Alex Coop: Poverty not just a winter problem
|By Alex Coop - Reporter | April 27, 2017
Summer is drawing closer, and townships across the county are working hard to make sure they achieve that summer glow our seasonal (and permanent) residents expect.
Roads are being swept, grass is being cut, and those ugly piles of grey snow that always overstay their welcome are finally melting away.
But before we flip that switch, let’s talk about one of the county’s biggest and ongoing challenges: poverty.
A recent report from Heat Bank Haliburton County says the not-for-profit organization responded to one heat or hydro-related emergency per day this year, resulting in the busiest winter on record.
Of the 238 clients who were assisted, more than 20 per cent were seniors. Nearly 35 per cent of cases involved children.
Not only is this unacceptable – the decision to buy groceries or heat a home is nearing scary-levels of normalization for dozens of families in the county – but the numbers aren’t getting any better.
Nearly 16 per cent of Ontario adults aged 18 to 64 were living in poverty in 2014, according to Statistics Canada. We expect the 2016 census numbers, when released, to show little change.
Poverty isn’t just a winter problem, and while the howling winds and icy temperatures pose a greater challenge for people already struggling to make ends meet, the need for adequate support systems and well-supplied food banks is a year-round priority.
People living in poverty require more than a band-aid to their problems, and while our food and heat banks provide an invaluable service to the county, thanks to the hundreds of passionate volunteers who work within them, we must explore more permanent solutions.
Our county’s poverty reduction strategy is an important document that highlights the need for better transportation, housing and access to Internet, among other critical items that require our townships’ – and province’s - attention.
Progress, unfortunately, is moving at a snail’s pace.
Ontario’s basic income pilot project, which will launch in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay, could be a step forward in creating a system that helps people lift themselves out of poverty.
The current complexities of our social assistance programs are difficult to navigate, and public servants overseeing these programs often emphasize monitoring and policing rather than helping and advising.
The three-year pilot project aims to “explore the effectiveness of providing a basic income to people who are currently living on low incomes, whether they are working or not,” Kathleen Wynne told reporters in Hamilton Monday, adding it will apply to people making less than $17,000 per year.
It’s too early to tell what kind of results this project will yield – and disappointing that Haliburton wasn’t selected for a pilot project of this kind – but it’s something the province and municipalities can hopefully build upon in the next several years.
In the meantime, let’s do our best to, at the very least, not forget about poverty in the Highlands this summer.
What you can do
Support our food banks and heat banks year-round. Attend those wood-cutting sessions to build fuel stores for next winter. Buy locally when you can, to support local jobs and families.
Resist the impulse to judge. Unforeseen circumstances can quickly change someone’s life, sometimes for the worst. No doubt, there are people who abuse the system, but having a strong support system for those who do truly need it is part of what makes us a responsible and compassionate society.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.