December 5, 2013

Ontario Needs a Bold New Poverty Reduction Strategy

December 4, 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy.

To mark the occasion, I co-authored an article with Sarah Blackstock of the YWCA Toronto. The article appeared on-line in the Star.

In it we assess what has worked in the first PRS and where we need to go in the next Strategy, which is due now -- or at least before the end of March.

The first strategy, limited though it was, marked an historic step for Ontario. Never before had the Province set a target to reduce poverty. And though the target was not reached in the first five years, there was progress in reducing child poverty. That was despite the deep recession Ontario was plunged into just as the first strategy was released.

Time for Bold Action on Poverty Reduction
Now it is time to renew the strategy and set a target to go farther toward eradicating poverty in Ontario.

I have often heard politicians of all stripes tell me that they don't hear about poverty from their constituents. Here is an opportunity for you to let your MPP know you want to see bold action on poverty reduction.

Together Ontario has launched an on-line letter for individuals to sign and send to all three party leaders, with a copy to your own MPP. Take a moment to visit Together Ontario and sign the letter.

Many thanks.

November 14, 2013

Living Wage Makes Good Business Sense

You may have seen the Globe and Mail's recent series on Canada's inequality problem. One of the things the series looks at is Canada's Wage Gap.

Last week I had the chance to participate in a Tamarack Institute tele-learning session on how the Living Wage Makes Good Business Sense.

You can listen to the thought-provoking podcast here.

The session looked at what it has meant for two organizations to become living wage employers: Vancity and the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.
Hamilton Wentworth District School Board is the first elected body in Ontario to become a living wage employer.

The podcast gets into the nuts and bolts of what it takes to become a living wage employer. It is a process that takes time and the commitment to make it happen.

November 7, 2013

What's in a Living Wage

There is a growing living wage movement across Ontario and across Canada.

But what is in a living wage?

A living wage has been defined as "the hourly wage needed for a family to meet everyday expenses."
Here is a definition from Vibrant Calgary's Living Wage Leaders program:
"A Living Wage is the amount of income an individual or family needs to:
  • Meet their basic needs: housing, transportation, adequate, nutritious food
  • Maintain a safe, decent, dignified standard of living
  • Save for future needs and goals
  • Devote quality time to family, friends and community"
Calculating a living wage starts with a conversation about what goes into a decent standard of living. So here is a list of some items to consider for a living wage. 

  • Housing - rent
  • Utilities - heat, electricity, water
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Phone
  • Transportation - car, bus tickets, taxi
  • Education - continuing education for adults, school fees for children
  • Child care
  • Health care - pharmacy and dental care
  • Recreation - theatre, concert or sporting events, for example
  • Fitness
  • Saving for retirement
  • Annual vacation
  • Mortgage and other debt payments

Which ones would you include in a list of what it takes to have a decent standard of living? What would you add?

November 6, 2013

Working for a Living

One of the goals of Mennonite Central Committee's work internationally and in Ontario is to help ensure people have access to sustainable livelihoods and food.

In Ontario, the main source of a sustainable livelihood for most people is paid work.

But if you are working for a living, what does it take to make a living wage?

Here is a sobering fact about poverty and work in Ontario:
In 2010, 92,500, or one-third of children living in poverty had a parent who worked full-time, full-year.
Stay tuned. In this series of blog posts, we'll explore how people are trying to make sure working for a living really provides a sustainable livelihood.

October 9, 2013

Time for a New Poverty Reduction Strategy

The Government of Ontario has been asking people for input into a new provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy.

In December 2008, Ontario became the third province in Canada to implement a Poverty Reduction Strategy. Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador were the first two.

Ontario's first PRS -- Breaking the Cycle -- was influenced by the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction, which had called for a provincial strategy with targets, timelines and an action plan for reducing poverty in Ontario.

The 25 in 5 Network called for a strategy to cut poverty by 25% in five years (from 2008 to 2013), by 50% in ten years on the way toward eradicating poverty within twenty years. The call aimed at making sure every Ontario would have enough income to rise above the poverty line -- the Low Income Measure.

