Governments and nonprofit community agencies often speak of their plans to eradicate poverty, yet the problem is extremely complex. Rooted in multiple overlapping causes, with unique manifestations across a wide range of demographic and cultural groups, poverty can be difficult to quantify. Everything from stress and social isolation to poor housing and health is part of the picture, and perceptions vary greatly. The multigenerational cycle of restricted opportunity is hard to break.
Universities are well equipped to help deconstruct and confront this challenging issue, but many researchers are reluctant to use such phrases as “the common good." Objectivity and neutrality, after all, are two of the main principles of the scientific method. Karen Schwartz and Adje van de Sande, associate professors at Carleton University's school of social work, argue that academic inquiry in their field need not be valuefree. “We also believe that schools of social work have a responsibility to leave the 'ivory tower' and stay connected to the community."
Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) is a national Carleton-led research project, which launched in fall 2012, and is supported by a $2.5million, sevenyear grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project is aligned with Carleton's strategic plan, specifically its emphasis on building sustainable communities. Mostly, though, its intent is to facilitate campuscommunity collaborations that spark progressive change.
CFICE (pronounced “suffice") is divided into five self-managed hubs: poverty reduction; food security; environmental sustainability; violence against women; and knowledge mobilization, which will really get rolling in 2016 as the other hubs shift their focus from research to policy change at all three levels of government.
The Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction (HRPR) with support from CFICE has teamed up with researchers at the McMaster Community Poverty Initiative and the university's DeGroote School of Business to explore the implications of instituting a living wage. The empirical evidence generated by this work is helping Cooper make a compelling case.
Another spoke in the CFICE poverty hub is based at the University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus (UNBSJ), where faculty and students are trying to help youth in two of the city's priority neighbourhoods through the Promise Partnership mentoring program. CFICE funding has allowed Chiasson and her colleagues to conduct research into the efficacy of Promise Partnership. The lessons learned in Saint John will be disseminated throughout Canada and used to push for policy change. “Education can help break the poverty cycle," says Chiasson. “All of us who do this kind of work have the same end goal. We're just approaching the problem in different ways, from different places."
Vibrant Communities was a natural choice to colead CFICE's poverty reduction hub. Community engagement and collaboration are at the heart of its antipoverty efforts. So is a longterm, comprehensive outlook, says project manager Donna Jean Forster-Gill. Solutions can be found only by bringing together government, business, academia, social service agencies and their clients; by reflecting on and learning from approaches that are working; by using “assets" that already exist, such as food banks and recreation centres; and by letting frontline services deal with the immediate effects of poverty, focusing instead on larger systemic changes that will take time to implement. “If you're talking about policy change," she says, “you have to have the research behind it."
Excerpt reprinted with permission Carleton Alumni Magazine, fall 2014