Fall has arrived, and with it, the traditional call for help for needy residents. SIRCH is in the midst of its Share the Warmth winter clothing drive. On Nov. 6, they are inviting those who need cold weather apparel to come to Haliburton and Minden for their giveaway day. The folks at Heat Bank Haliburton County, Central Food Network are hosting their annual event at Rhubarb Restaurant Nov. 14.
Places for People has just announced its second Sleeping in Cars fundraiser for Nov. 19 to raise money for, and awareness of, homelessness. And, the Highlands Christmas Shindig is set to return Nov. 27 for that other heat bank … Fuel for Warmth. That’s just the major ones.
We expect numerous others in the lead-up to Christmas. There will be more clothing drives, more food drives and more initiatives aimed at homelessness.
There is no doubt the fundraisers are needed. The CKL and Haliburton County Poverty Reduction Roundtable has estimated that 17.2 per cent of residents in private households are considered low-income in the Highlands. This includes 22.9 per cent of children 0-17, 18.5 per cent of adults 18-64 and 12.8 per cent of adults 65 and up. SIRCH has said that it believes that 17.2 per cent may have increased during COVID-19.
The HKPR District Health Unit estimates the child poverty rate is 25 per cent, an increase over the past few years. The health unit also said in 2019 that the ‘living wage’ in Haliburton was $19.42 per hour – what a family of four with both parents working full-time would need to earn to cover basic expenses in 2018.
This amount is much higher than Ontario’s current minimum wage. While we applaud the organizers of these events, and the residents who continue to open their wallets and calendars to help out, we repeat our call for the support of initiatives that get to the root causes of poverty. As a community, we should not take pride in the fact we have two heat banks, or need repeated annual food and clothing drives.
What we need is real change.
We know some of the contributing factors include people not being able to get reliable, secure work, affordable housing and child care and healthy food. As the health unit said a couple of years ago in a post-Christmas press release, local residents can get behind increased social assistance rates; call for people to be paid living wages; support basic employment standards to reduce unstable work and say ‘yes’ to building more affordable housing units.
Our municipalities have taken a big step of late by waiving fees and charges for those wanting to build affordable housing.
By contrast, our MPP, Laurie Scott, and her government have voted against minimum wage increases – until a bump up to $15-an-hour this week. Shortly after the September federal election, The Haliburton County/CKL Roundtable for Ending Poverty said affordable housing, basic income and national childcare are keys.
We’d like to see MP Jamie Schmale and his Conservatives work with the Liberal government on this three-pronged plan instead of continuing to criticize from the cheap seats.
As the health unit quite rightly pointed out, the local economy is boosted when everyone has stable jobs that pay living wages.
Communities are healthier when everyone has a safe and affordable place to live, can afford nutritious food, and are able to participate in recreational activities. Local families will also face less stress, while children can grow, thrive and succeed in school. So, as the Autumn fundraising season gets underway, here’s our call to action:
• Haliburton County residents: By all means continue to help with your time and money but look into supporting solutions that get to the root causes of poverty and hold your politicians accountable.
• Residents affected by poverty: We would like to hear your stories. Agencies say they can’t share them because it breaches your confidentiality. However, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 705- 457-7177.
• Politicians of all stripes, but specifically Scott and Schmale. We’d like some concrete examples of things you have done, or plan to do, to help find long-term solutions to poverty in Haliburton County.