Research, Reviews, & Updates

The ESPC provides research, reviews, and updates on a range of social issues

Women's Poverty and the Recession

Report by Monica Townson, 2009. Published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Available in the ESPC library.

The recession is on everyone’s mind these days. As stimulus packages are rolled out, governments aim to develop strategies for helping vulnerable groups within their communities. One thing we often forget, however, is that within every vulnerable population, women are hit harder than men.

This report highlights key issues related to women’s poverty while also discussing poverty in general. Townson asks whether stimulus programs incorporate prior anti-poverty strategies or place them on a backburner. She also points out that stimulus programs may actually increase the numbers of those living in poverty, especially women.

As an example of this, Townson points to the fact that our federal stimulus package does nothing to address problems with the current Employment Insurance program. The majority of the unemployed do not qualify for benefits, and women are more likely to be denied than men. Women are also more likely than men to supplement their Employment Insurance with additional earnings, to make ends meet.

Poverty among women has many faces—including the immigrant, aboriginal, lone-parent, senior, or disabled. It can leave women lacking key resources:

  • the income to participate fully in the social and political life of their community
  • affordable child care, which in turn limits their employment opportunities and other activities
  • the ability to save for retirement.

Women’s poverty results primarily from two things: how women are treated when they are employed, and the situation they find themselves in when they’re unemployed. Women earn an average of 65.7% of the wages their male counterparts do. In addition, women are more likely to find themselves in lower-paid positions or in non-standard work where benefits or job security are not available.

Most anti-poverty initiatives focus on specific programs that do not explicitly target women. For example, we have recognized that many children are poor because their parents are poor; we have implemented programs focused on child welfare, and we monitor these to see if they have had positive effects on the child. We forget, however, that poor children live in low-income families often headed by lone-parent women, and we don’t track whether these single mothers are benefiting equally from the programs. We focus on the “feel good” side of alleviating child poverty while forgetting that the poverty status of children hinges on their parents. In today’s world, according to Townson, “it has become more acceptable to talk about child poverty than women’s poverty”.

What’s the best solution? Townson provides key characteristics of effective strategies:

  • They must be comprehensive and integrated so that all members of a population will benefit.
  • They need to have clear and specific goals, targets, and timelines.
  • Progress must be measured regularly and reported on publicly.
  • The strategy must be transparent and publicly promoted
  • Strategies must be developed with the participation of stakeholders
  • Accountability must be built into the program.

Townson also suggests policies specifically related to women’s poverty, including changes to Canada’s EI system, increases in minimum wage, Guaranteed Income Supplements for single older women, and restoration of funding to child care programs. She also advocates for gender analysis of data gathered by program monitoring systems; women cannot be allowed to slip through the gap.

Read this report if you’re interested in anti-poverty, women’s issues, or child welfare.

Review by Jennifer Hoyer 

Creating Vibrant Communities

Book edited by Paul Born, Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement.  BPS Books, 2008.

The percentage of Canadians living on low incomes fell from 29 to 13 percent between 1961 and 1977, but has not substantially decreased in the last three decades.  At the core of the Vibrant Communities mindset is the realization that poverty reduction is the means to improve overall quality of life in a community. 

Rather than focusing on supports for those living in poverty, the founders envisioned communities in which it would be impossible for poverty to exist.  The basic themes of the Vibrant Communities approach are:

  • Poverty reduction

  • Comprehensive thinking and action

  • Multi-sector collaboration

  • Community asset building

  • Community learning and change (rather than short-term intervention)

Vibrant Communities began as Opportunities 2000 in Waterloo, Ontario.  As a four year initiative involving eighty-six community organizations in forty-seven poverty reduction projects, Opportunities 2000 ultimately helped 1600 families.  This book includes two background papers on the driving forces behind Vibrant Communities, as well as ten case studies of communities across Canada – including Edmonton - that have followed this path.

Vibrant Communities Edmonton has developed a strategy focused on three areas: workforce development, family economic support, and community investment.  The Job Bus was designed to provide transportation to work so that employees could find and keep jobs.  The Make Tax Time Pay campaign sought to make low-income families aware of services available from the Alberta Child Health Benefit.  The Home Program was created to help low-income individuals overcome the obstacles in their path to being homeowners.

The British Columbia Capital Region Quality of Life Challenge focuses on sustainable incomes, affordable housing, and community connections.  As part of the Employer Challenge, HR Options for Action educates employers about ways they can improve the lives of their low-income workers.  Mentors help those moving towards sustainable incomes make good choices through the Mentorship Challenge.  Collaboration between many organizations established the Regional Housing Trust Fund to address housing affordability and availability.