September 10, 2013

Lessons on Pharmacare from Around the World

written by Josie Newman

What's Available in France

In France, residents' prescriptions are covered by statutory public health insurance. But the degree to which a drug is publicly subsidized varies, depending on the necessity and efficacy of it. For that non-subsidized portion of prescriptions, many people rely on private insurance provided through their employer.   

There are four levels of reimbursement based on the degree to which a drug is considered safe, effective and essential, how well it treats serious health issues, and how high its therapeutic value is -- 100%, 65%, 30% and 15%. The average publicly funded reimbursement rate in France in 2007 was 76.77%.       

Only pharmacies are allowed to sell non-prescription drugs, whether they are kept behind the counter or out on the shelves. Costs for these are not reimbursed by the government.


Astronomical health care spending in France has caused the government in recent years to favor subsidizing generic drugs, which are usually 30% cheaper, over brand names. By 2011, 71% of publicly funded drugs were generic. In fact, people on social security are only allowed to use generic drugs. By 2010, health care spending was so out of control there was a 11.6 billion euro shortfall in France's health-care system but that is predicted to decrease to a 5.1 billion euro shortfall in 2013, largely due to the move towards generic drugs.   

September 4, 2013

More on Pharmacare: How Canada Ranks against other OECD Countries

written by Josie Newman

As Canadians, we pay one of the highest pharmaceutical rates per capita in the world, $691 annually. Many other OECD countries have effective, and heavily -- if not completely -- subsidized pharmacare systems, particularly New Zealand, the UK, and France.

New Zealand

In contrast to Canada, Annualper capita spending in New Zealand in 2007 was only $241, the lowest tracked rate globally. New Zealand also had the lowest prices of any country for the 30 most commonly prescribed drugs, and has one of the most effective pharmacare systems in the world.      

One of the reasons for that effective system is Pharmac, the crown corporation which legislates which drugs are subsidized and by how much, based on their effectiveness for a majority of patients. Pharmac shares the price and risk of similar medications with drug suppliers marketing a new drug as a way of negotiating costs and contracts with those suppliers. By doing so, Pharmac saved New Zealanders $80 million during a four year period!              

August 26, 2013

The Scope of Public Pharmacare in BC and Quebec

written by Josie  Newman

Although most of the Western provinces offer some form of income-based public pharmacare, British Columbia has the best program. Quebec is unique in that it is the only Canadian province with mandatory pharmacare, but its drug prices are unnecessarily high due to the government's failure to monitor prices charged by drug manufacturers.    

British Columbia

Similar in scope to Ontario's income-based Trillium plan, British Columbia has a Fair Pharmacare Program which covers 70% of prescription drug costs for residents born after 1939. But unlike Ontario's generous pharmacare for seniors, those British Columbians who are born before 1939 are eligible for Enhanced Fair PharmaCare which only covers 75% of costs.

photo from
Everyone enrolled in Fair Pharmacare has 70% of their prescription costs covered, but those who pay deductibles pay full prescription costs until they have paid their annual deductible. After that, they are covered for 70% of costs until they reach the maximum payment for their income level at which point they are covered for 100% of costs.

August 13, 2013

Pharmacare: What is Publicly Funded in Ontario

written by Josie Newman

Here in Ontario, we excel among other provinces in our coverage of seniors' drug costs. We cover those on social assistance, ODSP, and in long-term care but there is plenty of room for improvement in our coverage of the working poor and others who have marginal incomes. 

PharmaCare for Seniors

Through the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, our province's biggest publicly funded pharmacare program, full pharmacare coverage is provided to residents 65 and older regardless of income. Seniors in the lowest income bracket pay no deductibles for their prescriptions, while the remainder of seniors pay an annual $100 deductible. 

Seniors who earn less than $16,018 per year if they are single or less than $24,175 per couple pay no deductibles but do pay $2 each time they get a prescription filled. Those single seniors who earn more than $16,018 pay an annual deductible of $100 and up to $6.11 each time they fill a prescription while those senior couples who earn more than $24,175 annually pay a $100 deductible between them and up to $6.11 to fill each prescription.   

