Wasaga Beach: What are the parties doing for homelessness?
April 18, 2011 6:18 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, ON)
We’re in the heat of an election campaign and I still haven’t seen a vision put forward by the right, left or centre to deal with our rapidly growing list of disadvantaged. My local queries have gone nervously unanswered and the community resource network is anxiously awaiting recognition. The charity of churches and individual donors can’t possibly put a roof over everyone’s head.
I attended the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCATEH) annual report card unveiling Sunday in Collingwood, Ont. The Chair of the meeting, Trevor Lester, is a passionate and educated advocate on behalf of the epidemic. This year’s release focused on the plight of women and how they’ve been impacted by different socio economic factors. After the speeches concluded he was kind enough to speak to me:
Liberal Alex Smardenka was the only candidate in attendance, which surprised me. I was perplexed and disappointed he didn’t speak, though, nor did he stay after the presentation for questions. I understand the campaign trail is busy, but Smardenka vacated the building before closing applause could finish. We weren’t able get information on the Liberal platform at all and he only appeared to visit as a spectator.
Other notable attendees included Harry Chadwick, a former Conservative MP in the Mulroney government (1988-93). Chadwick is also a kindred community member who’s given his time to many causes. He’s mild mannered, chipper and looks like everyone’s favourite grandpa, but in the context of homelessness and the federal election he offered a sobering comment.
“My party has evolved from the PC party to the Reform, to the Reform Alliance… and now to the Conservative Party of Canada, CPC. And it would appear my party has lost its heart.”
Pastor Seagram of the Wasaga Beach Ministerial Food Bank, former MP Harry Chadwick, Mayor of Wasaga Beach Cal Patterson and Mayor of Collingwood Sandra Cooper. (Submitted by Amy MacPherson)
Locally, and in most of rural Ontario, access to affordable housing is scant and community based services have eroded to skeleton referral systems. As we’ve seen our numbers skyrocket over the recession, the federal government has backed further away from its commitments. On any given night there may be 2,900 women in Simcoe County alone, who are braving the elements or coping with dangerous situations. To give you some perspective, our total county population compares to one-fifth of Toronto and these statistics aren’t accounting for homeless men or children.
The Wellesley Institute discovered affordable housing will be zeroed out by 2014 under the federal government’s current mandate. This would place all responsibility for homelessness on the backs of provinces and individual communities, with $1.22 billion being cut from this year’s budget alone. The full phase out occurs over three years, although the initial wound will virtually defunct the program well before its official retirement.
The Conservative government has since found more than $1 billion in funding for a variety of programs, including infrastructure repairs, disaster relief and snowmobile clubs in the 2011 budget. As Lester put it, “Why aren’t we jumping up and down with numbers like these in our communities?”
Others on the frontlines have questioned the trade off, especially when the consequences are unmistakable. According to SCATEH:
37 per cent of women living on the streets were physically assaulted in the last year
21 per cent were sexually assaulted once or more in the last year
50 per cent were turned away from shelters that were already full
42 per cent are living on $2,400 or less per year
25 per cent suffered from pneumonia
43 per cent are experiencing problems with their feet
43 per cent are also going hungry
It costs us more than $2,500 to keep them in hospital when there is nowhere left to go, per patient, per visit.
The women in this study were homeless for an average of three years. They suffer quadruple the rate of diabetes and quintuple that of heart disease. Without a home they aren’t able to receive steady treatment though. Without a home they are ten times more likely to die.
A Collingwood woman wanted to share her personal experience. She once enjoyed a middle class life, but was forced on the street through a series of challenges. In the past she was a business manager and her family participated in the community, supporting the food bank and other charitable causes. It was a harsh reversal of fortune, but she points out it could happen to anyone:
If those statistics don’t force us to take a harder look at this recession, then consider what theRegistered Nurses’ Association of Ontario published. There’s been a 51 per cent increase in the homelessness of single parent families. There’s also been a 60 per cent increase in children taken into foster care, as a direct result of food and shelter issues. This is the street level view of have-not Ontario and we need the federal parties to sit up and take notice.
The women in our province are mothers and caretakers. Some call it a matter of welfare and others see it as a disservice to our communities. What is the overall cost of taking 60 per cent of their children into state care, compared with providing affordable housing? Speaking of government priorities, the Fraser Institute calculated $182 billion already spent in corporate welfare hasn’t managed to benefit the average family yet.
The Executive Director of Georgian Triangle Housing Resource Centre, Gail Michalenko reports our area suffers from a 0.9% rental vacancy rate. At Wasaga Cares we also see a long list of clients who are in need of a home. Many of these families are working poor who can’t afford the rent either. They’ve been asking which party has developed a plan to address their wellbeing and on their behalf I submit this question to all party leaders.
Wasaga Beach: The art of promising an un-promise
April 15, 2011 5:55 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ontario)
Like countless others I tuned into the English Leaders’ Debate and managed to be one of the four million who absorbed the performance from beginning to end. I choose the word “performance” carefully in that lines were for repetition, shoulders squared for the correct camera, and hand movements choreographed as if conducting the words that followed.
All cynicism aside, I think it would have been worth the ticket price had they changed the event to a “Leaders Debate on Ice.” Just imagine the improv we might have seen if they were handed skates and a hockey stick.
