A study of change in one of Halton’s municipalities, Oakville: A Community in Transition, contributes to our reflection and understanding of the complex times in which we live. I believe the concerns raised in this study transcend municipal boundaries and challenge us to reformulate how we think about a number of issues: human needs, citizen participation, community leadership, education and awareness, research and development, governance, voluntarism, and pressures on the not-for-profit sector such as adequate funding, commercialization of services and sustainability. For this reason, Community Dispatch presents the salient findings and conclusions of this community-based research. They challenge us to reflect on our work and the paths we take. Oakville: A Community in Transition grew out of a partnership between the United Way of Oakville and the Council and involved many individuals throughout the Oakville community: representatives of social agencies and business and cultural groups, government officials and community members.
We are living in times of great change. More and more is being asked from not-for-profit organizations that provide human services, while the stable funding base of those same agencies dwindles year after year. New social issues and community needs continue to emerge, calling for a response. What are they? What are their root causes? How and where should they be addressed?
Oakville: An Audit of a Community in Transition is an effort to understand and respond to “this time of great change”, based on the ideas, concerns, questions, thoughts and experiences of individuals who live in Oakville, those of organizations that serve its residents and also on 1996 Census information in the following areas:
- demographic characteristics
- household and family characteristics
- socio-economic characteristics
Some highlights of Census information captured in the report are shared below. Each of these demographic trends inform program development and social investment.
- The 65+ age group has increased from 8% of the population in 1986 to 10% of the population in 1996
- Female lone-parent families increased in size by 40%, constituting 12% of all families with children in 1996, an increase of 2% from 1991
- An increase in population of different ethnic groups has occurred between 1991 and 1996. Groups that show increases include Chinese, Polish, Italian, East Indian and Portuguese
- Oakville has a visible minority community of which the largest visible minority groupings are South Asian, Chinese and Black
- There has been a dramatic increase from 27% in 1991 to 72% of renters and respectively 18% to 23% of home owners who are paying more than 30% of their household income on shelter costs
- One in four youth (defined by the Census as 15-24) are not attending school
- There has been an increase of 61% in the number of poor families between 1991 and 1996. This figure is well above the rate of population growth. As well, the number of low-income unattached individuals increased by 11% between 1991 and 1996
- The unemployment rate in Oakville is 5.6%, the same as Halton’s and lower than the 9.1% for Ontario. However, youth unemployment is 14%, an increase of over 4% from 1991.
Through interviews with key informants, United Way funded agencies, as well as questionnaires sent to other community organizations, businesses and citizens, respondents fear services will not be able to keep up with these changes, and worry about the health and well-being of those individuals without financial means. Population growth, population aging, housing costs, public transit, and recreational opportunities are also highlighted as concerns. While there is general satisfaction with the performance of local government, concern about future economic development is identified. Respondents affirm the ongoing need to develop local business opportunities so that Oakville will not be dependent on one industry, nor on its status as a commuter community of Toronto. Environmental issues such as air and water quality are also very important to respondents who are virtually unanimous in identifying these as critical and continuing concerns
Two critical service gaps identified by respondents are:
- Services for youth
- Services and issues associated with a multicultural community
Respondents also emphasize a number of areas of concern that they believe are in danger of being pushed off the public agenda. They deserve special consideration.
- Affordable Housing
- Emergency Services
- Services to an Aging Population
- Deterioration of Hospital and Health Services
In the voices of the people who live and work in Oakville, we discern the following:
- A perception that an immense void exists in vision and leadership, a void which by its presence creates problems, but which also provides space to design creative and viable solutions to the present human service problems in our community.
- A perception that the activity of the United Way and other human service agencies should exist within a framework of sustainable social development. In other words, the activities of agencies are far more than projects or ‘units of service’.
- A perception that people should be active participants in the development of their community.
- A perception that a shared, sustainable social development framework emphasizes the importance of empowering social actors (leaders), the role of social participation, and the role of local communities in the development of a truly civil society. Such a framework supports a participatory and democratic culture.
- A perception that the presence of visionary leadership that supports social solidarity is an important factor in the development of a healthy community. Without leadership and vision, people find it difficult to respond to needs in the community beyond their own or those of their immediate families.
- A perception of the need for critical reflection on the problems facing the community and on the urgent need to develop new forms of social, economic, and political practice.
- A perception that we must find new ways to pursue and share knowledge, in order to create critical awareness throughout the community. New methods of ensuring and encouraging involvement in participatory research and equally, developing greater variety in the ways that knowledge is shared and communicated, are needed.