ODB also provides full coverage, with no deductible and up to $2 per prescription, to Ontarians in long-term care facilities, those utilizing home care or those receiving Ontario Works and ODSP. 

August 6, 2013

Public Pharmacare in Canada: The Current Situation

written by Josie Newman

photo credit:

Similar to dental care, pharmacare in Ontario and the rest of Canada shows an alarming lack of integration with the rest of our health care system. Only 44% of our prescription drugs are publicly funded while 90% of our hospital costs and 99% of our medical costs are paid for with public dollars! Even worse, 18% of prescription drugs are paid for by people's own money while 38% is paid for through private insurance plans. It's estimated 23% of Canadians forego filling their prescriptions due to lack of money.

Most sectors of Canadian society are now advocating for federal public pharmacare as it's been proven in other countries that it is less draining on the public purse and gives the entire population access to needed prescriptions regardless of income. One public system would cost less than several smaller systems because there would be fewer administrative, marketing and regulatory costs, and there would be much greater sway during price negotiations with drug manufacturers. If we paid as little per capita for pharmaceuticals as the UK, which has a fully integrated pharmacare system, we could spend $14 billion less than our current annual drug costs of 33 billion! 

July 12, 2013

The Final Goal: Public Dental Coverage for All

Written by Josie Newman

The European nations of Germany, Britain, and the four Nordic countries have the finest dental care in the world. It is an integral part of their entire health care systems. But most of the EU has a frightening lack of public oral health care which has negative spin-offs to general health and public finances. For example, in the EU, more money is spent on treating cavities, periodontal or gum disease, and oral cancer than on treating cancer, heart disease, stroke or dementia. This is unfortunate because gum diseases are associated with rheumatoid arthritis and coronary heart disease.
photo credit:
One of the culprits in this situation is a lackof policy emphasis on oral disease prevention in Europe. Suggestions have been made by members of the Platform for Better Healthin Europe:
  • to incorporate the improvement of oral health into EU policies by 2020
  • to develop standard methodologies in data collection so information on residents' oral health is accurate
  • to support the development in Europe of a dental workforce of lay practitioners as opposed to just dentists
 These tie into Global Goals for Oral Health 2020, established by the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Dental Federation (FDI), and the International Association of Dental Research (IADR). These global goals include:

June 12, 2013

Poverty Reduction Budget? Definitely Not, but We're Headed in the Right Direction

On June 12, 2013 Ontario’s 2013 Budget, A Prosperous and Fair Ontario, passed its third and final reading in the legislature.   You may recall that earlier in the year the 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction, along with many other anti-poverty groups across the province, pushed hard for the government to take positive steps to reduce the hardship experienced by people in Ontario who live on low-incomes. 

After all of our hard work we are both disappointed with what has been offered and hopeful that the changes made to our social assistance and income security systems will help to build momentum for positive social assistance reform and for the next Poverty Reduction Strategy, due at the end 2013. (Click here to refresh your memory on 25in5’s call to Put Fairness in the Budget and here for MCC Ontario's letter to Premier Wynne and Ms. Andrea Horwath in response to the budget).

I suppose the collective feeling around the anti-poverty table might be that the budget is lackluster.  It delivers some key changes that must take place to move forward but, as far as fairness is concerned, the budget is far from moving low-income people out of poverty.

On the hopeful side, the $14/month increase in the incomes of single people receiving Ontario Works, accompanied by a 1% increase for all people receiving social assistance, leaves us feeling optimistic that our political leaders are committed to moving forward.  $14 may not seem like a lot, but when one’s total monthly social assistance income is a mere $656 (after taxes and transfers), every little bit helps. (Source: Ministry of Community and Social Services: Income of Social Assistance Recipients).

June 6, 2013

Ontario Oral Health Alliance Symposium: Keeping the Momentum to Promote Access to Affordable Dental Care for All

Written by Josie Newman

A symposium of Ontario's public health care professionals who work in oral health came together last week to compare notes on progress made during the last year on getting the message out to the community and to politicians of the high priority of publicly funded oral health care. Ontario's current system has a patchwork quilt approach to public dental funding with its main emphasis on children and those on social assistance or disability support.    

