As part of a formal province-wide public consultation on poverty reduction, led by the Provincial Committee on Poverty Reduction, over 120 Kitchener-Waterloo and area community members came together at the Schwaben Club from 6-9pm. on Thursday July 3rd to bring forward ideas. Contributors included: community leaders, various levels of government representatives, social services and health care providers, non-profit organizations, police services representatives, seniors, those with disabilities, persons with experience in poverty, new Canadians, and members of the business community at-large.
MC Myrta Rivera opened the session and introduced John Milloy, MPP of Kitchener Centre and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. He noted that Leeanna Pendergast was not able to attend. In his comments, Minister Milloy noted many of the positive steps that are being taken to reduce poverty by the Government of Ontario. Touching on the Cabinet Committee’s mandate, process, and priorities, Minister Milloy emphasized the need for a coherent strategy, and the importance of input from community members as the Committee considers areas of policy and resource allocation.
To open dialogue, a panel of three community members presented their own efforts to reduce poverty in Waterloo Region. Christine Bird, Coordinator of the Alliance for Children and Youth, emphasized the importance of access – to recreation, transportation, education, resources, and information. Brice Balmer, from the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, discussed the link between poverty and crime and added that by making poverty history, crime will also deteriorate in society. And finally Charles Nichols, Chair of the Homelessness Advisory Committee and a member of the Harm Reduction Network, highlighted the need for stable and affordable housing – doing so would lift children out of poverty by lifting parents and single adults out of poverty. He spoke for many present when he stated that ‘there is no one way to be poor’ and summed it up that ‘being poor sucks’.
After panelists Christine Bird, Brice Balmer, and Henry Nichols made their remarks, participants gathered with their table-members to discuss the set of questions presented to them. These questions were the same as used at each provincial public consultation:
- Given our first priority is children and their families, what are the top three things we can do better with existing resources to improve opportunities for children living in poverty?
- What new ideas could we incorporate into our existing supports that would increase opportunities for children living in poverty?
- We know that communities are best positioned to understand and respond to the local realities of poverty and opportunity. Please describe what you believe is already working in your community to support children, youth and their families living in poverty to achieve their potential?
- We know that to be successful we must all work together. How can we better integrate the roles that we all play – individuals, non-profits, the private sector, volunteers and all levels of government – in increasing opportunity for Ontarians living in poverty?
- We are focusing on children first, but we will develop a comprehensive long-term poverty reduction strategy for all people living in poverty. What are the key long-term goals for improving opportunity with respect to groups other than children?
- We need to be able to measure our progress on poverty reduction. What measures do you think will best show our progress in improving opportunity for Ontarians living in poverty?
After the discussion of these questions, all groups were asked to report back and present their top two points. The following are the reports presented by the groups:
- Integrate systems of support, need a holistic approach to reduce poverty. Use our community centres to break the cycle of poverty. Need to be near people to network and build self-confidence.
- Make poverty a priority in society. Gambling issues should be evaluated. Trillium has more sustainable funding from gambling than from the provincial government.
- Government now has poverty elimination as priority; need a way of measuring all issues and programs.
- Accessibility and access through public outreach. Offer affordable housing by adopting a housing first policy. Child care is also a priority; foster parents should receive increased supports. Community outreach workers to help people access programs. Are people aware of programs available?
- Inspiration for those working through guaranteed annual income and regulated labour standards, with things such as childcare and health care support. Also, there is a need to educate and communicate information in the community, inspiring individuals to understand the social issue.
- Access for people in need through one-stop shopping programs, increased transportation accessibility, and utilization of community centres. Many are turned off because don’t know where help is.
- Foster care for non-related is higher than for kin-care. Keep children in their families and communities.
- Reduce stigma relating to poverty, with increased accessibility for those in poverty. Enforce universal/equitable access to childcare and services for all members of society. Inspire community to educate and advocate to work towards a healthy community.
- Shift attitudes about poverty through integrated housing. Measure the reduction of poverty by the decreased number of food banks and out in the cold programs as indicators.
- Sustainable support for disabled and increased opportunities tailored to students strengths. Better benefits, which do not disqualify people for other benefits.
- Dignity is central focus of all poverty reduction strategies. Members of community must continue to be included in the decision making. Parenting should occur through informed choices and education opportunities.
- Support systems must take multiple outreach forms, including access, communication and community responsibility. Education as a basis for society for all children and adults, involve the public in decision making process.
- Eliminate disincentives to employment and clawbacks. Implement guaranteed income. Decrease stigma around poverty, getting federal government to increase efforts. Employment insurance restriction – more benefits and more training programs.
- Increase OW and ODSP rates. Provide increase benefits such as dental and health care. Eradicate stigma of poverty – ‘us’ ‘them.’ Drugs, medical and dental for all low wage workers.
- Creation of Minister of Poverty Reduction. It is important to have meetings to consult others in the community to find solutions. Systems are currently too complicated. Increase education supports such as ESL programs.
- Full year, full time employment should earn above low income cut off. More social supports are needed in all areas – universal day care, health and dental benefits; social support infrastructure. Eliminate red tape now and do not introduce more in any new programs.
- Government to model communication and integration, eligibility requirements should be the same everywhere and to everyone. Modelled after programs which concurrently meet multiple needs of family
The consultation concluded with a few comments and questions from participants and a short speech given by Minister Milloy.