you're reading...


Poverty advocates make pitch to narrow the gap

HALTON – Regional advocates for those living lives of poverty met face to face with two government officials conducting a fact-finding tour about the needs of the downtrodden.

At the invitation of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, Community Development Halton and Poverty Free Halton representatives met with Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, commissioners of the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario on behalf of the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

“Poverty in Halton is often hidden, buried under the veneer of affluence and well-being,” said John Versluis, co-chair of Poverty Free Halton.

“The gap between the annual income of a family of four on social assistance and that of the median Halton family income is $5,793 per month or approximately $69,230 per year. These people live in different worlds, making bridges of compassion and understanding difficult to build,” Versluis added.

Rishia Burke and Jen Gerrard of Community Development Halton told the commissioners that they, and others from their research team, had crossed the region talking with people living in poverty.

The many stories they heard showed that the basic necessities of life such as food and shelter, along with recreation and opportunities to belong to their community, were out of the reach of those in poverty and especially those on social assistance, who live in “deep poverty.”

“Mental health was always an underlying theme during community conversations. Poor people live under tremendous stress. They do not have enough money to live (off of) and face choices between housing or food. Every day they face the stresses of surviving,” said Burke.

Gerrard told the commissioners that programs and services should respect the dignity of people. They should not feel “less as a result of asking for assistance to meet basic needs.”

As the conversation moved on to social assistance reform, Joey Edwardh, Executive Director of Community Development Halton, said any recommendations for change must be evidence-based.

“Today, there is no evidence-based process for determining social assistance rates and as a result, the benefits have no relation to the cost of living in a community,” said Edwardh.

In a letter on the website for the Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs, commissioners Lankin and Sheikh stated that as part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy, the provincial government has given it “… a significant mandate to make recommendations to reform social assistance in Ontario. We need to build a better system that improves employment opportunities and provides security for people who cannot work.”

The commissioners are receiving feedback until Sept. 1, 2011, so they can develop options in late fall/early winter. They will seek further input and expect to make more community visits.



No comments yet.

Post a Comment

Follow PFO