In the Niagara Region, Opportunities Niagara offers services such as brokering and coordination, social marketing, technical assistance and coaching, and improved access to resources, while facilitating collaboration between community organizations.  Target areas in this region include adequate employment, affordable housing, and accessible transportation.

In New Brunswick, Vibrant Communities St. John is examining low-income neighbourhoods and targeting the issues that make it difficult for residents of these areas to move out of poverty.  VCSJ has focused on children and youth, providing early childhood development opportunities for low-income families. Other targeted areas are education for employment, safe and affordable housing, and neighbourhood change.  VCSJ recently received five-year program funding from the municipal government for the neighbourhoods they have prioritized. 

Vivre Saint-Michel en Santé is focusing on social exclusion and poverty in this east-end Montréal neighbourhood.  They continue to work for more affordable housing and lobby for better access to services in the areas of culture, sports, recreation and commerce.  In collaboration with the Cirque du Soleil and the local school board a program for promoting arts and culture among youth has been established.  As part of an effort to train residents for employment in local businesses, a development worker is visiting local employers to match up needs with resources.

This book is useful for anyone interested in community development; those interested specifically in poverty reduction strategies; fans of Vibrant Communities Canada.  Visit tamarackcommunity[dot]ca or vibrantedmonton[dot]ca.  

Review by Jennifer Hoyer 

The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A Community Approach to Independent Living

Book by Charles Durrett, 2009

Reviewed in April 2009 Research Update & featured in Summer 2009 fACTivist newsletter

Senior cohousing is a model of independent-intradependent living that is vastly different from assisted living facilities and retirement communities, and distinct from communes and intentional communities. The cohousing model incorporates both private dwellings and common facilities, designed specifically for a community of residents – in this case, seniors – interested in building a supportive community together.

Now, I‘m only in my mid-20s, but this book actually made me want to move into a Senior Co-housing community! The book is full of interviews, pictures, design plans, and stories of suc-cessful (and a few unsuccessful) cohousing com-munities. What resonates most strongly is the contentment, satisfaction and fulfillment of actively participating in a community as an alterna-tive to our independent, and often isolated, family households.

Cohousing for seniors takes the uniqueness of aging into account. Some communities, for ex-ample, incorporate an extra suite for a full-time caregiver to occupy, should one of the residents find themselves in need of that type of support. Mutual care and support seem to be the norm in the communities profiled in this book. As one resident explained, "In the house where I‘m living now, if I fall off a ladder, who‘s going to know? In cohousing, even if you‘re in your own house, you‘re going to know if you don‘t see somebody". Senior cohousing provides community supports in many different forms, such as shared meals, community activities and events, easy opportunities to informally visit and socialize, and the opportunity to help one another with chores and errands. The model provides the peace of mind of knowing that there is always somebody that you know and trust if you really need help, and because all community members will be in need of some supports at some point, providing care or help is not viewed as burdensome, but rather as a form of insurance.

These social features seem to be what make the cohousing model stand out from other models. In many of the examples, a group of potential community members engaged in a long process of visioning, designing, and building their community. Community principles, obligations, decision-making processes, and conflict resolution are discussed and agreed upon at the outset, meaning that residents come to cohousing with a commitment to one another, and an idea of the shared values of the community. Participating in the design process means that the community can be structured both to fit and to be flexible. Some communities have prioritized features like easy access to shopping and services, accessible floor plans and elevators, extra-quiet individual units, and energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. Communities can include both higher and lower income seniors, and the vast majority of cohousing communities are financially self-sustaining.

This book does a great job of illustrating the potential of the senior cohousing concept. It gives examples of what has worked and what has failed, and provides resources and answers questions for people looking to start or to join a senior cohousing community. The handbook contains examples from Denmark, the USA, and around the world. In addition to looking at some of the advantages and risks, the handbook answers common questions regarding the physical design, the social design, financial considerations, the planning process, and the day-to-day life in a cohousing community.


Canadian Co-Housing Communities

Here is a sample of a few of the co-housing communities across Canada:

  • Prairie Sky Cohousing Cooperative (Calgary)
    Alberta’s first cohousing community, based on the principles of caring, respect, and sustainability.

  • Saskatoon Cohousing Group (Saskatoon)
    Newly forming seniors cohousing development of 20-24 homes to be located near downtown.

  • Cranberry Commons Cohousing (Burnaby, BC)
    A closely knit community of families, singles, and seniors with individual homes and extensive shared facilities.

  • WindSong  (Langley, BC)
    An environmental award winning development with 34 family homes, community gardens, greenspace and common space on 6 acres of land.

  • Northern Sun Farm Co-op (Sarto, MB)
    A rural intentional community with a focus on alternative energy, appropriate technology, simple lifestyles and self-reliance.

