People and programs 02/13/2014

Joe Cowen, a long-time resident of Perth, has been an advocate in The Table's Peer Advocacy Office for the past year. In that role, he helps fellow community members access the resources and supports they need. "As an advocate the issues we see most around Perth are obviously linked to poverty. We see a lot of people unable to afford or find a place to live. People seeking help with access to basic health care, such as emergency dental work, and also with landlord and tenant issues. Transportation issues related to getting to job interviews and doctor appointments. And people simply alone and lonely and needing a friendly face and some support without being made to feel inadequate or like they are seeking some charitable handout ... I try to help people learn to navigate the system and find the resources they need, or simply to be the reason someone smiles in a day and feels a renewed sense of hope and feeling understood." He adds: "Empowering people leaves me feeling at the end of the day that my day was worth something."

Joe and other advocates see the power food has as an organizing tool — how food can connect individuals in ways that reduce the stigma often felt by people living in poverty, and allow them to identify and work to address systemic issues that affect their lives. The Advocacy Office is open four days a week, and advocates also do outreach during meals, chatting with community members at the table. Advocates also participate in The Table's community action work and Social Justice Group. Together, they organize activities for Hunger Awareness Week, work closely with provincial group Put Food in the Budget, organize free screenings of relevant films and documentaries, and are collaborate with other groups and social services to advocate on issues that matter to the community. All the while, they're working to build community consensus that everyone should have access to good food and other necessities for a healthy and dignified life. 

Related links

+ Read an op-ed in the Perth Courier featuring Joe and other advocates on re-thinking the food bank, and read The Table's response