Many representatives from organizations dealing with poverty participated in a discussion with students involved in the North American Independent Schools Challenge 20/20 competition. MLA Rob Fleming, reporter Jody Paterson, and Chris Ford from the Youth Empowerment Society were some of many guests who came to speak on the issue.
“It’s about owning responsibility,” said Brad Crewson of non-profit Pacifica Housing. “Having people homeless is not acceptable.”
The event began with representatives from business, social service, media and government organizations meeting in small break-out groups with students. After an hour-long discussion, five speakers participated in a panel where all students were able to ask questions and delegates could hear from each other.
The discussion touched on many surrounding issues, such as housing shortages, addiction and public safety, as well as public perception of the problem of poverty and the people who face it. City councillor Chris Coleman spoke about an old schoolmate from his days at St. George’s School who was now living homeless due to a battle with schizophrenia. “We were the golden kids, but 1% of our graduating class is living homeless,” he said.
Speakers also commented on solutions in other cities around the world, and how these might work in Victoria. By the end of the panel, the speakers had given students a lot of insight into what needs to be done on a local level, including establishing support for people at different levels of need, spreading resources throughout the city, and connecting independent centres.
“We’re all bits and pieces of a puzzle that’s not put together,” said Reverend Allen Tysick, director of poverty-outreach organization Our Place.
Thursday, the students met to discuss how they will incorporate the information from the panel into their presentation and website on the topic, as well as actions they and the school can take to impact poverty immediately.
The Challenge 20/20 programme focuses on finding solutions for global problems on a local level and includes 400 schools from 53 countries. Last year, SMUS won the Challenge 20/20 competition for its analysis of water deficits in Tofino.