Local reports on Do the Math outreach
November 10 (Queen’s Park) – Greg Sorbara, Liberal MPP for Vaughan and former Ontario Minister of Finance, met with Frank Folz and Tom Pearson of the York Region Food Security Network Do the Math Team and Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO in his Queen’s Park office on October 14. Mr. Sorbara’s Legislative Assistant, Lorenzo Catuzza was also in attendance. Mr Sorbara had not had a chance to complete the survey but said he would do so and send it to us. Mr. Sorbara was interested in the report of the on-line survey results so far, showing that the average monthly cost for necessities was $1,400, while the single OW monthly rate is $572 and the ODSP rate just over $1,000. He asked what people are doing to get by. Tom Pearson, a leader with the Poverty Action for Change Coalition in York Region, gave some examples of the struggles of individuals and families and reported that 50,000 people in York Region rely on food banks to survive. Mr. Sorbara said that there was a “market attractiveness” to the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement as a first step towards adequacy, but acknowledged that the real issue is the overall level of resources that individuals and families require to meet all their basic living necessities, not just healthy food. He would not expect Government to monitor whether people actually use any increased income on food if it were delivered as a Healthy Food Supplement, just like it does not check whether families actually spend the Ontario Child Benefit on their children. Families must make their own choices about how to use scarce resources to meet their full range of needs. Mr. Sorbara pointed out that advocacy for the Healthy Food Supplement will have to be very eloquent and compelling because current economic conditions and the Province’s financial situation are in very dire straits. There will be many competing interests in the next Provincial budget. He felt, however, that Ontarians tend to think more about vulnerable people when times are tough than when they are good. This could be a good time to raise public awareness. Certainly, spending time with MPPs to Do the Math and talk about the disparities is a good strategy. When he was Finance Minister, he did listen to the concerns and ideas brought forward by his fellow MPPs in preparing his budgets. Mr. Sorbara concluded the visit with the comment, “It is important to communicate to the majority of the working public that the quality of society and their own lives will improve if we improve the conditions of the most vulnerable among us.”
October 13 (Parkdale) – Lind Coltman and Opal Sparks met with Cheri DiNovo, NDP MPP for High Park-Parkdale on October 9 to Do the Math. MPP DiNovo’s monthly costs for basic needs came to $1,820, more than three times the amount that a single adult on OW now receives. She said, “Raising the rates needs to be the main message here – just give people more – we want people to have more money to live on! Drawing people out of poverty could actually be done quite simply by raising the rates.” MPP DiNovo supports the Healthy Food Supplement proposal, commenting, “In fact, it is appalling the McGuinty government cut off the special diet allowances and travel allowances that many people relied on.” She expressed serious concern that more people will fall into poverty because of the cost of living, especially housing, and both insecure and low wage employment. She warned, “We’re eroding the middle class while the wealthy are getting wealthier. The HST tax will hit poor people the worst in this Province when it is implemented. When the government gives away money in tax cuts to the rich, then we are left without money needed to fund social services.” In addition to raising social assistance rates and increasing the minimum wage to $10.25 now, urgent action is needed to make housing more affordable and to protect tenants. “I just brought in an inclusionary zoning bill that, if passed, would see inclusionary zoning set on the principle of a percentage of units of housing being allocated through the building/development process (i.e. 50 units built with 10 allocated for affordable housing) – the rate would be up to the municipalities to decide – one study offers data to back that inclusionary zoning would/could create up to 4,000 new units of affordable housing in Ontario in one year.” Finally, MPP DiNovo cautioned poverty reduction advocates against giving the Ontario Government too much credit for doing so little to fight poverty, “We need to stop showing up in support without seeing results – we need to start saying, ‘When you raise the rates 40% then we’ll show up in support.’ Poverty reduction of 25% could be done in one week by: raising the minimum wage to the poverty line and raising the rates.”