Social media, on the other hand, was forthcoming with opinion and – as expected – the airwaves were vibrantly a-Twitter. I soon found I was not alone in my reluctance to embrace the event. Few watchers enjoyed the constant finger wagging or how very few of the questions were actually being answered. A query about immigrants was quickly flipped by Stephen Harper to suggest Quebec was somehow separating. If that didn’t make any sense then neither did Duceppe’s response that Harper signed a coalition in 2004. In any event, six million viewers and the overwhelming majority turned the channel for some reason.
Those who remained were treated to a very special lesson in the art of promising an un-promise. I have never seen a campaign based on programs that might start five and ten years down the road, but that’s the platform the Conservatives were offering. We would have another election before then and even longtime supporters have been wondering who this mandate benefits.
In Simcoe-Grey riding we have numerous small business owners, especially geared to cottage country. I spoke with Tim Wardell of Wasaga Beach, Ont., who has a shop in town. Traditionally he has always identified with right wing ideologies, but after watching the leaders’ debate he’s decided to change his vote. Here’s what he had to say:
The Conservative Party is offering tax breaks for the middle class, but only after the deficit is paid. They’re offering art credits and fitness credits, also after the deficit is paid. The only things they’ve budgeted in the next term are jets, submarine bombs, prisons, Quebec’s HST subsidy, andcorporate tax cuts. Harper has been very clear about where our money is going, except he uses a certain way of describing it: tax cuts!
It’s a very catchy phrase, but if you try to say it too many times you’ll stumble on the words before long. The biggest problem with this picture is these tax cuts are for corporations and not at all for the family or the little guy. The reality is we have a record deficit and it’s only the richest of the rich who stand to benefit. Anyone else will need a good psychic to peer through the next decade to see what happens.
Along with these long range promises for middle class relief, the Conservatives have spent 10 years into the future. They’ve put us on a rent-to-own plan for purchasing the F-35s, with an unlimited price tag upon completion of contract. Unlimited. We just don’t know. The seller can demand any amount it wants.
So how will families ever get their tax cut if we have to carry this burden for another 10 years? By that time Suzy will be in college and her dreams of ballet school will have fallen by the wayside. George will be 70 instead of 60 and never made it on a treadmill to strengthen his heart.
Corporate tax cuts are proven historically ineffective for job creation. We’re already lower than the U.S. and most G8 countries. In the process we’ll remove billions of dollars from our tax base at a time when baby boomers are starting to rely on health care.
Stephen Harper’s pledge to families relies on a number of different variables: If he is elected two more times, in addition to the current vote; If we have a surplus of money after the F-35s are paid in full; If there are no disasters in the meantime; If our health care system can sustain the pressure of an aging population; If the world recovers from a global recession in our time frame; If we don’t commit to any more wars; If wages match food and energy inflation. Only then will the family unit be considered.
As far as I can see it’s campaigning on the hypothetical, the art of promising an un-promise.
Wasaga Beach: Rally for respect in Toronto
April 12, 2011 4:00 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)
Over the weekend I had an opportunity to attend the Rally for Respect at Dundas and Yonge Square in Toronto. It was organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour, but countless individuals, organizations and community groups came out to voice their concerns and support one another.
I’ve been to a handful of peaceful gatherings but a few things really struck me this time. Although the event began as a statement against public service cuts and privatization, the venue was quickly embraced by every voter longing to be heard. Their issues ranged all levels of government, but united was their plea for basic, human consideration over that of corporations. That particular take-away was shared by everyone.
It reminded me of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s This or That project almost immediately. The people are aware that government has choices and they’re holding them accountable to make the right ones. If you visit the site it will demonstrate a number of key tradeoffs in proposed budget plans and as voters we are tasked with guiding their decisions – not the other way around and perhaps in spite of what advertising tells us.
I’ve included a photo gallery to share some of their sentiments. You’ll see messages regarding employment, subsidized housing, food, women’s rights, isolation of immigrants and military withdrawal to name a few. One could say these echoed the same qualms expressed during the G20, but without police in riot gear there were no violent incidents to mention. Instead they brought the beautiful horses out to mingle and smiled for the camera in good spirits. It was a very positive event, from all perspectives.
Ten thousand people harmoniously stood shoulder to shoulder, waving their flags and chanting in unison. The mantras were equal parts frustration with not being valued and a certain warm strength that bonds them together. A sign reads, “We Are One” and that’s exactly how I would characterize the crowd. Yet their ages ranged from toddlers to grandparents and every ethnicity was represented. These weren’t just certain groups of people, they were all the people united in one voice: Fight back!
Now don’t get me wrong, their idea of fighting was to fill out a postcard that would bombard government offices for now. They’ll even hand deliver so postal staff won’t be overwhelmed. That’s the thing about underestimating though. These folks send their dissent in writing, make songs that are lyrically pleasing and because they’re so peaceful the government hasn’t been listening. Is it not ironic, their political fates will come down to what these people scribble on a paper ballot then?
They’ll be writing for healthcare instead of jet planes. Childcare instead of prisons. Pharmacare instead of corporate tax cuts. I think the popular theme is reminding Parliament Hill that Canadians care about we-the-people, contrary to their sacrifice for the pursuit of sheer capitalism. You might also be surprised by the amount of young voters with opinions on Afghanistan, so until next time, I leave you with their video clip.