TVO Today: What’s in it for me?: An ODSP recipient on affordability — and politicians who ‘forget what it’s like to be a normal person’

Posted May 11, 2022

Dayna Sparkes lives in east Hamilton with her husband and four children. She works with Hamilton ACORN to advocate against poverty.

As told to Justin Chandler.

Ten years ago, I could go and spend $100 and bring back half a grocery cart full of food. Now, I spend $100 and bring back maybe two or three bags of food. It’s been an awful experience. It makes it difficult to feed a family. It just makes it difficult to live.

I receive Ontario Disability Support Program payments. During the time I’ve been here, those have gone up maybe $10 or $20, if that. It’s not enough to make a difference.

I don’t work now. But I did work part-time before, making minimum wage. The government doesn’t touch the first $200 that you make as an ODSP recipient, but everything after that, they take 50 cents on the dollar. I was getting quite a bit taken off by the end of the month, so it made it very hard to budget money and ensure I had enough for rent.

I’ve been at my three-bedroom apartment 10 years now. When I first moved in, the rent was $915. To my knowledge, the landlord charges new renters $1,950. I have looked for a new place to live, because I don’t like mine. Everywhere I look for a three-bedroom is $2,500 or more. I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I can’t find anything. The only affordable housing that I can even think of would be subsidized CityHousing. I’ve been told the wait-list is 12 years. That’s not attainable for anybody.

For me, affordability and cost of living would be bringing up social-assistance rates and working on affordable housing. ODSP and Ontario Works payments need to be brought up to match inflation and the cost of living. We are way below the poverty line. The maximum a single person gets on ODSP is about $1,200 and the cost of an average one-bedroom apartment is about $1,500. That’s just not attainable on ODSP.

More and more people are becoming homeless. People can’t afford a place to live, they can’t afford groceries, and they end up on the streets.

I think what happens is when people become politicians, they forget what it’s like to be a normal person. They need to remember their roots and that they’re working for the people. The people are the ones who vote them in, and the people are counting on them. When they’re not doing the things people need, people struggle and lose faith. It’s disheartening.

I know that the Liberal government and the NDP government plan on raising the ODSP rates by 20 per cent. On top of that, the NDP is also planning on doing rent control and vacancy control. And the Liberal party is is talking about those. Whether they do it is another story, but the hope would be that they make good on their party promises. I would not be excited if the PCs got back in. I don't think another four years of them would be a good scenario. I’ve seen a lot of renovictions over the last couple of years, especially with a lot of people who are ODSP and OW recipients. It’s really sad to see, and I just want to see it end.

This story has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

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