Delegates to the Ontario Oral Health Alliance symposium, held at the Bramalea Community Health Centre, reported that the 2012 postcard campaign which sent hundreds of the public's signatures on postcards to MPPs advocating the extension of provincial programs to include adults who need and can't afford emergency dental treatment was met with agreement by a majority of the 26 MPPs who received the postcards. Other delegates reported success within their communities in terms of receiving greater municipal funding, and with adults and seniors expressing their need for more publicly funded programs. Yet others expressed frustration with what they said was an attempt by some dentists to discourage politicians from giving more funding for public programs.   
Photo Credit: Purva Singh
Symposium attendees Maureen Embleton, Karen Johnston of the Durham
Region Health department, oral health division; Josie Newman, and
Sister Georgette Gregory of Fontbonne Ministries, the Sisters
of St. Joseph of Toronto discuss
oral health issues in Ontario.
 OOHA chairperson Anna Rusak said that the current high cost of hospital emergency room dental-related visits should be curtailed and those costs emphasized to politicians because they are much greater than the costs of funding public dental programs. Preliminary research suggests that too many people in Ontario visit ERs with dental related emergencies. She also suggested public oral health care workers ask physicians to examine their patients' teeth and refer them to dentists if they notice problems.    

May 29, 2013

Impunity: On Slavery in Egypt and Policing in Toronto

A sermon by Doug Johnson Hatlem at Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church on February 24, 2013

When I first preached this sermon, former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner was on the loose, on a very high profile, cop killing, revenge tour in Southern California. He was angry, he wrote, because he had been fired for whistleblowing on a superior officer who kicked a homeless man.  I have had to revise the text below since many of us met for a walk on Friday.  I have had to accommodate yet another police beating in the Sanctuary community, a beating which left one of our dear friends with deep deep muscle bruises on his chest and a bruised lung.  The man was in St. Michael's hospital getting x-rays as we met in the basement at Sanctuary.

Our word for your hearing this morning is impunity. Or, to lengthen the subject matter slightly >>> Impunity: On Slavery in Egypt and Policing in Toronto.
Brian Hutchings, in the most recent case Doug is working on, needed eight staples to close up his head wound and had bruises and cuts all over his body (seen by Doug and captured in pictures). The blows were delivered during an attack after which Toronto Police lied to the media, stating that he had "totally overpowered" two officers.

In Exodus Six, just before the start, in earnest, of the ten plagues, we read of this tremendously painful exchange.  God tells Moses to tell the People of Israel “I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgement.”  Glorious. Right? Well, Moses goes and relays this message, but, verse nine, “they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”  Their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.  A message from God, but even yet, no hope is aroused.  The situation by this point is so dark, the oppression so heavy, the yolk beyond burdensome, that the People of Israel cannot even listen to a ringing call to freedom and redemption by way of the mighty acts of their God.

May 24, 2013

Public Dental Coverage in Other Provinces and Territories -- Part One: What's Available for Kids and Seniors

Written by Josie Newman

Similar to Ontario, the rest of Canada's provinces and territories have strengths and weaknesses in the public dental programs they offer.

Healthy Smiles Ontario, which provides general dental coverage to children of families with annual income up to $20,000, has counterparts in several other provinces. Interestingly, though, they all have a higher annual income cut-off for eligibility. This means there is definitely room for improvement in the Healthy Smiles Program.  

In New Brunswick, for example, the income cut-off for Healthy Smiles, Clear Vision is $22,020 for a two-person family all the way up to $41,196 for a seven-person family.

In British Columbia, Healthy Kids gives basic dental care to children under 19 from families which make less than $22,000. Low-income families who make more than the cut-off can still get assistance from Healthy Kids through BC's Medical Services Plan (MSP), but must pay premiums which are graduated to income.

In Saskatchewan, low-income kids get free dental coverage through Family Health Benefits -- the cut-off is income of $29,291 for one to three children up to $51,313 for 10 to 15 children, while in Alberta, the Child Health Benefit Plan offers free dental care to similar children who are 18 and under, or 20 and under if they still live with their families. The income cut-off in Alberta is $24,397 for a single parent with one child or $29,285 for a couple with one child up to $44,000 for a couple with four children.

