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Targeting poverty

CORNWALL — Kelly Roach didn’t let a case of nerves deter him from speaking to a reporter at an anti-poverty rally.

You see, Roach battles daily with a “nervous condition” which has forced him onto the Ontario Disability Support Program.

“It’s hard to budget monthly,” Roach said of the income assistance he receives.

According to statistics, Roach and wife — also on ODSP — are about $12,000 below the poverty line. Latest figures suggest the current poverty rate of 13.1% per capita is the highest in 30 years.

Roach said it wouldn’t take much more income to make a a big difference in his standard of living.

“Even if it was $100 a month for a single person, or $200 for a couple, that would make it less tight,” he said, as music from the rally at the city’s Agape Centre enveloped him.

But alleviating the effects of poverty is more than just plunking down an extra twoonie and loonie on the table every day.

“We need some more places for people to live, and be more accessible,” he said.

Nearby, a man who goes by the first name of “Tim” was seeking signatures for a petition calling for a homeless shelter in the city that would serve single men and couples.

Poverty comes in many forms, said Alyssa Blais, Agape Centre executive director, who is a member of the Poverty Free Ontario rally committee.

“It could be the student whose OSAP cheque doesn’t come in on time and he needs to visit the soup kitchen for a meal,” said Blais, who opened up the Agape Centre grounds for the event in support of Poverty Free Ontario (PFO). Later, the centre was the venue for an all-candidates’ provincial election debate.

“It could be because of a divorce, we get a lot of single mothers in here, or a single parent working,” she said, noting the rising tide of working poor who depend on the Agape for five days worth of food.

The PFO rally was one of 20 which took place in the province, with the local initiative sparked by the Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area.

Council head Michelle Gratton stressed the rally is a springboard toward more public awareness of increasing poverty.

Besides a smattering of impoverished residents, there were representatives of other rally partners.

The rally was purposely held in the middle of the provincial election campaign, in the hopes that political parties deal with the issue. Later, the rally morphed into an all-candidates’ debate.

PFO is calling on all parties and candidates to endorse three measures to end deep poverty (below 80% of the poverty line): introduce a $100 per month healthy food supplement for social assistance recipients, recognize that Ontario’s social assistance systems needs to be simplified and responsive enough to end deep poverty, and bring in a comprehensive plan to end deep poverty.

PFO also wants to eliminate working poverty, asking the minimum wage be increased over three years so that full-time work leaves a wage earner at least 10% over the poverty line, and by implementing tougher employment standards and equity initiatives to allow workers fair access to decent work and full wages.




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