October 9 (Belleville) – On October 9, about a week following a Do the Math workshop that attracted 38 participants from the Belleville area, a Do the Math team visited the Hon. Leona Dombrowsky, Liberal MPP for Prince Edward-Hastings and Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The Do the Math Team was made up of Cathy McCallum of the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Public Health Unit, Ruth Ingersoll of Community Development Council Quinte and Jesse Philips , a local resident on social assistance. Ms. Dombrowsky had not yet completed the survey but agreed to do complete it with the team. Before tackling the survey, Ms. pointed out that her government has raised the minimum wage each year. She stated that she would like to “see everyone make more money” but that “it’s all about balances—with the economic downturn, if minimum wage is increased too much, people would lose jobs because companies could not afford it”. Ms. Dombrowsky’s total monthly costs after completing the survey amounted to $1,157.00, allowing $600 for rent and $150 for food. Considering these results, Ms. Dombrowsky admitted that “being on social assistance would be a real challenge.” She agreed that the amounts available to individuals on social assistance “do not leave them a lot.” She said that “we need to do all we can to help individuals in need of social assistance.” Ms. Dombrowsky talked about growing up on a farm and learning how to be frugal out of necessity (e.g. canning and pickling vegetables) and when she had a young family (four children) how buying in bulk and freezing food saved money, but she acknowledged that not everyone can afford a freezer. Jesse talked about how she struggled with living costs through the month and there was a discussion about the social dimension of poverty – not being able to participate in many community activities. In making concluding comments, Ms. Dombrowsky pointed out that the Government had increased the Ontario Child Benefit and may be supportive in other ways such as through dental benefits. “I know we will continue to look for ways to better support people in need of social assistance.” She supported the Do the Math activity and encouraged groups to continue promoting the issue in this way. Agreeing that social assistance rates do not add up, Ms. Dombrowsky said that she “will send our letter on to the Minister of Community and Social Services” and would support her government looking into the issue, which Ms. Dombrowsky did do on October 21.
September 28 (Hamilton) — Several members of the 25 in 5 Hamilton Poverty Reduction group report that they met on July 17 with Ted McMeekin (Liberal MPP for Anaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and Minister of Government Services) and with Paul Miller (NDP MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) on August 20.
Mr. McMeekin did not complete the Do the Math survey with the group but said he had done it. He did not think $100 was enough to add to OW and ODSP, but indicated that he could not support the Healthy Food Supplement because of the need to go through the proper channels i.e. The Social Assistance Review. Bill, a member of the 25 in 5 group with lived experience, brought up the fact that Social Assistance was $663 in 1993, and that the last time it was $572 was in 1988, so 21 years later we are back to the same amount. The group discussed income as a determinant of health with Mr. McMeekin. Mr. McMeekin was sympathetic to the concerns expressed, but as a Cabinet Minister did not feel he could sign on at this time.
MPP Miller completed the survey online with Marv, one of the 25 in 5 Hamilton group members and he signed on to the $100 Healthy Food Supplement. The amount he came up with was $1,418 monthly, which is more than $800 below the monthly benefit for a single person on OW. In conversation with the group, Mr. Miller made some comments that the group felt may unfortunately perpetuate negative stereotypes about people on social assistance and suggested that some people may take advantage of some supports such as local food banks. The 25 in 5 Hamilton delegation used the occasion to dispel these perceptions in an articulate and polite manner.
Mr. Miller also talked about a new Ontario Pension Plan that he has been promoting as Pension Critic for the NDP this summer and told the group that 65% of Ontario’s workers have no pension. He thought a pension might divert people from the need to receive OW.
