Where Does Hamilton Go From Here?

Submitted by Kirsti Battista on November 3, 2015 - 5:27am
A recap of the last ten years and going forward

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of joining staff, members, and long-standing partners of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) at the Perkins Centre in Hamilton. The occasion was a roundtable meeting to take stock of the HRPR’s past ten years of work and to discuss the years ahead. To mark this decade-long anniversary, the Hamilton Spectator recently released a 7-part series in the Hamilton poverty project, which you can access here.

The meeting started off with a brief introduction from HRPR Chair and Managing Editor at the Hamilton Spectator, Howard Elliot, followed by special guest speaker Dana Robbins, Vice-President and Group Publisher at Metroland Media Group Ltd.

Dana approached his speech with a personal story about his childhood friend, Wayne, who knew poverty all too well starting from an early age. If you haven’t yet had a chance to hear the story of Wanye, you can listen to it here in a keynote speech that Dana delivered at this year’s National Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa. It’s an empathetic story of how a young boy recognized his friend’s early and harsh experience with poverty and how it differed from his own – a story that many of us can relate to.

Dana also touched on his father’s experience as a hard rock minor, a man who worked tirelessly to escape the label of working poor and to victoriously enter the middle class. Comparing his father’s heyday to now, Dana talked about the indifference people have towards poverty that has arisen due to the number of children that have grown up in the middle-class. This indifference, he said, is the very thing that gives income inequality its corrosiveness. When we cannot understand the experience of poverty, we cannot understand how our actions contribute to an ever growing income gap and increasing margin of inequality.  He proposed that we need to replace sympathy for the poor with empathy, to get inside the experience of poverty and ensure our individual and collective actions don’t do more harm than good. Indeed, I think things would look very different if we all thought and acted from a place of empathy more often.

Dana then shared what he pesonally considers the four greatest achievements of the Hamilton Roundtable:

  •  The Roundtable helped to build empathy around the issue of poverty. It put poverty on the map and invited people from all walks of life to take part in a community conversation about poverty in Hamilton.
  •  The Roundtable changed the political landscape in Hamilton. Now, local elected officials don’t just pay lip service to poverty but are actually passionate about it. It’s expected that, regardless of political affiliation, elected officials will include poverty as a key issue in their campaigns.
  •  The Roundtable put poverty reduction on our public policy agenda. Ground-breaking projects like Code Red and the work of Steve Buist with the Hamilton Spectator helped change the discussion about poverty in Canada.
  •  The Roundtable gave individuals with lived experience a voice and opportunity to contribute to the dialogue around poverty. In particular, the Speak Now Speakers Bureau and the Roundtable itself have provided a platform for these voices.

Tom Cooper, Director of the Roundtable, spoke to more of Hamilton’s recent wins including 25 active living wage employers and recent work they’ve done with the province to limit and regulate predatory loan agencies.

After these great successes were addressed and celebrated, we broke off into dialogue groups to discuss how the Roundtable should move forward in five key areas: tools, connections, attitudes and narratives, policy and research, and meeting needs in the community. We considered what and who were missing from the Roundtable's current activities and how to bridge the gaps. It was quite exciting to particpate in this conversation which will go towards informing the HRPR's next strategy.

As a VC Partner attending my first HRPR meeting, a few reflections stood out as likely contributors to Hamilton's past successes and as influencers for its future success:

  •  Everybody had a place at the table. Even if it was someone’s first time at a roundtable meeting, their input was, desired, accepted and welcomed. A real and palpable sense of respect for community members and community values underlies the work of the roundtable. Hamilton "walks the talk".
  • The diversity of voices gave richness to the conversation. We know that in order to understand the root causes of poverty and levers for change, we need to understand who and what interacts to form the system in which poverty exists.  Individuals with various perspectives who are working in different parts of the system bring new breadth and meaning to the conversation about ending poverty. The range of voices involved with the HRPR is incredible and certainly informs how they work to leverage change.
  • There was space to celebrate success. So often we forget to acknowledge our successes because we’re so intent on diving into our next intervention but it’s truly a great way to engage and energize people. We must remember to take the time to celebrate what we’ve done well! Kudos to the HRPR for recognizing all the hard work that has gotten them to this point in their journey.
  • Our dialogue questions were underpinned by clear goals. Our dialogue was connected to a common agenda – HRPR’s priority areas and its north star - to make Hamilton the best place to raise a child. Group facilitators also helped to guide the conversation. When you know where you're going, it's a lot easier to get there.
  • People have the energy to push ahead. The energy in the room was tangible and it’s clear that the members of the HRPR are passionate and ready to tackle the road ahead.  I spoke with one staff person at the end of the session who told me she was reluctant to go on vacation because she loves it so much and can’t bear to be away from it. Now, that’s the type of energy that fuels community change!

In the Cities Reducing Poverty movement we’ve long recognized the HRPR for its bold leadership and willingness to push the political envelope. With fertile ground already set for the next decade of work, I have no doubt we’ll continue to see great things come out of Hamilton.

Thanks again to Tom, Jen and Celeste for allowing me to join you and the numerous other members of the HRPR for this momentus occasion!

·       > Visit the HRPR website

·        > Follow HRPR on Twitter

·        > Contact the HRPR