Even better, though, is the free dental care for all children, regardless of family income, offered in the Yukon, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Newfoundland.  The ages covered varies by province, from 10 and under in Manitoba and Nova Scotia to 17 in some parts of the Yukon which means that every child with free coverage in these provinces has a fair shot at a healthy smile.  

In PEI, children three through 17 receive free coverage if their family's income is $30,000 or less; families with a higher income must kick in 20% of the costs.  

Unlike Ontario's lack of coverage for seniors, those over 65 in Alberta get dental assistance to a maximum of $5,000 over a five year period, as long as they are financially eligible -- the income cut-off for singles is $25,000 while it is $50,000 for a couple.

Prince Edward Island has a dental program for residents of long-term care facilities for preveHYPERLINK ""nHYPERLINK ""tative services only; fillings, extractions and dentures are paid for by the residents. YHYPERLINK ""ukon offers free dental care to a maximum of $1,400 every two years for all seniors regardless of income, while the Northwest Territories offers free dental care to non-native and Metis residents over 60 through its Extended Health Benefits program.

Nunavut offers public dental coverage to seniors through the Community Dental Health Services Research Unit of the University of Toronto which pays up to a maximum of $1,000 per year.

In Part Two, we'll examine what's offered to adults between 18 and 65 in Canada, to First Nations and other special groups, as well as look at some community programs in various provinces.     

May 17, 2013

Ontario's Publicly Funded Oral Health Programs: What's Covered and What's Not

written by Josie Newman

At approximately 13.5 million people, Ontario is the most populous province in Canada but it has the lowest per capita rate of funding for public dental programs. At just $5.67 per person annually, or 1.3% of the overall spending on dental care in the province, this pales in comparison to the average $19.54 per person spent nation-wide. That means the rest of the money spent on dental care comes either from employer-funded insurance or an individual’s own pockets.

For those who have enough money to pay out of pocket, this is not a problem. But, according to the experts, many of those who must pay out of pocket are those who can least afford it -- the working poor; that segment of Ontarians who earn between $15,000 and $30,000 annually, don't get benefits through their workplace, and are ineligible for public coverage. Middle-income seniors are badly hit too, because once they retire they usually have no coverage at all.

photo credit: 
 Most of Ontario's public programs are geared to children. Healthy Smiles, introduced in 2010, offers free preventive or routine dental coverage to children 17 and under, provided their family's adjusted net income is $20,000 or less.
This program is a case in point of the inadequacy of care offered to the working poor.   Many families who make more than $20,000 per year can barely afford food and shelter, let alone dental care, which suggests the income cut-off for this program should be higher. 
A second program offered to children in Ontario is the Children in Need of Treatment program (CINOT), which covers only emergency dental treatment, such as pain, infection, gingivitis, lesions, or trauma for children under 18 whose families have no other dental coverage.
Once accessed, CINOT coverage lasts for six months, when it must then be reviewed by the local health unit if further emergency care is required. 
There are also two programs serving a small portion of Ontario’s children with disabilities or craniofacial abnormalities: Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD),  and the Ontario Cleft Lip and Palate/Craniofacial Dental Program.   

When adults do not have access to preventative care, they
often end up needing far more expensive surgery to
repair the damage.
photo credit:
Low-income adults in Ontario do not fare nearly as well as children.  Adults on Ontario Works do receive dental care but it is only in emergency situations.  Their children, if they are under 18, are eligible for routine dental care including exams, x-rays, and uncomplicated fillings.

Adults on ODSP do receive routine dental care as do their spouses and dependent children under 18.  Coverage for more intense interventions is available but must be applied for on a case by case basis.
The end result of this hodge-podge approach to public dental care is a small but consistent proportion of the population with poor oral health, particularly people with disabilities, low-income families, seniors, and aboriginals, the very people the public programs are supposed to help.

For more information on the importance of preventative dental care please visit our previous blog post: What Happened to Our Government’s Commitment to Healthy Smiles?