September 25 (Brampton) – A Do the Math team made up of members from Action for Poverty Relief in Brampton met with Linda Jeffrey, Liberal MPP for Brampton Springdale and her executive assistant on September 4. The Do the Math team members were Ian Taylor, Stephen Phillips and Anna Przychodzki. MPP Jeffrey had reviewed the Do the Math survey before the meeting but had not completed it. Ms. Jeffrey indicated that she preferred to talk about the issues rather than complete the survey with the team at the meeting. She said that she would complete it by September 14, but has not yet done so. In discussion, on the current social assistance rates, Ms. Jeffrey said, “Do I think it’s enough? No. At the end of the day, it’s not enough to live on. It’s hard to live with dignity.” Ms. Jeffrey stated that the Government is well aware that income adequacy is an issue for people on social assistance. While she felt that the recession placed a lot of constraints on the Government and there were a lot of demands on limited resources, she did not think that the $100 a month Healthy Food Supplement would be out forward for a vote. Ms. Jeffrey did add:
“I would be supportive of anything that helps somebody who is struggling with poverty, whether it’s food, education, or housing. There’s a lot of debate about what would make a difference. I don’t know that $100 would make a difference for everyone. I don’t think there’s one single thing, a magic bullet. I think it’s not one solution, it’s not just a food supplement, I think it’s housing, it’s education, I think it’s lost of different things.”
“It’s certainly our intent to find better ways to deliver the resources. It’s not always just about money. Sometimes it’s about housing supplements, it’s about delivering different kinds of services to families so they have access. There are different ways and better ways of delivering services.”
September 4 (Toronto-Danforth) – A Do the Math team met with the Hon. Peter Tabuns (NDP MPP for Toronto-Danforth) on August 24. The team was led by Sue Ann Elite (St. Barnabas Anglican Church) and included Murray MacAdam (Social Justice and Advocacy Consultant, Anglican Diocese of Toronto); Susan Bender (Community Engagement Officer, South Riverdale Community Health Centre), Phil Nazar (Housing Manager, Toronto Christian Resource Centre/Board of the Daily Bread Food Bank), Mike Nevin (Foodshare, Inc./resident of the Bain Co-Op), Janis Clennett and Jodi Joyce (members of St. Barnabas Anglican Church). Mr. Tabuns had not completed the survey because, upon filling out the amount he knew would be required to pay the rent, he realized that there would be very little left to allocate to the other categories. He doubted that recipients would be able live a healthy, dignified life with so little money available to them. He did, however, agree to fill out the rest of the survey after the meeting and send it to Sue Ann. Mr. Tabuns gave his whole-hearted support to the Healthy Food Supplement and indicated that social welfare and disability recipients are often trapped in a vicious cycle as one problem feeds or leads to another. He stated that one could not “do” without most of the things that were included in the survey. People need more than minimum benefits in order to survive and it should be emphasized that the $100 supplement is only a step in the right direction — it is not an adequate solution. It is, however, the basis for a good fight. With respect to the PFIB campaign, Mr. Tabuns suggested that statistics and reports that already exist on this issue be compiled to make the economic argument and that this should be done before the budget is introduced near the end of the year. He agreed to talk to Minister Matthews about the need to raise the rates and address the adequacy of rates as part of the social assistance review. He also suggested that we all talk to influential members of our communities, our religious leaders as well as other government officials to put pressure on the government to make changes.
September 4 (Beaches-East York) – A Do the Math team met with the Hon. Michael Prue (NDP MPP for Beaches-East York) on August 27. The team was led by Sue Ann Elite (St. Barnabas Anglican Church) and Murray MacAdam (Social Justice and Advocacy Consultant, Anglican Diocese of Toronto), Robyn Peterson and Marnie Saskin (Shoelace Collective), and Sheila Cram (member of St. Barnabas Anglican Church). Mr. Prue confessed that he had just returned to the riding and had not had time to complete the survey. He then proceeded to fill out the survey in front of the group. After filling out the amount that he knew would be needed for rent, he had a puzzled look on his face. “After you fill out this category, there isn’t a lot left to give you much of a life,” he said. He proceeded, however, to fill out the rest of the survey. He thought he had come up with a fair estimate that was pretty close to the amount stated for a person on ODSP and then, on further examination realized that he had not included the amount needed for food. He said that he had twice tried to live on the 12 day Social Assistance Diet at both the $20 and $25 levels and had had a very hard time eating a healthy diet. He spoke of taking a group of politicians into a grocery store in a northern Ontario town and comparing the cost of a “junk food diet” to that of a “healthy diet” to raise the awareness of how much more it costs to eat a nutritious diet. He added that, aside from the food costs in the survey, there would be no quality of life allowed – no essentials like the internet and telephone, no pets, no personal grooming and hygiene costs and no room for any entertainment. When asked how to raise people’s awareness of poverty issues, Mr. Prue said that there needed to be concrete examples presented to the public. You have to have the courage to help and stand in the face of adversity – it is not enough just to say you need to help the poor. You must find a way to explain what poverty is – if you have to use pictures or real life stories to get the idea across, then that is what must be done. Mr. Prue said that we need to convince the government to “go the extra mile” and said that a single person on social assistance is worse off now than he/she was during the Harris era due to the lack of adequate increments in assistance subsidies which have not kept pace with inflation. The campaign to add $100 to the Healthy Food Supplement is only a stepping stone to what is really needed to bring equity to social assistance allowances.
