'We are Community': CERi Partners with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

August 18, 2020

In January, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition became a partner of CERi’s Community-Engaged Research Pilot Project, which aims to support meaningful research rooted in community-engaged practices, for their research project titled Getting Around to Feed Ourselves Well: Exploring the Intersection of Access to Transit and Food Security in Vancouver.

Getting Around to Feed Ourselves Well is a project housed under the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition #AllOnBoard campaign. This campaign advocates for accessible, low-barrier and equitable transportation options for low-income, at-risk and marginalized communities. The project was initiated by the Coalition in collaboration with the City of Vancouver, Dr. Tammara Soma, Assistant Professor in the Department of Resource & Environmental Management at SFU, and Daniel Rajasooriar, SFU Master of Resource Management (Planning) student.

“Partnering with SFU is mutually beneficial,” says Viveca Ellis, Interim Community Organizer and Leadership Development Coordinator for the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. “It strengthens the connection of the research to community and strengthens the outcomes of our research through the academic partnership.”

The aim of Getting Around to Feed Ourselves Well is to map food service locations, income sources of those visiting them, primary forms of transportation and their accessibility and the short- and long-term implications of these challenges at charitable food service hubs through-out Vancouver and Metro Vancouver.

For low-income communities, there is a direct relationship between access to transit and access to food security in the City of Vancouver. “We’ve always heard a lot about how people struggle to access transit just to get the necessities of life,” says Ellis. “They have to ration tickets, or they have to jump the bus or they walk a really long way with their kids because they can’t get everybody on the bus or the SkyTrain.” This significantly impacts people’s ability to access available charitable food provisions.

In the current phase of the project, the research group is gathering information via online surveys. Initially, their plan was to conduct in-person surveys at charitable food service locations in the Metro Vancouver region, however COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a reconsideration of this approach. The pivot to digital platforms that took place enabled the researchers to disseminate the survey to a broader network of research participants.

Getting Around to Feed Ourselves Well has also adapted to include a discovery component focusing on the interplay between accessing food security and safe transit availability during a public health crisis. Following the onset of the pandemic, those lacking food security were in higher risk positions as charitable food locations faced temporary closures and transit frequency decreased.

“We need to look at long term investments,” says Ellis. “We need to invest to mitigate the vulnerability of all the people in poverty who are further at risk during a pandemic.”

An additional community-engaged research method that will be used in this project draws on participatory action research by using photo voice. Photo voice enables participants to reclaim their agency and creatively communicate their personal relationship with food security and the role transit accessible plays. Participants will be those in the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s Community Action Network, a leadership group comprising of people who all have lived and living experience of poverty.

Positioning community at the centre of this research cultivates leadership and translates into community members acting as the catalyst for social transformation.

“We will work to turn what [the community researchers] gather and communicate into an opportunity for them to pursue advocacy. That’s the participatory action research component. It’s leading to action determined by [the community], sourced by [the community] as a group,” stresses Ellis.

“We are not separating the research from the community empowerment, the community engagement and the action that community will take based on their experience with the research.”

Community holds unquestionable significance to this research and its findings. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition is rooted in community and driven by people impacted by poverty. This fundamentally defines the approach they take to policy advocacy.

“We are community,” says Ellis. “We strive for a mobilizing, organizing and empowerment approach in everything we do.”

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