May 14, 2013

Introducing Josie Newman - MCCO's New Policy Research Intern

We’d like to take a moment to introduce you to Josie Newman, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario’s Policy Research Intern.  Josie will be working with us for the summer conducting extensive research on the availability (or lack thereof) of extended health benefits in Ontario, including oral health, PharmaCare and vision care for people living on low incomes in Ontario.

Josie is a Master of Theological Studies student at Wycliffe College and is majoring in international development.  She has a special interest in community development and facilitating increased well-being for people who are marginalized in Ontario and beyond.

One of the major questions she will be asking is how Ontario stacks up to other provinces and Countries when it comes to extended health benefits—are we better than average?  Are we below average?  I bet you can’t wait to find out!

We are also interested in exposing the difference in coverage and ability to pay for people who have extended benefits through their work place and those who don’t.

Josie will be posting (semi) regular updates of her findings here on our blog, along with links to all of the information so you can gather more details if you wish.

Josie, we look forward to reading all about your findings in the coming months!  Good luck!

April 17, 2013

What happened to our government's commitment to Healthy Smiles?

On April 1, 2013, the Toronto Star ran a story about dental care programs for low-income people.  The story, Ontario should stop siphoning money from dental fund for poor: Editorial, brought to light the fact that the government has been simultaneously tightening restrictions to limit access to the fund and bleeding the funds to other programs that are more politically popular.

In 2012, Ontario's chief Medical Officer advised the government and the public that good oral health is key to good, overall health.  Poor dental hygiene has been linked to all sorts of chronic disease such as diabetes, respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease and even osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis (visit page 7 of the report for more details).

Furthermore, in the United States it has been found that  preventing chronic conditions, such as those listed above, could very well save billions of dollars in health care spending annually. Plus, people would not be suffering from chronic illness....which means there is opportunity for increases in productivity and less strain on business.

More than 50 years of experience serving people who live on low incomes across the province has taught MCCO that oral health care is out of reach for too many of Ontario's residents - this is an unacceptable and expensive situation.

Photo courtesy of Ontario ASsociation of Public Health Dentistry
For more information please visit

In Ontario, people living on low-incomes are often working two minimum wage jobs just to make ends meet  - these are jobs that almost never provide additional

March 27, 2013

MCCO's Recommendations for Poverty Reduction in Budget 2013

Budget 2013 is on its way.  The exact date is not yet known, but Ontario's Provincial Budget is expected to arrive mid to late April.  During the final two weeks of March, the Ministry of Finance held public consultations to hear what "people, organizations, associations and other [provincial] stakeholders" believe should be included in the budget. 

Though MCCO did not have the chance to participate in person, we did take the opportunity to provide input into this year's budget.  

Our recommendations, which come directly from the work we do with marginalized people in Ontario, include the following:
  • Increase the maximum Ontario Child Benefit to $1,310 a year per child in 2013 as originally planned and then index the OCB to inflation.
  • Increase the minimum wage, which has been frozen since 2010, and index it to inflation.
  • Make a down payment on the Social Assistance Review Commission’s recommendations:
           o  Raise social assistance rates for single adults by $100 a month and    
                    index rates to inflation. The Special Diet Allowance should be
           o Increase the earnings exemptions to $200/month before claw
                    backs begin. But this should not be accompanied by a
                    reduction or elimination of the Work-Related Benefit for
                    people receiving ODSP.
           o Increase the amount of assets people are allowed to have to qualify
                    for social assistance.
           o Allow single parents receiving social assistance to keep at least half
                    of every child support dollar they are entitled to receive and allow
                    them to decide whether or not to pursue child support.

  • Contribute permanent, annualized funding to municipalities to fully cover the amount that was cut when the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit was rolled into the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative.
  • Bolster support for community based initiatives that respond to all who have been impacted by crime.
You can click here to read the submission in its entirety or visit and check out "The Latest" for more communications.

March 18, 2013

TORONTO SHELTERS: Are there enough beds?

Recent news stories have highlighted a budget cut of $128 million dollars to Toronto’s Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration.  Shelters are only a small part of this figure, but 2.9 % is due to be cut from the 2013 budget compared to last year.  