September 1 (York Region) – Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO joined the York Region Do the Math Team coordinated by Yvonne Kelly of the York Region Food Security Network for an update on visits to MPPs in York Region in August.
Tom Pearson reported that he, Rick Ward and Pat Taylor met with Frank Klees (Progressive Conservative MPP for Newmarket Aurora) on August 24. Mr. Klees had not completed the survey but said that he would do so. He did acknowledge that people on social assistance do not get a lot of income. He noted that the cost of rent takes up most of the $572 benefit that people on OW receive. Mr. Klees agreed that those on OW or ODSP should have a right to eat healthily. He believes, however that this could be achieved through a food voucher system. The Do the Math team debated the idea of a food voucher approach with him. The team felt that the meeting went well, and, as Rick Ward, restaurant owner and member of the York Region group, said afterward, “I know after being in business for forty years that you don’t always make the sale the first time – we may need two or three visits.” Another useful result of the visit to Mr. Klees was that the York Region group will be preparing a resource sheet on why the Healthy Food Supplement should be a cash payment added to the Basic Needs Allowance rather than a food voucher. This resource can be used in York Region and by other Do the Math teams across the province.
Tom Pearson, Zully Zambrano and Linda Roberts visited the Hon. Michael Chan (Liberal MPP for Markham-Unionville) who is also Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Mr. Chan had not done the survey and did not yet commit to doing it but said that he would get back to the team in that regard. Mr. Chan did express appreciation for the work of the team members to raise the poverty issue and referred to his own economic struggles to settle when he first came to Canada. He acknowledged that poverty was a challenge and competed for resources with many other areas of government responsibility. The team emphasized the importance of the Healthy Food Supplement both for the health of people on social assistance as well as reducing healthcare costs from chronic illnesses to Ontarians. Mr. Chan asked whether Minister Meilleur had done the Do the Math survey yet and he said that he would raise the idea of the $100 a month Healthy Food Supplement with the Minister.
Alf Judd, Joan Stonehocker and Dodie Levesque visited Julia Munro (Progressive Conservative MPP for York-Simcoe) on August 13. Ms. Munro had not completed the survey and did not choose to complete it during the meeting. She said that she did not feel that she had adequate cost information on the items in the survey to complete it. Ms. Munro did acknowledge that nothing much had been done about social assistance rates since the mid-1990s and that things could always be improved. She agreed that a review of the social assistance system was required. The team has followed up with a letter to request another meeting with Julia to Do the Math.
