Clients of the Campbell River Food Bank were served by a special guest on Monday, as food bank volunteers put federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to work stocking food bags.
Singh was in Campbell River as part of a visit to the North Island-Powell River riding. The goal of the trip was to learn from local non-profit and social services just what difficulties people in smaller centres, rural and remote areas are facing in relation to the housing, food security and affordability crises.
Singh met with Stefanie Hendrickson of the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness, Michaela Arruda of the Campbell River Community Foundation, Ian Baikie from Hama?Elas Community Kitchen, Tanille Johnston from the City of Campbell River and Jo Watson from the Campbell River Food Bank. North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney was also part of the discussion.
The roundtable focused on the areas of concern for these groups, particularly with the goal of bringing these stories to Ottawa to help advocate for smaller communities.
“How things are done in Ottawa doesn’t always reflect how they’re done in our communities,” Blaney said.
The discussion included access to funding for non-profits, a feeling of disconnect between realities on the ground in these communities and how the federal government sees the situation — definitions of “affordability” was a main topic of discussion — and the fact that smaller communities do not have the same resources as bigger centres.
Hendrickson identified gaps in the funding provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, saying that some of the thresholds for affordable housing were ” ‘affordable,’ but not (actually) affordable.”
The second half of the discussion looked at potential solutions, including discouraging the financialization of housing. That means making it less attractive for corporations and financial companies to buy housing as a way to make money, which can be done through adjustments to tax laws in Canada. Other ways the federal government can help were identified, including extending grant funding beyond the “building” phase.
Baikie and the Hama?Elas Community Kitchen were particularly affected by this. He said that during the beginning of the pandemic, there were plenty of grants available to build community services to help people through the pandemic. However, now that these have been in place for a few years, the funding is starting to dry up. Hama?Elas in particular is looking at grants that run out this spring, which Baikie says is “scaring the living daylights out of me.”
Singh thanked the members of the roundtable, telling them there are “ways to unlock potential solutions.”
Singh then took a tour of the Campbell River Food Bank, filling a food delivery bag for a few customers and looking at the facility while learning about the needs facing the community.
“We’re hearing more more stories from people that are having a hard time making ends meet,” Singh said after the meeting. “The fact that people are hurting; it just really paints a picture of how tough things are… the incredible people here have real great solutions and have real great ideas about how we can actually fix the problems … We have to focus on the problems, but then look to solutions and that’s what folks in the room were really quick to do.”
Singh also visited Comox and Courtenay on Monday, touring the Canadian Forces Base with Blaney, meeting Comox mayor Nicole Minions and later with MP Gord Johns in Courtenay.