According to Lazarus Rising Street Pastor Doug Johnson Hatlem, the budget cuts amount to 114 fewer shelter beds each night.  This is at a time when demand is greater than it has been for several years, and many shelters are full.  Doug says that each night people are waiting in the shelter assignment office for a bed: they may have to sit there all night – or worse, on the crowded evenings, wait outside until someone waiting inside leaves.  

People are free to travel to one of the York Region shelters, such as the one hosted by Rouge Valley Mennonite Church on Wednesday nights from January through March.  But even there, the “inn” may be full, and some nights people have to be turned away.
In mid-February, the monthly Homeless Memorial ceremony outside Trinity Church at the Eaton Centre commemorated the 700th death of a homeless person on the streets of Toronto.  That’s 700 people in the last 27 years who have died alone on the street.  Some are listed only as Jane or John Doe.
Is the opening of more shelters the answer?  Doug believes shelters are an inefficient use of funds for helping marginalized people.  He quotes statistics to show that the monthly expense for a shelter bed for 1 person is nearly equal to modest room rent for 3 people!  If shelters are more expensive than rent subsidy, in addition to being demeaning and potentially unhealthy – why is there not more assistance for actually housing homeless people ?  Why is there so much more talk about shelter beds, and not about permanent housing?

If you live in Toronto, send a message to your City Councillor to say that No One Should Be Left Out in the Cold.

March 13, 2013

The Time to End Homelessness Was Yesterday!

Suggestions for Ontario's 2013 Provincial Budget:
Excerpts from  Lynn Macaulay's recent presentation to the People's Budget

Canada Cannot Afford Homelessness
Monday, March 11, 2013

 In order to maintain housing people need three things, adequate income, adequate housing and access to appropriate supports.   While addressing one of these issues helps some people, if we are serious about ending homelessness then we need to be addressing all three. 

While we now have a nationally accepted definition of homelessness, it is very difficult to determine the number of people impacted by housing instability.  While we can count the number of people using formal shelters or the number of people on waiting lists for subsidized housing, this does not include people who are couch surfing, using informal shelters such as Out of the Cold programs, staying in housing that is temporary, living in the rough, whose housing is precarious because they are living in places that are not adequately maintained or accessible or that are way too expensive based on level of income. 

Photo credit:

February 19, 2013

A Poverty Reduction Budget for Ontario in 2013

Allow low-income Ontarians to Earn More, Keep More and see benefits Restored!

On February 19th 2013, the 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction launched a social media campaign and e-action urging all political parties to invest in a poverty reduction budget for Ontario in 2013.

25in5 is encouraging us all to sign on to the campaign and send an e-postcard to our political leaders "reminding them to fulfill their commitment to reduce child poverty by 25% by the end of 2013."

Our experience working with people living on low-incomes tells us that, in order for people to lift themselves out of poverty, we need to remove the barriers that trap people into poverty.  Removing barriers to exiting poverty means allowing low income Ontarians to Earn More from employment, Keep More assets and child support and see benefits Restored - benefits that have been cancelled or eroded over the last 20 years.

For more information please visit and to send the e-postcard click here.

February 5, 2013

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: The Making of the Precariat

Precariat: people suffering from precarity, a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare.

Precariat: a term applied to the condition of lacking job security or being beholden to intermittent or underemployment....... Resulting in a precarious existence.
Definitions from Wikipedia
I came across this great video recently.  It does a great job of explaining just how our society has gone about creating the conditions for increasing poverty and inequality.......leading to a precarious existence for many in our society.

The Making and Unmaking of the Precariat
Loïc Wacquant, University of California Berkeley

I have to admit that I often struggle with the words necessary to articulate the growing body of evidence telling us that poverty and inequality are detrimental to our society.  

In the course of my days, I often wonder..........

January 22, 2013

Cuts Have Consequences

Doug Johnson-Hatlem, MCCO's Lazarus Rising Street Pastor, was interviewed  yesterday on CBC Toronto's Metro Morning. As January temperatures plummet, Doug talked with host Matt Galloway about the rise in street deaths of people who are homeless and how cuts to shelter programs risk leaving more people to die in 2013.

