately 40,000 households, are at very high risk of losing their housing. The good news is that relatively small policy interventions, such as a 10% reduction in rents or a 10% increase in incomes, can significantly reduce the number of people at risk of becoming unhoused.
6. Our Champion network is growing, engaging and collaborating in new ways
Imagine a city where there is Enough for All. What would that look like? That was the question we asked at our Annual Gathering on Nov. 29. Representatives from our Champion network gathered to reflect on our most challenging issues and engage in futures thinking. Our Champion network has quadrupled since 2019 and this year’s event hosted key experts, leaders and innovators working on multifaceted approaches to poverty reduction. Working together is how we create efficiencies and avoid duplication and in 2023 we created more opportunities for engagement, collaboration, and education.
7. Sounding the alarm on childhood literacy
Did you know that childhood literacy is one of the biggest predictors of poverty for adults? A child’s ability to read will have a huge impact on their ability to navigate life, find employment, secure housing, and access services as an adult. This year, Vibrant Communities Calgary convened several movers and shakers in the childhood literacy spheres and launched a campaign. Left Unread is a movement declaring that children deserve the opportunity to realize their full potential. It leveraged data, and created opportunities to bring people together to discuss important literacy challenges and paths forward, to further the collective goal of advancing literacy.
8. Examining opportunities to improve income support for people with disabilities
Alberta's Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program is a lifeline for many individuals with permanent disabilities. However, the program's eligibility requirements, limited benefits, restrictive policies, and unfair appeal process hinder its effectiveness and often, it fails to provide meaningful support to those who need it most. In 2023, we undertook a deep dive into AISH with agencies and individuals that serve people with disabilities and people with lived experience. We uncovered opportunities in a new policy brief, Improving the Effectiveness of AISH.
9. Profiling poverty in Calgary's 14 wards
Poverty has many faces, and it exists in every community in Calgary. That's why we started publishing Poverty Profiles. In October we updated the profiles with the latest Census data enabling us to delve into income inequality, food bank use, housing need, and more in each of Calgary’s 14 wards. There was a lot of interest in the profiles and particularly the gender income disparity at the highest income levels in some communities. The poverty profiles continue to be the most visited pages on our website.
10. Calgary’s new living wage is $23.70
We’re all feeling the pinch of affordability these days, but when your income is $15, $16, or even $20 per hour it means making trade-offs on necessities. VCC has been publishing Calgary’s living wage since 2008 as a resource for policymakers and employers, reflecting what a person needs to earn to maintain a modest standard of living based on the actual costs of living in a specific community. What did we uncover from the calculation this year? Rising rents were the biggest driver of the increase this year and government policy played a role in keeping the living wages lower. Another key takeaway is that wages are not keeping up with the rising cost of living for people living on low incomes.
Taking stock of all the incredible projects and initiatives is important—especially when we know that this year’s affordability issues, particularly in the area of housing, have made life more difficult for many.
So, the work continues.
We’re excited to report that we’ll be kicking off 2024 with an exciting new approach to community engagement called Kaleidoscope Spaces. These spaces will broaden community engagement by activating community members in different ways that suit conditions and conversations in Calgary. Watch for details early in the New Year. We’re also working with several agencies and stakeholders on new research examining social disorder in our city.
Working to ensure those in our city who live in poverty are supported and represented is a collective effort that involves many organizations, collaboratives and Champions. We thank everyone for your continued support and we look forward to working with you in 2024.