August 10 (Brampton) – Four members of Action for Poverty Relief (APR) met with Brampton West MPP Vic Dhillon to discuss the adequacy of social assistance rates. Action for Poverty Relief is a Brampton-based group of youth in their twenties advocating for poverty reduction. APR requested a meeting in June but MPP Dhillon’s office did not return any of its calls or e-mails. When presed for an explanation, the MPP’s Executive Assistant said he felt the Do the Math survey was a kind of trap. When the parents of some APR members who had worked on MPP Dhillon’s last election campaign got involved, APR got a meeting with MPP Dhillon. MPP Dhillon said he felt unable to comment on whether the current rates of social assistance are adequate for a life of health and dignity. He felt unable to complete the Do the Math survey because he is not familiar with the current market rates for food, clothing, transportation, shelter, toiletries, etc. as he does not make the household purchases in his household. He said he was concerned that an extra $100 per month in social assistance would only feed the drug and alcohol habits of some recipients, that there are many programs available to people receiving social assistance such as food banks, re-training programs, student loans, and bursaries, and that a better use of public funds would be investments in addiction and mental health interventions/rehabilitations or other educational programs for people living in poverty.
July 31 (Woodstock) — Glen Wright (Spiritual Group of Operation Sharing), Celia Orth (Division of Mission and Service (Oxford Presbytery), Marg Murray (networker for 25in5 Poverty Reduction and attendee at ISARC Interfaith Prayer Vigil) met with Ernie Hardeman (PC MPP for Oxford). The delegation and Mr. Hardeman moved to a room with computer access and began to “Do the Math” survey on line. The group provided Mr. Hardeman with a copy of Oxford County Public Health’s Report for Nutritious Food Basket to feed a family of four for 2009 and a copy of weekly Cost of a Nutritious Food Basket, for Ontario 2006 & 2008 by age and sex of residents. It was soon apparent that the cost of living for a single person would be much greater than the Ontario Works level of support so Mr. Hardeman did not finish doing the survey. He acknowledged that the present amount for social assistance was not enough and gave the impression that he would support an increase. But, when asked if he would vote for the increase should it come before the parliament, he stated that the decision would not be voted upon by Parliament as a whole but would be decided in committee. Mr. Hardeman indicated that he could not easily support the proposed $100.00 per month Healthy Food Supplement increase, mainly because he would need some assurance that the money would go to healthy food choices. He said that raising the amount to be provided by Ontario Works with the amount needed to live was not a solution, since he believed that by sharing housing or getting help from family and friends, people on Ontario Works were able to manage.
On the whole there was a good exchange of ideas with each position clearly articulated. Perhaps some small movement was made toward greater understanding of the plight of the disadvantaged.
July 22 (Halton) – On June 5, 2009, Halton Community Legal Services hosted a meeting with the Honourable Ted Arnott (Progressive Conservative MPP for Wellington-Halton Hills) and three local Anglican clergy from the Diocese of Niagara (The Reverend Canon Terry DeForest, St. John’s Stewarttown; The Reverend Canon Margaret Murray, St. Steven’s Hornby; and The Reverend Aaron Orear, St. Alban’s Glen Williams.) The purpose of the meeting was to discuss poverty in the area, the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Affordable Housing Consultation and to raise Mr. Arnott’s awareness of the issue targeted by the Put Food in the Budget Campaign and the Do the Math survey. The problems of a lack of rental housing generally and affordable housing in Halton specifically were raised. Canon Terry DeForest spoke of his finding when he did the Do the Math survey in preparation for the meeting with Mr. Arnott that despite his attempts to be “responsible”, given the high cost of rents, his budget for a month was over twice what a single person on Ontario Works receives. Mr. Arnott was supportive of the need for a supplement that would be spent in local communities. At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Arnott was presented with a candle from the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition prayer vigil. On the last day of the prayer vigil that had been held leading up to the provincial budget, candles were lit in the name of all MPP’s. The faith leaders encouraged Mr. Arnott to Do the Math himself.