There is a better way to reduce costs for the City of Toronto budget and save lives. Listen how.

Liberal Leadership Candidates commit to reduce poverty in Ontario

As part of ongoing communication with all political parties, the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction surveyed Ontario's Liberal Leadership candidates to find out what sort of commitments they are prepared to make regarding poverty reduction in our Province.

The results, (seen below or at this link) show that almost all candidates, including the two front-runners, Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne, are prepared to make significant commitments to income security, affordable housing and good jobs.

They've also committed to developing and implementing the next Poverty Reduction Strategy, which, as I've pointed out before, is due to be updated by the end of this year.

You can check out the 25in 5 press release here.  And a corresponding article from the Toronto Star here to learn more.

And, as always, why not take the opportunity to connect with our potential political leaders and encourage commitment on issues of poverty and inequality in our province.

If you are on e-mail you can contact the liberal leadership hopefuls and Opposition leaders at the following addresses and websites:

or why not send them a tweet:

Ask them more about their specific commitments to eradicating poverty and reducing inequality.

Tweet to the Liberal leadership candidates and Opposition leaders at these Twitter handles:
  • Eric Hoskins: @DrEricHoskins
  • Gerard Kennedy: @GKennedyOLP
  • Sandra Pupatello: @SandraPupatello
  • Charles Sousa: @SousaCharles
  • Harinder Takhar: @harindertakhar
  • Kathleen Wynne: @Kathleen_Wynne
  • Tim Hudak, PC Leader: @timhudak
  • Andrea Horwath, NDP Leader: @andreahorwath

January 14, 2013

A Prayer for Discomfort and Courage

I heard a great prayer last week. I won't write out the whole thing for you here, but the first stanza went something like this:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, 
half truths and superficial relationships
so that we may life deep within our hearts.

The prayer (found here in its entirety) caused me to think a lot about why it is I do the work that I do - why I chose to participate in the political process and advocate for good public policy that supports social and economic justice.

Why do I care about social and economic justice? The obvious answer for me is simply to end poverty and the struggle for social inclusion in our prosperous province - and we should be very clear, that despite current economic slowdown, we are incredibly lucky to live in such a wealthy place.

One thing that the above prayer did for me was bring to light some of the reason why I believe that ending poverty is so important.

In truth, I work to end social injustice simply because I have discomfort - a lot of it - when I hear that my neighbours don't have enough money to eat and when I see people sleeping on a park bench instead of in a warm bed.

I have discomfort when I hear that a large, profitable corporation is paying their employees so little that they cannot afford to pay their rent.

I have discomfort when I hear people blame the poor for their state of being and treat them as second class citizens simply because they are not perceived to be 'contributing'.

The next question I ask myself is: what should I do with this discomfort?  Should I look the other way when a person experiencing homelessness is asking for money on the street corner?  Should I pretend that their poverty has nothing to do with me?  Should I shove my feelings of discomfort away and carry on with my day as if I never felt discomfort to begin with?

I've realized over the years, that none of these responses do anything to change the situation.  Instead of shying away from solutions, I chose to confront my discomfort, to find out why poverty exists in the first place and to work towards realistic solutions that really are possible.

What if, for example, we decided to change some of the rules for our society.  Instead of the rich getting richer and the poor working their butts off to pay the rent and buy a bus ticket.........what if we said "You know what, Ontario is a prosperous place and many of us live an abundant life.  As such, we should ensure that all people, no matter their education, employment status or ethnicity, are living a life of dignity and respect.  We need a society  that allows everyone to pay their bills, purchase food and go to a movie or a museum every once in a while.

The end of the prayer I heard last week asks that God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can do what others believe cannot be done.

The road to the end goal - an inclusive society where all can participate with dignity and respect - is long and full of nay sayers.  But that does not mean that reaching the goal is not possible - it just means we have to work at it.

In closing, I want to add one more stanza to this prayer:

May God bless us with courage to face our discomfort 
and to stand up for justice, 
so that we may one day live in a society where
everyone lives a life of dignity and respect.

May we all have the courage to do something out of the ordinary to help create a healthy society where we all have access to a bright and prosperous future.