Hamilton Meeting Focuses on ODSP and OW (May 22, 2008)

About 100 people settled into the pews of First Pilgrim United Church in Hamilton yesterday afternoon for a public forum on poverty reduction. Planned and organized for about six weeks in advance, the event was intentionally scheduled for MPPs’ Constituency Week so that local Members of Provincial Parliament in Hamilton would be able to attend to hear public views about poverty and poverty reduction.

Two local MPPs did participate in a panel that addressed participants’ comments and questions: Andrea Horwath, NDP MPP for Hamilton Centre and Paul Miller, NDP MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. Ted McMeekin, Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale had expressed his regrets many weeks ago as he is recovering from surgery, although his Executive Assistant was present for the whole event. Sophia Aggelonitis, Liberal MPP for Hamilton Mountain, had been confirmed as attending but begged off the previous evening, sending a constituency office representative instead.

Tatum Wilson, senior policy advisor on the poverty reduction file in Deb Matthews‘ office attended and participated on the panel on the Minister’s behalf with the two NDP MPPs.

The panel discussion and moderator for the participants’ questions was Craig Foye with McQuesten Legal and Community Services. Josie D’Amico welcomed the assembly on behalf of the Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits, the primary sponsor for the event joined by more than ten other community organization co-sponsors.

Issues and concerns raised by those attending focused very much on the struggles and hardships of people living on ODSP or OW. A sampling of the personal examples given and concerns expressed by participants included:

  • The inflexibility of ODSP in terms of adjusting to people’s changing life circumstances in relation to employment or living situation.
  • The frequency of being cut-off ODSP benefits for no good reason, which left people desperate and created tremendous instability in living situations.
  • The inadequacy of 2% increases in the social assistance rate given the 21% cuts more than ten years ago and the rise in the cost of living since.
  • The desperation of a growing number of seniors about inadequate incomes (e.g. living n under $8,000 a year) and lack of access to essential health benefits.
  • The need to completely give up all assets in order to qualify for assistance and the lack of resources people have to fight the system that denies or cuts off benefits.
  • The anxiety about changes in the winter clothing and back-to-school provisions that will create hardships for families and humiliation for children as the new school year starts.
  • The unfair charges to tenants of a landlord’s tribunal costs when eviction notices are challenged.
  • The fear about the implications for low income people as energy costs will rise drastically as early as next winter.
  • The struggles that single mothers have trying to help their children get a good post-secondary education when the OW system reduces the family’s benefits for children earning income to help pay for their tuition and books.

MPPs Horvath and Miller and Senior Policy Advisor Wilson listened intently to the accounts from the more than 30 people who came forward to the microphones. They offered their observations on situations and issues presented.

The NDP position on the poverty reduction strategy is that it should be under the direction of an all-party Parliamentary committee, not one led by the Liberal Government on its own. The NDP have advanced a number of Private Member’s bills over the last number of months that would contribute to poverty reduction and all have been killed by the majority Liberal Government. The NDP is also very critical of the consultation process that the Minister has set up.

Tatum Wilson asserted that the Minister is serious about a strong and comprehensive poverty reduction plan and a consultation process that will hear all who wish to participate and contribute their views. He promised that he would take back to the Minister everything that he had heard in the Hamilton public meeting. All of the consultations have their particular concerns depending on where they are being held and who is participating but there are some common themes emerging such as the crisis in affordable housing, inaccessibility of public transportation for low income people, and the stigma of living on OW or ODSP. Rules and regulations of the current OW and ODSP system that create more hardships for low income people are also being raised often in consultations.

In response to a question about the Minister only inquiring in her consultations about using existing resources differently to reduce poverty, Mr. Wilson replied that the intent is to see where changes might be made to make sure there are better results from how existing money is spent, but that the Minister’s consultations are also asking about how new money should be used to reduce poverty.

It was observed that, although Mr. Wilson’s presence and participation on behalf of the Minister was much appreciated, it is really the job of the elected political representatives to participate in such public meetings, especially MPPs from the governing party, except for legitimate reasons such as health issues.

4 thoughts on “Hamilton Meeting Focuses on ODSP and OW (May 22, 2008)

  1. I know when you read the comments re: poverty forum, you our speaking for many. Those who are without a means of expressing their hardships. Who refuse to step out of the shadows in fear of embarrassment. There needs to be a collective voice for all. There are a number of excellent resources that exist now. With so many components of Poverty (ie. housing cost, food, ow & odsp, 22%deduction, winter clothing & back to school assisstance stopped, Tax changes that give and than take), Can we gather the top resources in one room and start implementing a few necessary changes. Once complete, allow those who know poverty and live it, to grade the changes. Finally take what works and bring in a plan of action. Do not fax plan, or leave message on machine. Deliver personally. oh….and save a copy please. You never know.

  2. sorry but adult suffering should be as important as child suffering the pain doesnt get easier to bear as you age it gets harder to bear what of all the childless people are they worth zero, we know the focus on the children is just a distraction from the thousands of childless disability victums that exsist thru no fault of their own!!

  3. CAN you imagine? these assholes control our lives and yet after years of talks and considerations we are still suffering year after year , these are the days of our lives that are wasting away in pain and misery and these people that control it are just waiting for us to diaapeer they are just stalling with total disregard for you or me!

  4. Thank you for your report on the Poverty Forum. The mention of existing resources and spending money on new resources differently creates contradiction, especially when it comes
    to the elimination of the back to school and winter clothing items. The Hamilton Poverty Roundtable, Mission Services, Salvation Army and School Boards are now all looking into finding ways to help families when this change occurs. What we know….Ontario Child Benefit will be distributed monthly $50.00 per month,per child, approximately $69.00 back to school and $105.00 winter clothing allowance will be eliminated all at once. OW/ODSP
    families are expected to save for the year for these items.
    Agencies will now scramble around come September, the focus will be OW/ODSP workers will be retrained to focus on helping clients understand the changes,the focus will be finding ways to assist families, families will focus and spend their energy on how to send their kids to school with dignity again, not to mention the uuniforms that are required, school trips, pizza and dress down days, the demands are endless.Families are already facing hardship, here’s another one.
    Again to mention the contradition, the Ontario Government gave Abuse Shelters in 2006 across Ontario approximately 2 million dollars to help women and their children flee abusive relationships, but we are telling them struggle just a little more when we apply these changes in July.
    With this restructuring, it state families will not be worse
    off, but retrospect Agencies are looking into the impact this will cause and families are worried.
    When women think they are one step ahead, this change makes them 10 steps back. There is no incentive here. What are the percentages of abused women and children on OW/ODSP?

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