July 15 (York Region) – Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO met with fifteen community leaders at the York Region Food network office in Newmarket to plan a strategy for inviting the seven MPPs of York Region to Do the Math. The examples of success in Do the Math MPP visits in North Bay, Kingston and Hamilton offered some inspiration to the group to pursue this task in York. Ron Berresford, a local activist, presented on a successful MPP outreach campaign to save staff positions at the Industrial Accident prevention Association a number of years ago in order to provide some guidance on how to organize the Do the Math visits. The group set up four Do the Math Teams to prepare for and hold meetings with Julia Munro (PC MPP for York-Simcoe), Frank Klees (PC MPP for Newmarket-Aurora), Helena Jaczek (LIB MPP for Oak Ridges-Markham), and Michael Chan (LIB MPP for Markham-Unionville). A meeting of the whole group was scheduled for September 1 to review results of these first four visits and to prepare for an important meeting Greg Sorbara (LIB MPP for Vaughan) and the two remaining MPPs in the Region, Reza Moridi (Lib – Richmond Hill) and Peter Shurman (PC – Thornhill). In her follow-up notes to the planning meeting, Yvonne Kelly writes, “Thanks to everyone who attended the meeting. There is some real momentum here in York Region and across Ontario on these issues.”
July 7 (Nipissing District) — A Do the Math Team of the Nipissing Poverty Reduction Work Group made up of Sister Priscilla Solomon, Jim Sinclair, and Tawnia Robinson visited Monique Smith, Liberal MPP for Nipissing and Amber Livingstone, her Special Assistant on Tuesday, July 7. Ms. Smith and Ms Livingstone had worked through the survey together prior to the meeting. They estimated $100/month for food costs, based on the diet of a single woman, but acknowledged that $100/month may be cutting it close for a healthy diet. When including the use of a second hand car for transportation their total monthly costs for basic necessities came to $1,881. Without the car (bus pass substituted) and other “questionable necessities” (YMCA, pet food, Internet), the MPP’s monthly tally was $1,221 to live a healthy life and to participate with dignity in the community. Ms. Smith acknowledged that current social assistance rates do not add up in the face of these costs, saying, “It’s no surprise. My calculation was a lot more than the allowances provide”. Ms. Smith offered to write to Community and Social Services Minister Meilleur voicing the PWRG’s concerns around inadequate social assistance rates and recommendations for improvement ($100/month Healthy Food Supplement), although she could not express her own clear support for the HFS at this time Ms. Smith engaged in a very interesting discussion with the team on issues such as the special diet allowance and expressed concern about the “open-endedness” of social assistance costs to cover increases. She also expressed interest in hosting a community consultation on the affordable housing review now underway. The PRWG representatives thanked Ms. Smith for her willingness to meet and discuss critical issues affecting Nipissing residents and thanked her time and attention.
July 2 (Hamilton) – A Do the Math Team of four people from the 25 in Hamilton Working Group visited Sophia Aggelonitis, Liberal MPP for Hamilton Mountain in the afternoon of July 2. The group included Bill Medeiros, Nora Melara Lopez, Jan Lukas, and Susan Muma. Sophia had done her homework. The amount she came up with for a single person on OW was $1,090. She went through each section of the survey with us. She had gone to look at a bachelor apartment on Mohawk which cost $480 per month and said she would not live there. She had shopped for a week, spending only $50 and said it was impossible. She contacted her bank and said their minimum monthly charge was $12. She had also checked out Internet access at the library, but was not aware that there is a time limit on the computer or that there were arguments over their use between library patrons. Bill told Sophia that an unattached person receiving Social Assistance in 1993 got $663, and that, today that same person receives $572 per month. Sophia pointed out that the government has raised the amount by 11% since 2003 but agreed that it wasn’t enough, and said she was determined that the government should reach the goal of 25% less poverty in 5 years. She agrees that $100 per month is not a large enough increase for OW recipients and will make sure this request is on Minister Deb Matthew’s agenda as she conducts her review of Social Assistance.
