By Stephen Petrick
New data showing high poverty and unemployment rates, amid a population growth and a housing crunch, shed light on the steep challenges Haliburton County will face as it embarks on a plan to address homelessness, poverty, mental health issues and health care access.
A trove of statistics were unveiled at a special meeting of Haliburton County council on Jan. 26 to discuss the county’s progress on a community safety and well-being plan.
The report, delivered by Lauren Wyman of StrategyCorp, a firm hired to gather data and speak to groups about the plan, showed several concerning trends.
Among the notable statistics unveiled was that the unemployment rate in the county has fluctuated around two points above the provincial average of 7.4 per cent, at 9.6 per cent. Also Haliburton County has a child poverty rate of 23 per cent and an overall poverty rate of 17.2 per cent.
“The persisting poverty rates in the county are attributed in part to low, non-living wage incomes, low-paying seasonal work and to the high number of pensioners,” the report said.
Also, “in 2019, 13.5 per cent of households in Haliburton County and Kawartha Lakes faced food access challenges (e.g. not having enough to eat, limited access to quality foods, or worries about having enough to eat) due to financial challenges.”
On education, the report noted that 16.1 per cent of county residents do not have a high school diploma. And the rate of those aged 25 to 64 with post-secondary education is 55.6 per cent, down from the provincial rate of 67 per cent.
The report noted that Haliburton County, between 2011 and 2016, experienced a population growth rate of 5.9 per cent, a rate above the provincial average of 4.6 per cent.
This growth adds to housing challenges. The report said, “Housing stock is significantly low in the county, posing challenges for residents across income levels. There is a general lack of housing available across the continuum. 98.5 per cent of residents in the county reside in homes that are considered suitable – meaning that there are enough bedrooms for each dweller. While housing conditions may be considered suitable in terms of size, anecdotal evidence from service providers indicates that housing conditions, regardless of size, may be substandard.”
On crime, the report said, “between 2018 and 2020, violation against person crimes decreased by seven per cent from 150 to 140; whereas violation of property crimes increased by 11 per cent from 270 to 303 incidents. From 2017-2020 there was a slight uptick in 911 calls related to social disorder (e.g., domestic disputes, unwanted persons, keep the peace, and trespassing) There was a single reported hate crime in the county in 2020.”
The report was delivered to set in motion a plan to have groups work together to address these issues.
Strategy Corp proposed 12 goals for the county to adopt. They were to:
align policy priorities across existing programs,
develop wraparound support for community members struggling to access housing,
continue to support service provider collaboration and information sharing,
elevate existing service integration and information sharing efforts to alleviate poverty.
identify innovative opportunities to address food insecurity,
increase access to, and awareness of, mental health and addiction support services,
co-design and develop experience-based mental health and addiction and substance use support services and programs,
improve education, awareness, and information sharing on substance use and addiction, harm reduction, and mental health,
increase awareness on the importance of physical movement and increase access to active transportation as a central mode of mobility,
develop a Health Equity Working Group to support equal access to health across priority groups such as low-income, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and seniors,
and enhance and expand service scope of virtual care for health and mental health.
Haliburton County councillors voted to receive the report. A second resolution that passed directed county staff to distribute the report to the four local municipalities and ask for their endorsement of a seven-member board that will begin working to address these issues.
Earlier in the presentation Wyman said that a key part of the process moving forward is to have different agencies that work on these issues communicate with each other and share ideas.
“One of the greatest values of this plan is its ability to break down silos, share data, create change … to develop a plan that effectively supports this community,” she said. “It opens up the conversation between service providers where those conversations don’t always exist.”