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Social activists look for improvements for the poor

KITCHENER — Local social activist Brice Balmer wants the province to do more for single poor adults.

Entrepreneur Tim Jackson wants the local business community to invest more in social causes.

Those are two of many ideas that were raised when about 20 community leaders met in Kitchener Monday with Laurel Broten, who as Ontario’s minister of children and youth services oversees the province’s poverty reduction strategy.

The province is midway through its five-year goal to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent.

“We are proud of the progress we have made,” said Broten, who is travelling across the province to give a status report on the provincial initiatives and to hear about best practices in reducing child poverty.

“We have acknowledged there is more to be done,” she said.

One of the key components of the “kids first” provincial strategy, she said, is full-day junior and senior kindergarten classes to break the cycle of poverty.

Others include increasing the Ontario Child Benefit, introducing tax reforms so more poor people get off the tax rolls and retraining unemployed people, initiatives that assist adults as well as children, Broten said.

But Balmer told the minister that he is concerned about adults who lost their unskilled, high-paid manufacturing jobs during the recent recession and, who remain unemployed. People want jobs, he said.

He’s also concerned about the cost of poverty locally. He said one local resident used the emergency department 115 times one year which is more expensive than providing him with supportive housing.

“It is the adults we need to worry about,” he said.

Broten said she was especially interested in Jackson’s Social Venture Partners’ concept.

Founded in November 2010, Social Ventures Partners Waterloo Region consists of dozens of local investors, who have not only committed $5,000 each, but are also their time and expertise in making a tangible difference for a charitable venture.

This year’s recipient is Strong Start, a local literacy program for children.

Broten asked Jackson if there is a role for the government in terms of tax incentives to support philanthropic endeavours such as his.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Jackson also discussed the mismatch between an unmet need locally for highly skilled workers for the high-tech industry and a growing pool of unskilled, unemployed workers.

Linda Terry, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries, said there are a growing number of seniors going to food banks and shelters. Last year, she said 88 seniors stayed at the local shelter.

“People are showing up at our food banks and shelters who never expected to be there,” she said.





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