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Archive for September, 2011

Make poverty an election issue: CDC

BELLEVILLE – Anti-poverty might be an occasional political football, but a Belleville organization is hoping to make it an issue of Grey Cup significance.

A Poverty Free Ontario event, staged by the Community Development Council of Quinte, was the first in a number of upcoming events aimed at pushing poverty concerns to the top of the political agenda for the upcoming provincial election.

Organizers said they were pleased with public support at the gathering, which featured testimonials from residents about their battle with poverty.

The meeting culminated with a keynote speech from by Marvyn Novick, an activist with the Social Planning Network of Ontario, the group behind the Poverty Free Ontario campaign.

“I’m encouraged that there are people here who are committed to working on poverty and believe that we can do something serious about it,” he said.

He said the objective is to ensure that provincial political parties move to address poverty eradication with tangible solutions.

Alexandra Bell, 26, talked about her experience with poverty, which was born out of mounting student debt. Bell recalls going through a cycle of poverty that subjected her to a transient lifestyle. The Belleville resident said the public has the misconception that someone living in poverty can be easily identified.

“I don’t represent the usual face of poverty,” she said.

Bell went from university student to barely making ends meet with the support she received from social assistance. She now has a full-time job, but has to support her household with one income because her partner is currently unemployed.

“The working and invisible poor are very real and we’re in the community,” she said. “With the provincial election coming, now is the time when poverty issues can come to the forefront.”

Ruth Ingersoll, from the CDC, said the next event will be the Sept. 15 showing of a documentary film, Poor No More, at the Empire Theatre and a tentative all candidates meeting for Sept. 21.

She said the campaign will feature a Poverty Free Ontario sign blitz along with the distribution of poverty related information during the campaign.

“Once people have all this knowledge they can go and push the candidates to make changes,” she said.

David Langille, professor at York University, is the executive producer of Poor No More and founding director of the Centre for Social Justice. He will host a panel discussion after the 7 p.m. screening of the film at the Empire Theatre.

The panel will also feature local social welfare officials and admission is “pay what you can” with a suggested $10. Net proceeds will go to Bridging the Gap for Kids.

The Poor No More documentary, hosted by Canadian television and film star Mary Walsh, offers an engaging look at Canadians stuck in low-paying jobs with no security and no future. Walsh heads to Ireland and Sweden to see how those countries have tackled poverty while strengthening their economies.



PFO Bulletin #6: Getting Poverty Eradication on the Provincial Election Agenda

Poverty Free Ontario is an initiative of the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO).  The objectives of Poverty Free Ontario are:

  1. To make ending poverty a public issue in the 2011 provincial election;
  2. To urge that all political parties commit to a poverty eradication agenda if elected; and
  3. To ensure that all electoral candidates have poverty eradication as part of their platforms and campaigns.

Poverty Free Ontario is a non-partisan initiative. Although the election campaign is only a day old, none of the political parties and very few of the electoral candidates running under party banners have given any indication that a commitment to ending poverty within a reasonable timeframe and with a clear and serious plan is a priority issue in this election. None of the published party platforms give any prominence at all to poverty or its elimination.

While Poverty Free Ontario and the SPNO do not endorse or encourage that Ontarians vote for any particular party or candidates, we do urge Ontarians to question all electoral candidates on their commitment to ending poverty and to make their own individual choices about which candidates and political parties they believe will act to end poverty in this province.

That is why the Poverty Free Ontario campaign is getting its message – “Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario” – up in signs posted on the properties of supportive individuals and organizations in 16 communities across the province.  The faith community, recognizing the moral and ethical issues of letting 1,689,000 Ontarians live in poverty, is taking some leadership in getting this message in front of the public in many of these communities: www.faithtoendpoverty.ca.

Elections are critical times for citizens to exercise the democratic option of choosing who will govern them. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the democratic process of debate, discussion and voting. SPNO, a non-profit network of 20 community-based social and community development councils across Ontario, is proud to participate in this democratic process in a non-partisan way through the Poverty Free Ontario initiative.

For further information contact:

Peter Clutterbuck, SPNO Coordinator
(416) 653-7947   cell (416) 738-3228
Web site: www.povertyfreeontario.ca

Support growing for Faith to End Poverty

WELLAND — Do you want to help make poverty a high-profile issue in the Oct. 6 provincial election? If so, sign on to a campaign being launched next week.