June 30 (Kingston) – A delegation of six supporters of the Put Food in the Budget campaign was organized by Tara Kainer of the Sisters of Providence Social Justice Office to visit John Gerretsen, MPP for Kingston & The Islands, in order to Do the Math with him. The group included several members of the Peer Support Initiative, people with live experience on low incomes. Mr. Gerretsen had not had time to complete the Do the Math survey before the meeting, but he did complete it while the group was present, resulting in a tally of $1,350 a month for basic necessities. Mr. Gerretsen acknowledged that social assistance benefit rates were low and had never recovered from the 22% cut in the mid-1990s. Listening to several of the peer Support Initiative members’ stories, Mr. Gerretsen remarked that the “health consequences [of eating poorly] are humongous”. While acknowledging that the proposed $100 monthly healthy Food Supplement is “not outrageous”, Mr. Gerretsen said he would get back to the team regarding support for the Healthy Food Supplement after discussing it with Minister Deb Matthews and his caucus colleagues.
June 27 (Windsor) – Fifty people, the majority having lived experience on low income, attended a three hour workshop in Windsor on the afternoon of June 27. The session was facilitated by Mike Balkwill of the SPNO. Adam Vasey of the Windsor Poverty Roundtable organized it, bringing together social housing residents, seniors, a group of young people called Home-Away-from-Home, some people with disabilities and some homeless people. The focus of the event was Do the Math and preparing for the upcoming provincial housing consultation on July 15. In describing what life in poverty was like in Windsor, participants indicated that people can use the food banks only once in three months – and get perhaps one week’s worth of food. There are issues of food quality and many comments about being treated in a humiliating way that shredded dignity. A theme emerged that all systems are breaking down – health, social assistance, food banks, housing and that all of these issues are inter-connected. Completing the Do the Math survey at small groups organized around tables, the “group” total cost for monthly basic necessities came to $1,641. Many personal stories on the struggle to get through the month emerged from the exercise.
June 25 (Sault Ste. Marie) – Algoma Community Legal Clinic, the Soup Kitchen Community Centre and the Voices of Action Against Poverty group organized a public forum in Sault Ste. Marie on June 25th looking at why people are going hungry on social assistance and how to get more money in people’s pockets. Tracey Perri of Algoma Public Health talked of the costs of eating healthy and the growing number of people in Algoma who report going hungry. Dana Milne from the Income Security Advocacy Centre described different strategies to pressure the provincial government for improvements to social assistance, including the idea of a housing benefit, a $100 monthly Healthy Food Supplement, and pushing for a broad review of social assistance and the many stupid rules that affect people’s lives. Copies of the Do the Math survey were distributed to everyone who attended and will be collected by the legal clinic. Organizations were also encouraged to distribute the surveys over the summer. In the fall, Voices of Action Against Poverty will meet to do the survey together and form a team to meet with their MPP David Orazietti to discuss various strategies for improving social assistance so that people can live with respect and dignity and be actively involved in their communities. The event ended with an amazing play, written by local playwright Jennifer Verquin, directed by Chris Horsepool and performed by the Soup Kitchen’s Theatre Group. The play, called In My Shoes: a play about poverty featured real stories and reflections from people living in poverty in Sault Ste. Marie. They are hoping to perform the play throughout the community in the coming months as a way of engaging more people in the struggle to end poverty in Sault Ste. Marie. The stories featured in the play, as well as the experiences of other people living in poverty in Sault Ste. Marie are also part of a booklet that was launched at the event and will be shared throughout the community. It is called in my shoes: real life stories about poverty in Sault Ste. Marie.
June 18 (Newmarket) – The York Food Security Network organized a community group to Do the Math and discuss a strategy for taking the exercise to other groups in the community and local MPPs. Yvonne Kelly, Joan Stonehocker, and Tom Pearson were the key local leaders who organized the event, which involved 25 community participants. Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO facilitated the session. After he and Tom Pearson provided some background on the Put Food in the Budget Campaign for a Healthy Food Supplement, the group launched into the Do the Math exercise. The first few cost items were done as a whole group and then sections were assigned to small group of five to complete the survey. There was very animated discussion about both what are important monthly necessities and what amounts should be planned for them. The group’s results indicated the cost of basic necessities in York Region would be about $1,200 monthly. Everyone recognized that people on social assistance must make a lot of forced choices and sacrifices that people with adequate incomes do not even think about. A number of participants agreed to return on July 14 to plan a strategy for taking Do the Math to other groups in the community and to the MPPs in York Region.
