Toronto Star: Anti-poverty, anti-violence advocates 'hopeful' new PC government will act

Posted June 7, 2022

Three Toronto anti-poverty and anti-violence advocates are calling on Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives' enlarged majority government to lift up vulnerable lives and increase safety in the city.

The Daily Bread Food Bank's CEO describes this Ontario election as “hopeful” for Ontarians living on low income, particularly those receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments.

A University of Calgary research paper released earlier this year reported 51 per cent of Daily Bread clients have a disability or health condition expected to last a year or more. And about one in four clients report ODSP as their primary income source.

“This is the first Ontario election that I’m aware of where all four parties have committed to increases in disability (payments),” Neil Hetherington said. “So, I’m hopeful because there’s a common understanding that we as a province have chosen to legislate people who are on disability into poverty. If you’re on disability, we legislate that you have to be at half of the poverty line.”

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives promised to increase ODSP rates by five per cent, adjusted for inflation thereafter, a pledge not in their recent budget.

The NDP had pledged to double ODSP rates; the Liberals and Green Party promised to boost it 20 per cent.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Rendon, co-chair of the Toronto ACORN downtown chapter, says action must be taken — now — to lift disabled Ontarians out of extreme poverty.

“It’s very important,” he said. “We’ve been pressuring the government for more than a decade to double ODSP. What can people do with (a) five per cent (increase)? It’s not enough.”

Gonzalez-Rendon, 47, is immunocompromised with a serious lung condition that affects his breathing. He has issues with his feet. He lives in Toronto housing and receives support from his ex-partner to survive.

“It’s deciding whether I pay for medical costs, or do I pay for food?” he said. “These are decisions many people have to make every single day. (The government) has to do something about (ODSP). How in the world can people with a disability live on about $1,000 a month? No one can survive on that.”

Hetherington is hopeful affordable housing and precarious employment are also on the new government’s agenda.

“A poll out (election day) said the No. 1 issue on Ontarians’ minds is housing. When I was CEO of Habitat for Humanity from 2000 to 2013, we stamped our feet that housing was a major issue. It was never even on the radar. Now it is,” he said.

“We can see over and over again, the new faces at food banks are individuals cobbling together two or three jobs to make ends meet, going without dental or medical for their kids …” Hetherington said. “Difficult questions we’re forcing people to address.”

Currently, Daily Bread serves 160,000 clients a month. Hetherington predicts that number will spike to 220,000 a month, nearly four times what it was pre-pandemic, during the charity’s next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Meanwhile, Louis March, founder of Zero Gun Violence Movement, is urging the next government to come up with a “strategic action plan” to deal with gun violence.

“We have one from the feds. We have one from the city,” he said, adding he wants the next provincial government to have the “courage” to incorporate a strategic plan with the other levels of government.

On May 30, the federal government tabled legislation that would freeze the sale of handguns in Canada.

According to Toronto police, there have been 166 shootings and firearm discharges as of May 29 this year, compared to 140 at this time last year. The city is also seeing an increase in gun killings with 19 this year, compared to 12 at this time in 2021.

March is also calling on the premier to close the socio-economic gap between wealthy neighbourhoods and those where gun violence is rampant, such as Rexdale and Jane and Finch, he said. “That means massive investment in these communities that are struggling with poverty, lack of opportunity and criminal activity. I want to see more positive alternatives created for youth in these communities,” he said. “Some of these people that are involved in criminal activity and gang activity see this as their only choice and only alternative.”

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Article by Tamara Shephard for the Toronto Star

 

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