Two groups, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC) and Poverty Free Ontario, are the movers behind a poverty-free Ontario campaign, Faith to End Poverty, that is attracting considerable support in communities across the province.

Its rallying cry, Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario, is the message on signs that will start springing up on lawn signs starting Thursday, Sept. 15.

Rev. Jim Mulligan, pastor of St. Kevin’s parish, Welland, said the initiative does not target one political party over another. He describes it as “non-partisan” because all three parties in the legislature and their leaders supported the Poverty Reduction Act, whose intent was to make Ontario poverty free.

St. Kevin’s, 303 Niagara St., is one of two sites in Welland riding that will be distributing the campaign signs next week. The other is Bridges Community Health Centre,177 King St., Port Colborne.

The Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario signs, as well as campaign buttons, will be available at both locations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A sign campaign, it is hoped, will help make poverty a more visible issue during the campaign, Mulligan said in an interview.

But its organizers also want supporters to “grill” candidates who come to their doorsteps and in other face-to-face opportunities about their and their party’s views and plans for ending poverty in Ontario, Mulligan said.

Mulligan knows first hand the toll poverty is taking on people in the Welland area. His parish has a food bank that is struggling with an increased caseload and growing demand on its resources. His parishioners are generous in their support, he said, but it is becoming the norm to issue special requests for various non-perishable foods because supplies run out quickly.

In tandem with the sign campaign, a prayer vigil, ecumenical in nature, is being held at St. Kevin’s Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Mulligan said Bishop Gerard Bergie of St. Catharines diocese will preside at the service, with Rev. Chris Fickling of Central United Church, Welland, sharing a homily reflection. Fickling, a member of The Tribune’s community editorial board, authored an eloquent column with poverty as its theme, This is what poverty felt like (July 7). Mulligan said Fickling’s homily is sure to be “moving and challenging.”

Lori Kleinsmith of Bridges Community Health Centre said that while there are many important issues in the provincial campaign, “one that is of urgent concern is poverty.”

She said 1.7 million people in Ontario live in poverty.

“Only a few years ago, many of these people never imagined that they would be unemployed, losing their homes, applying for social assistance and visiting food banks. Our shrinking social safety net, along with the recession, has created many poverty traps,” she said.

Media conferences will be held simultaneously in many communities across Ontario the morning of Sept. 15 to launch the election-style sign blitz.

By JOE BARKOVICH/Tribune Staff


Moving poverty debate to the front burner

WELLAND – Where is poverty in the provincial election campaign which gets underway officially today?

Health care, education, green energy and the economy rank as top issues for voters, according to news stories and polls.

While poverty is becoming higher profile these days, it still may not be a top issue in the minds of many Ontarians.

A concerted effort is being made during the campaign to move poverty from the back burner to the front for more people.

Front-line workers and volunteers already know that is where it should be.

Others may still be in need of convincing.

The initiative is being led by two groups: Poverty Free Ontario and the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC).

It is making headway in the province with faith communities and social justice groups in more than 20 communities already on board.

In Ontario, 1.7 million people live in poverty, the highest poverty rate in the past 30 years.

Statistics tell the story of poverty in our province and it is not a pretty picture:

Ontario’s poverty rate is rising sharply. As evidenced by more than 400,000 people using food banks last year, up 28% from the 2008 total, 314,250;

At the current minimum wage in Ontario, a person working full-year, full-time earns $1,064 below the poverty line;

One-third of all children living in poverty in Canada in 2008 were in families with a parent working full-year, full-time;

In Canada 50% of people living in poverty have some post-secondary education and 45% of the unemployed had a post-secondary education or degree.

I am not making up the numbers, they are provided by Poverty Free Ontario and are based on responsible research.

In addition, other reliable resources about poverty in Ontario and Canada are available and worthy of study. Three of the many include: Persistent Poverty, voices from the margins (the most recent book from ISARC, available at Welland library); Hunger Count 2010, a comprehensive report on hunger and food bank use in Canada with recommendations for change, from Food Banks Canada; and Fighting Hunger — Who’s Hungry? by the Daily Bread Food Bank. Both are available on the agencies’ websites on the Internet.

Though it was released four years ago, A Legacy of Poverty? Addressing Cycles of Poverty and the Impact of Poverty on Child Health in the Niagara Region provided startling, eye-opening statistics about poverty’s inroads in the region.