For more information, check out


Immigrant youth and crime: stakeholder perspectives on risk and protective factors

Report by Marian J. Rossiter and Katherine R. Rossiter, 2009. Prairie Metropolis Centre.

Did you know?

  • 46 to 74 percent of immigrant youth whose first language is not English fail to finish high school.
  • Immigrant youth are recruited into gangs and illegal activity as early as the age of 10, and continuing to the ages of 18-20.
  • Immigrant and refugee youth are not perceived to be in conflict with the law more than their Canadian peers, but they are more vulnerable to gang recruitment.

If the basic needs of immigrant youth are not met they will seek alternative means, which may lead to involvement in organized crime. This report examines key factors at play in the lives of immigrant youths who become involved in crime, gangs, and violence in Edmonton.

Prime risk factors identified are:

  • Family – poverty, lack of healthy family relationships, mental and physical health
  • Individual – pre-immigration violence, addiction, health issues
  • Peer – social exclusion, discrimination, inter-ethnic conflict
  • School – lack of ESL and curriculum adaptation; bullying; interrupted formal education
  • Community – lack of role models and leadership opportunities within their ethno-cultural community; lack of safe and affordable housing

Many of these risk factors will compound on each other to create extremely volatile situations.

4 major policy recommendations are made by the authors:

  • Enhance integration by providing adequate funding for settlement, mental health, and multicultural services to facilitate adaptation.
  • Government must ensure that the socioeconomic circumstances of immigrant families allow them to meet their basic needs. Programs for safe housing and appropriate employment are necessary.
  • Communities must have comprehensive support networks for immigrant youth and their families in place to provide youth with information about social and health services, education, employment, and other resources.
  • Schools are in an ideal place to meet the needs of immigrant youth. A process of needs and risk assessment should be set up, followed by adequate ESL support and necessary curriculum adaptation. Culturally and ethnically diverse staff populations are in a position to act as role models. Zero-tolerance methods for dealing with bullying and other transgressions should be replaced with restorative measures. Immigrant students should be supplied with career counselling, goal-setting guidance, after-school programs aimed at helping them adapt and integrate, and funding for further education.

Coordination between multiple levels of government and diverse sectors of the community is essential for reducing the risk of immigrant youth becoming involved in criminal activity.

This paper is useful for anyone working with immigrants or at-risk youth; educators.

Review by Jennifer Hoyer  

Cracks in the Pavement: Social Change and Resilience in Poor Neighbourhoods

Book by Martin Sanchez-Jankowski, 2008

Reviewed by Cheryl Melney in April 2009 Research Update

Martin Sanchez-Jankowski, the author of Cracks in the Pavement, took a very serious approach in his research of poor neighborhoods. He spent nine years immersed in fieldwork, where he studied five different poor neighborhoods, three in New York (the Bronx and Brooklyn, not NYC), and two in Los Angeles. He stayed with families who live in crowded social housing, and he spent his days interacting with people in a number of different social settings. 

In Cracks in the Pavement, Sanchez-Jankowski focuses specifically on five different social institutions in poor neighborhoods, these being:

  • Social housing complexes;
  • ‘Mom and Pop’ grocery stores;
  • Barber shops and Hair Salons;
  • Gangs; and
  • Schools

Sanchez-Jankowski’s work clarifies many misconceptions about the poor that previous researchers have made, such as the assumption that poor neighborhoods are naturally disorganized. He points out that many poor neighborhoods are in fact quite organized and have social rules and accepted behaviors that are generally understood within the neighborhood. He also points out how adaptable poor neighborhoods are to the many outside forces that affect them.
What is most interesting about this book is that Sanchez- Jankowski is able to immerse the reader into the neighborhoods he studies. There are many anecdotes and quotes from the residents, which help you “get to know” the people in this book, and give a sliver of understanding about their lives. This book is also very respectfully written. Sanchez-Jankowski himself grew up in a poor neighborhood, so he is better able to understand how to interact with people appropriately. 

This book also explores power relations amongst social institutions and in the neighborhoods. For example, in one community, the housing board who runs the social housing sometimes allow people into the housing complex that do not actually qualify, such as new immigrants, because they are considered likely to pay their rents. This choice not only excludes people who actually do qualify for housing, in one neighborhood it also created conflict between recent Mexican immigrants and Mexican families who were born in the United States.

Cracks in the Pavement is interesting from a social policy perspective in that it helps us better understand how various policies can affect the delicate makeup of poor neighborhoods. This book is written about American neighborhoods, so of course some the issues are not applicable in Canada. However, the characteristics of resilience and creativity cross over to all people who have had to survive in economic hardship and deprivation, and this book really gave me a sense of admiration for the people whose lives it depicts.