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What makes an inclusive community?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Published in the Centretown Buzz on June 23, 2017.

by Koreen Fahey from the Centretown Community Health Centre

Recent incidents in Centretown of vandalism targeting the Islamic Care Centre, street violence against the homeless, a recent news article highlighting the struggles of homeless individuals on Bank Street and the death of a young community member lead one to reflect on the broader issue of what makes a supportive and inclusive neighbourhood, especially in a busy urban community.

And also on what strategies can be, and are, employed to permit all residents to live in peace and harmony.

An inclusive community first aims to eliminate discrimination. It is one that actively seeks respect for all its citizens, values diversity, ensures equitable access to resources and opportunities, and engages its citizens in decision-making processes that impact their lives. It is also one where residents are interconnected and have a strong sense of belonging to their community – where people feel they fit in and feel welcome.

Socioeconomic and environmental conditions such as poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable and safe housing and homelessness negatively affect the health and well-being of many Centretown residents.

Some have limited social connections – especially isolated seniors and newcomers – and may experience racism, or live with complex and chronic physical or mental health conditions.

When people are in crisis, their behaviour can lead to a perceived or actual threat to personal or community safety and a sense of helplessness to do anything that can make a difference. Some members of the community may opt to disengage or call for an increased police presence, which may lead to criminalization and further marginalization of already vulnerable groups.

There is growing evidence that a sense of belonging to one’s community, where activities of daily living occur, is associated with better physical and mental health, employment and educational outcomes.

At a community level, a sense of belonging can increase safety, engagement and collective resilience. Knowing that, what can we do to create a supportive and inclusive community?

The Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC) is delivering part of the solution by enacting its vision of a healthy, caring, inclusive community and actively engaging people to improve the health and well-being of community members.

As a key Centretown community member, CCHC advocates for the community and, most importantly, works in partnership with residents, community citizens’ associations and groups, government, and service providers to achieve results.

Some of our current initiatives include: rooming house advocacy in partnership with Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC); facilitation of a Neighbourhood Planning Table with the aim of creating a strong network of partners (health and social service providers, local businesses, law enforcement services, etc.) that supports residents to build healthier communities; supporting community engagement initiatives like the Dundonald Park Working Group to advocate for accessible public toilets (e.g., the GottaGo! Campaign); access to community showers; outreach clinics for medical care, social services drop in, crisis intervention, system navigation and harm reduction supplies.

“It takes a village to raise a child” – African proverb

When creating a supportive and inclusive community, our “village” has never been more necessary than it is today. Fostering inclusion is a shared responsibility.

Inclusive communities enhance safety and well-being of all citizens without alienating the vulnerable. As citizens of the village, we all have a part to play in ensuring no one is discriminated against or marginalized.

It starts with empathy and humility towards others. Make time to get to know your neighbours and look at life through their paradigm. Be aware of and effectively manage your own biases to help level the playing field for others. Take a strong stance against all forms of discrimination to cultivate an environment of acceptance and foster inclusion.

To learn more about our programs, please contact CCHC @ 613-233-4443 or SWCHC @ 613-238-8210.

This column is a collaboration between the Centretown Community Health Centre and Somerset West Community Health Centre. We are local non-profit, community-government organizations that provide health and social services to the residents of Centretown and the Somerset Ward. We believe everyone matters and everyone contributes to a healthy community.