If anything, some of the findings and statistics in that study are probably worse today.

We need to be bothered by what is going on in Ontario — not just in big places like Toronto, but right here in our own backyard.

There are too many stories about how local agencies are struggling, groaning, under the workload and weight of poverty-related problems.

Some questions, offered here as food for thought:

Why do so many schools have breakfast programs to help children who come to school hungry or lacking proper nutrition get through the morning?

Why are food banks — our emergency food providers — continually searching for new ways to raise food to help fill their shelves? Why has their plight of more demand and fewer resources become a refrain with which we are too familiar?

Why do people on social assistance have to choose between buying food or paying the utility bills or monthly rent?

Why are new words creeping into our vocabulary? A generation ago, we did not know about much, let alone discuss, “food insecurity” but it is now part of regular usage. Why do we have families who live in the shadows of “food insecurity” — not having access to enough food to meet basic needs — day after day for some of them?

And so we have Poverty Free Ontario and ISARC embarking on a non-partisan initiative, Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario which, if successful, just may lift poverty a few rungs higher on the provincial issues campaign ladder.

Its sign campaign, being launched Sept. 15 in Welland and Port Colborne, is groundbreaking in more ways than one.

It will do much in fostering and promoting solidarity among people of social conscience. It gets off the ground in Welland at St. Kevin’s church, 303 Niagara St., and in Port Colborne at Bridges Community Health Centre, 177 King St.

Lori Kleinsmith, the health promoter at Bridges, says in a new release: “Finding a balance between charity and justice is not easy.

“Food banks and other assistance programs provide many ways of helping people manage conditions of poverty a little better, but do not truly address eradicating poverty. The persistence of poverty across Ontario reflects a failure of collective responsibility to create basic conditions health and well-being for all.”

Something to think about, and take action on, as we move into a provincial election campaign.

See story and photo about the Faith to End Poverty Campaign in Thursday’s edition of The Tribune.



A Poverty Free Ontario… is it possible?

The Social Muse – Michelle Gratton

Unfortunately, there will always be some people who truly believe the notion that people who live in poverty are considered to be “lazy,” “addicts,” and “system abusers.” Just repeating this sentence, I almost feel like my mouth should be washed out with soap!

The truth is, no matter how you break down the facts and numbers those living in poverty or below the poverty line; which according to Stats Canada is an annual income of just under $18,000 (before tax) for a single person in Cornwall, there is no way the notion could be deemed accurate. Here’s why…

Living in “deep poverty” is a term used to generally describe individuals and families in receipt of social assistance who either may or may not be able to work, and generally experience chronic cycles of hunger and hardship when the money provided runs out and is allegedly supposed to meet one’s basic needs. For example, a single adult on Ontario Works currently receives approximately $592 per month. Since numbers are where the money is at, at $592 per month; a whole $11,000 below the poverty line, this would be “equivalent to working full-time for $3.70 per hour” (Posen, July 2011).

“Working poor” is a term used to describe an individual who works full year, yet is living below the poverty line. Inexcusably, you will even find several households with two adults working full year still falling short of the poverty line. A full-time worker today earning minimum wage for the whole year still lives more than approximately $5,600 below the poverty line. Another false notion about people who live in poverty that too commonly exists is that the poor are considered “unintelligent.” Although an education is very important, a report released in October 2010 stated that over 50 per cent of low-income families in Canada had completed some post-secondary studies and 45 per cent of the unemployed in Canada had completed a post-secondary education.

Poverty is a great threat to overall community health and immediate poverty eradication measures need to be taken as the excuses for accepting persistent poverty are no longer credible. Poverty eradication is possible and means pursuing the lowest possible levels of poverty in the industrialized world we live in, both in incidence and in depth. Simply, if you work full year, full-time you should not be living in poverty. If people can’t work then there needs to be a set standard of dignity that supports all people to be able to live a quality of life beyond discrimination and despair. The idea of blaming the reasons for poverty on the behaviours of the poor is no longer tolerable. Taking a structural approach today and examining the adequacy of basic living conditions for all is what is required.

For more information, please visit www.povertyfreeontario.ca


Submissions to the Social Assistance Review Commission

Below are links to submissions made by communities to the Social Assistance Review Commission

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