Champions and Challenges: Rural poverty hits women, seniors hardest

Kirk Starratt
Published on January 22, 2013

By Kirk Starratt

Seniors see their homes as their independence and they don’t want to leave them.

This is one point that’s been highlighted in a position paper on rural poverty, developed by the Annapolis Valley Poverty Coalition.

The paper makes a distinction between rural and urban poverty and recommends ways for various levels of government to help address rural poverty. There are many benefits to living in a rural setting - but there are challenges as well.

Wendy Knowlton, who presented a summary of the findings to Kings County councillors on Jan. 15, said residents in the most rural areas tend to have the worst health, and this is particularly true for women. The centralization of services is a fact in Nova Scotia.

“It makes sense financially, but doesn’t translate well to day-to-day living,” Knowlton said.

Rural Nova Scotians face higher costs of home repairs, inferior housing stock and a lack of housing options. The Valley is second only to Halifax for the number of people visiting food banks. Transportation accounts for a larger proportion of spending for rural households.

Knowlton said it would be helpful to expand the definition of what homelessness means.

“We may not have people living on the streets in rural Nova Scotia, but we certainly have homelessness,” she said.

There seems to be a lot of policy developed in Halifax that doesn’t translate well to a rural setting. Knowlton said some initiatives have been successful in addressing rural poverty issues. For example, the Housing First Association in Kings has a lot of promise.

“The ones that really seem to succeed are the ones that start at the grass roots,” she said.

Although a number of rural poverty issues particularly affect seniors and women, out-migration of youth from rural areas is also devastating. Rural youth are 30 per cent more likely to leave their home community than urban youth, as they fail to see any potential there. Rural youth are less likely to invest in post secondary education.

The County of Kings will collaborate with the Annapolis Valley Poverty Coalition to come up with a resolution to take to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. The resolution will address the need for separate policies to address the unique characteristics of rural poverty. Council will approve the resolution before it’s submitted to the union’s resolutions committee.

Chief administrative officer Bob Ashley said rural poverty is an unfortunate reality across the province and he’d be happy to work with the coalition to draft a “powerful resolution.”

“The issues raised fall into the policy realm of the provincial government,” Ashley said. “This should be particularly relevant to the (Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities) rural caucus.”

Coun. Patricia Bishop said Kings County is experiencing great challenges with people not being able to get to work.

“Helping people get to work in rural Nova Scotia would be a start for me,” Bishop said.

Coun. Wayne Atwater said many people don’t have vehicles or even a way to get to the Kings Transit bus route. He has a friend who wants to start a business motorizing bicycles and Atwater believes this has potential to address some of the problems surrounding transportation in rural Kings.