Inside Toronto: Ontario Works and ODSP aren't enough to live on, Toronto residents say

Posted March 7, 2017

Maxine wants people who think the province’s ODSP benefits are enough to live three months in her shoes.
Those shoes were a gift from a friend. So was the jacket she wore as Maxine and others demonstrated outside a Weston-area office to argue Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program payments are too low.
“The government knows no one can survive on what they’re offering,” said Maxine, who wouldn’t give her last name but said she was a rest home administrator before suffering kidney failure in 1994.
The North Scarborough woman’s been on ODSP ever since, and though she lives in public housing, getting through the month is getting harder no matter how she stretches the money.
Maxine’s diabetic but sometimes misses meals. Her health is getting worse. She can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables she needs for a healthier diet.
“If you’re lucky enough you might get a friend to throw you a pair of shoes,” Maxine said on Feb. 27 as members of the advocacy group ACORN stood in front of the York Humber Employment and Social Services on Rogers Road.
Some think “we’re all pariahs, we’re all scamming,” said Laurie Simpson, chairperson of the group’s Weston chapter.
Simpson said she’d love to work, but her disabilities don’t allow her to. On ODSP since 2005, she now spends 75 per cent of her payment on rent.
Joy Mackenzie, on Ontario Works and homeless, said the city took her dog, Diesel, a 13-month-old Rottweiler, and are holding him in an Etobicoke shelter. “I’m trying to get him back but they say I’ve got to pay $209, which I don’t have.”
She said she agreed to leave her last apartment, where the stove was broken and you could smell the mould, on Jan. 25. OW doesn’t give people enough for shelter and food, Mackenzie said. “They’re not giving you what you need.”
Several at the protest said Toronto’s rising cost of living makes it impossible to meet basic needs, and people suffer as a result. Finding an apartment is near-impossible on a monthly rental allowance of $500 to $600 a month, they say.
Later, York South-Weston MPP Laura Albanese said the Liberal government knows the affordability issue “is felt more acutely” in Toronto.
There’s a need to reform social assistance rates, but also to “go beyond the rates” to get people out of poverty, Albanese said. “It is important work. We certainly don’t want to leave the most vulnerable behind.”
The government consulted people recently on replacing provincial social assistance with a guaranteed basic income. Simpson and other ACORN members, however, want OW and ODSP rates raised immediately.
Judith Taylor, on ODSP, can’t afford to get her three-year-old daughter in gymnastics or swimming and lives in a roach-infested building at Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue; she can’t afford to move and is $600 behind in her rent.
“We are people,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to live on the streets with my daughter and I don’t want to give her up.”
Article by Mike Adler for Inside Toronto