May 19, 2011

A Good News Story

Let me share with you a good news story.

On March 23, Waterloo Regional Council voted to add nearly a quarter million dollars a year to the Regional budget for programs to help end persistent homelessness.  The money is to fund programs that Regional staff had identified as very important but that were not originally included in the budget.

It required a Councillor to move a motion to add that money into the budget. That Councillor was Jane Brewer from Cambridge. The motion was seconded by Councillor Jane Mitchell from Waterloo. And it passed unanimously!

Councillor Brewer was actually surprised by the level of support around the table. How did it happen?

In short, it is because many people spoke up to say we want to create a community where everyone can live free from poverty. We want our taxes used to make sure everyone has a place that is home in our community.

Between December of last year and February of this year, more than 600 individuals and organizations signed on to a declaration that said: “We Believe in a Poverty Free Waterloo Region.”

  • ·         The Declaration calls on Regional Council to develop a comprehensive approach for a Poverty Free Waterloo Region.
  • ·         It urges Council to take savings from the province uploading costs for social assistance and reinvest them in local programs to help eradicate poverty and homelessness.
  • ·         The Declaration also calls on Provincial parties to recommit to the Poverty Reduction Act – Bill 152 – that was passed unanimously in May 2009.
  • ·         And it calls on the federal government to get in the game and develop a national strategy to eradicate poverty in Canada.

The declaration with the 600+ names was delivered to Regional Council in February. And it appears that poverty will be a priority issues for the next four years of this Council. Not just because of the declaration. But because people kept raising the issues of poverty, housing and homelessness during the Region’s consultation to set its strategic plan for 2011 to 2014.

The groups who launched the Poverty Free Waterloo Region declaration included MCCO, the Social Planning Councils of Kitchener-Waterloo and of Cambridge & North Dumfries, Opportunities Waterloo Region, ISARC and the House of Friendship.

We learned that Regional staff had proposed the Region develop a comprehensive approach to poverty in the Region. We wanted to see that happen and to support provincial and national efforts to get our government working to eliminate poverty and homelessness.

The process to get more Regional funding for programs to end persistent homelessness included  learning how the Regional budget process worked and what was on the table. It included meeting and talking with as many Councillors as we could to say what we wanted to see in the budget and find out what they would support. It involved going to public budget sessions and presenting what we wanted to see in the budget. At one of these sessions, people from about five or six different groups stood up to talk about the importance of investing in programs that help people find and keep good, affordable housing.

All of that helped achieve the result that happened on March 23rd when Council voted to add more money to help end persistent homelessness.

I share this story for two reasons. One is because we need to recognize and celebrate our victories, however small they may be. The programs that are being funded do make a real difference in the lives of people they reach. But there remains much to do on the pathway to a Poverty Free Waterloo Region.

Second is to draw some lessons. One of the things I have heard from several provincial politicians is that when they meet with constituents and when they go door to door at election time, they are not hearing people talk about poverty.  We need to change that.

In Waterloo Region, enough people were talking to Regional Councillors about poverty, housing and homelessness that they voted to invest money in fixing the problem.

At the provincial level, all three parties in the provincial legislature voted for the Poverty Reduction Act. That Act requires the next government to update Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy – with targets and timelines and an action plan for reducing poverty.

Now is the time to be talking with local MPPs and candidates for the provincial election in October -- and with our neighbours, families and friends.

·         We need to hear from all parties how they plan to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario.

·         We need to hear how they will ensure that our income security programs – like social assistance – will provide enough money to meet basic needs and be designed t o give people real opportunity to get ahead.

·         We need to hear how they plan to make sure that paid work is truly a pathway out of poverty.

·         And we need to hear how they will make sure that there is an adequate supply of decent, affordable housing for everyone. So that we can live free from poverty and have a place that is home.

Eliminating poverty, ending homelessness and reducing inequality make for strong, healthy communities. Regional Councillors get it. We need to help our provincial and federal politicians understand that too. And act on it.

And we need to be talking it up with our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues so that when provincial parties create their election platforms and when provincial candidates go door-to-door they are hearing from all kinds of people who want to know what they are going to do to eliminate poverty, to  end homelessness and to make our province and our communities more equal and inclusive.

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