June 12 (Toronto) – Bronwyn Underhill, Health Promoter with the Fairview Community Health Centre, reports presenting PFIB at the Association of Ontario Health Centre‘s conference with health promoters, community development workers, and community health workers. There was positive response and a report from Barrie that it had already used Do the Math and met with their MPP. Bronwyn has also provided the Toronto CHC Food Security Network with information on “Do the Math” and there was positive feedback from the group. People will take the action back to their communities and then report back to the Network. The Fairview CHC is planning a “Do the Math” community meeting in the Don Mills/Sheppard area.
June 11 (North Bay) – Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO met with the North Bay Poverty Reduction Working Group on June 3 and presented the Do the Math tool which led to a stimulating discussion. The Communications Group of the PRWG was charged with following up with Do the Math and will plan its strategy on June 24. Several members of the group will be taking Do the Math to local MPP Monique Smith on July 7. A series of Do the math sessions and workshops will also be arranged with other community groups over the summer and fall.
June 10 (Welland) – Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO conducted a Do the Math workshop with twelve members of the St. Kevin’s Catholic Church Social Justice Committee at Notre Dame High School. The exercise generated much discussion and concentrated on how to use the tool to educate community groups about the living conditions of people on social assistance. The Committee felt some confidence following the workshop about proceeding to use the tool with other groups, initially with food bank volunteers. The Committee will also invite local NDP MPP Peter Kormos to Do the math and comment on its results.
June 9 (Kingston) — Tara Kainer, a support worker to the Kingston Peer Support Initiative, through the Sisters of Providence Social Justice Office, reports that the Hon. John Gerretsen, Kingston MPP and Minister of the Environment, has been invited by the Peer Support Initiative to Do the Math and a reply is being awaited.
June 9 (Belleville) – Peter Clutterbuck of SPNO met with the Food Security Network of Hastings County at the Hastings County Public Health Department to discuss the PFIB campaign and Do the Math. The members of the Food Security Network had completed the Do the Math survey individually prior to the meeting and reported results ranging from $875 to $1500 a month in living costs for a single person with most results being in $1100 to $1500 range. All agreed that Do the Math is a useful tool for public education and advocacy for the Healthy Food Supplement. A plan for using Do the Math in the community and approaching local MPP Leona Dumbrowski, Minister of Agriculture, will be discussed at the group’s July meeting.
June 2 (Newmarket) – The York Region Food Network introduced Do the Math as part of its community event on Hunger Awareness Day. Tom Pearson, a local activist, and participant in the PFIB panning day in Toronto on April 27 joined with Yvonne Kelly of the York Region Food Network to introduce the PFIB and Do the Math tool. A team of local food security leaders agreed at that time to convene on June 24 to Do the Math together and strategize how to take it to the wider community and also local MPPs. Peter Clutterbuck and Tom Pearson will participate as resource people to the meeting on June 24.
May 28 (Durham) – Following the April 27 PFIB strategy session in Toronto, Rebecca Fortin of the Community Development Council of Durham (CDCD), created a one page flyer to promote Do the Math in Durham Region. The Do the math tool was presented to a meeting of 40 people on May 28 and a first local team with community agency participation reviewed Do the Math together at a meeting with Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO on June 13. CDCD is supporting a number of mini-Do the Math teams to promote PFIB throughout the community and to develop a strategy for inviting the five MPPs in Durham Region to also Do the Math.
May 19 and 27 (Hamilton) – Following the April planning session in Toronto, the 25 in 5 Hamilton group met and struck a Do the Math team of ten members, convened by Marv Friesen and Susan Muma. The team came together on May 27 to Do the Math together and to plan outreach with Do the Math to other groups in the community and then how to invite local MPPs to Do the Math. More than 12 community groups were identified to get involved in Do the Math. The team also arranged a meeting with the Associate Medical Officer of Health, who agreed to publicly support the PFIB campaign and Do the Math.