- A perception that public discourse is full of euphemisms and worse, doublespeak, where words no longer fit with the facts, or become so bloated or vague or ambiguous that they are deprived of meaning. In such a situation, people cease to understand or come to understand all too well and cease to believe and, as a consequence, become cynical or impotent, perplexed individuals.
- A perception that we live and work in a way that ignores the growing complexity of and interdependence of issues in the society in which we are immersed. This oversight leads to false debates and the false identification of problems. Solutions are too often designed without understanding or addressing the root causes of the problems they seek to alleviate, or their relationship to one another. The perception exists that government, funders and agencies arrogantly develop programs for people before we know what people need and want – and what will work for them!
- A perception that the complexity of reality challenges us to adopt new understandings based on transdisciplinary approaches. Support for this reorientation comes from the fact that analyzing a specific problem requires looking at a web of complex issues that cannot be separated easily and cannot often be resolved through the application of conventional policies or procedures founded in traditional disciplines and/or sectors.
- A perception that human need is not constantly changing. What changes is the particular form or shape those needs may assume in a given community, culture, environment or historical period, as well as the way those needs are satisfied – which again will vary according to community, culture, environment, and historical period. This belief, expressed over and over again by respondents, is of enormous importance for the human services. It clearly implies that our concerns should be focussed not on naming the needs but on finding the current and appropriate way to meet them.
- A perception of the interrelatedness of social problems such that we can only conclude that all human needs are interrelated and interactive.
- A perception that needs are satisfied within three contexts: i) with regard to oneself ii) with regard to the social group iii) with regard to the environment.
- A perception that we must reinterpret and greatly expand the concept of poverty. The traditional concept of poverty is limited and restricted, referring exclusively to the situation of people whose income falls below a certain threshold. The voices of Oakville workers and residents remind us that people in this situation do live in poverty in Oakville. Beyond this, their descriptions of difficulties and, especially, their fears about the future give shape to very different forms of poverty – of deprivation. When real, basic human needs are not adequately satisfied, there is poverty. Poverty of subsistence exists when people have insufficient income, food, and shelter. Poverty of protection occurs when violence is a threat or the health system deteriorates to a point where it can hurt as often as it helps. Poverty of understanding is due to poor quality of education or lack of information; poverty of participation is founded in the marginalization of and discrimination against women, children, and minorities. There are in fact many poverties. Each form of poverty generates pathologies – literally “disease” of one kind or another.
- A perception that we are obsessed with form, allowing us to conceal our unconscious fear about the uncertainties underlying the problems. Law is confused with justice, and regulations with efficiency. Generosity is confused with charity and participation with favouritism. Echoes of this are heard often in the voices of respondents.
- A perception that we live in a period of transition which means that paradigm shifts are not only necessary but also indispensable.
- A perception that we must learn to respect diversity in our community whether it be differences between people or differences in ideas. The coexistence and celebration of many differences enrich us. ï¿½ A perception that a critical and vigorous review of the concepts of efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability – terms cloaked in self-righteousness and masked by ambiguity – is necessary.
- A perception that the connection between stable funding of the infrastructure of human services and their ability to serve the community fully and appropriately is still poorly understood by those who do not have to try and provide those services. A kind of magical thinking persists, imagining that everything can be done with nothing. This thinking is tied to vague, ambiguous, and often misleading, feel-good statements about the importance of community and voluntary action.
- A perception the neither conventional nor non-conventional resources have been mobilized to support sustainable social development. In terms of traditional resourcing, the ability of human service agencies is directly related to the presence of stable, ongoing, core funding. Programs require appropriate levels of funds if implementation is to proceed successfully. There is a perception that in the conventional funding system monetary and financial reforms are needed to allow public and private resources to relate better to local needs and to the disadvantaged. The role of government as an allocator of resources to favour equitable and sustainable development is reaffirmed.
- A perception that true voluntary action (as opposed to merely unpaid work) as a form of community development fosters creativity, mobilizes social capital and energy, preserves communal identity, deploys solidarity and utilizes organizational experience and popular knowledge for the satisfaction of individual and collective needs.
The understanding of these perceptions in all sectors of the Oakville community is one of the challenges of building a healthy Oakville. As daunting as the task may seem, action is already underway in the community toward this end, and much more that should be supported.
Oakville: An Audit of a Community in Transition
Produced by the Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail: email@example.com