Approximately 70 people attended the poverty reduction consultation for Kitchener on Thursday, 19 June 2008, from 1-4 pm. It was held at the Lion’s Arena on Rittenhouse and Blockline Roads. Area Members of the Provincial Parliament in attendance were Hon John Milloy, MPP (Kitchener Centre), Leeanna Pendergast, MPP (Kitchener–Conestoga) and Elizabeth Witmer, MPP (Kitchener–Waterloo)r. Milloy and Pendergast stayed for the whole consultation; Witmer left after an hour.
In attendance was a good mix of people: persons living in poverty, social service and health care agencies staff, chamber of commerce staff, peoples of colour, labour union members, and advocates.
Though the primary focus was on child poverty, groups broadened their comments to include adults on Ontario Works, workers with low wages, persons with mental health and addiction issues, parents with special needs children, etc.
Tables of 6 persons worked on the questions, but did not have adequate time to respond. For example, Question # 5 was not discussed.
Some themes which came out numerous times:
- Partnerships and coalitions in the Waterloo Region are working well. Some of the larger, government-mandated services are not always at the table: school boards, Family and Children’s Services, Probation, Parole, etc. The work of the coalitions sometimes is not communicated to other staff.
- Neighbourhood centres and outreach workers are doing a very good job in the region. Decentralizing of services is important, especially getting services closer to the people. This is even more critical when families and persons are new Canadians. Trust needs to be built up with persons and families who are struggling in poverty
- Affordable housing is much needed in the region.
- Services should be universal, so that there is no stigma attached to people requesting the services.
- Services should be person or family centred, building on assets, rather than specifically geared to problems.
- Transportation is a very significant issue for persons and families with lower incomes.
- An increase in social assistance is absolutely necessary.
- There needs to be more support for families in transition out of poverty. It is difficult to negotiate the “systems” (housing, social assistance, childcare, medical and dental benefits, etc). A family or person needs to make many changes in lifestyle and sometimes cultural adjustments when an adult begins working. Can there be social workers to assist/ coach people through this process.
- Addictions and mental health are critical issues which need to be addressed. There are too few services for children and adults.
- Labour and employment standards and enforcement are critical. Temporary Employment Agencies and Money Marts need regulation.
- Lives in the Balance, 25 in 5, and SPNO were all mentioned several times by different tables.
MPPs John Milloy and Leeanna Pendergast will be holding a public consultation at the Schwaben Club, 1668 King Street East, from 6-9 pm on Thursday, 3 July 2008. Elizabeth Witmer MPP said that she would be holding a public consultation in her riding later in July – neither date nor place was provided.
Brice Balmer with comments by Greg DeGroot Maggetti
Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition