Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

Hunger Awareness Week – Let’s Draw The Line On Hunger

September 19, 2016

Today we are pleased to share a piece written by Wendi Campbell, Executive Director of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

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Hunger Awareness Week - Let's Draw The Line On Hunger

This week is Hunger Awareness Week. Food Banks Canada is asking us all to draw the line on hunger. Across Canada 850,000 people access a food bank each month. Here in Waterloo Region 12000 people access food assistance each month. How can this be?

The food assistance network in Waterloo Region consists of more than 100 community programs with The Food Bank of Waterloo Region and the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank at the centre. Every day, throughout the community, the staff and volunteers of these programs hear stories of despair turning into stories of hope because along with the food came a smile, a connection to a vital resource, words of encouragement and the knowledge that they were not alone. For many of those seeking assistance their stories are connected to mental health challenges – family breakdowns following job loss, years of battling and illness that has resulted in being unable to work, addictions deeply rooted in childhood trauma and an overwhelming inability to move on.

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region held an event recently to explore mental health as one of the underlying factors affecting the need for food support. Martin Bauman spoke of his recently completed fund and awareness-raising cross-Canada bicycle trek. He informed those in attendance that 1 in 5 Canadians deals with mental illness in their lifetime. On his journey Martin realized the transformative power conversation can have – simply talking and sharing with someone else can make an immeasurable difference. His message that it is important to look out for one another and simple things like smiling and having a conversation have a positive impact were reinforced by singer song writer Chris Scott’s “All It Takes” song. His lyrics, “with a touch of love, they can rise above all the shame. With a chance their lives will never by the same” helped drive home the importance of connectedness.

Police Chief Bryan Larkin and the Working Centre’s Executive Director Joe Mancini brought to mind many images of our community and those struggling to make their way. Whether it be someone asking for assistance at a street corner or someone dealing with their personal challenges silently, and unknown to you, our community has many residents that need help. The initiatives of our local Food Assistance Network strive to make connections among people as well as to critical resources. The most important connection is the bridge from despair to hope that is made by simply acknowledging their existence.

Homelessness, poverty, lack of employment, mental health are intertwined social issues. Often the intersection occurs at a community food program providing emergency food hampers, shelter, outreach, food pantry or meal programs. Communities across the country are facing social issues that have no easy solution and require open minds, thinking differently and creative, systems-based solutions. Bringing people together in new ways, gently encouraging connectedness can help to mend broken social bonds that are exasperated by stresses such as limited work options.

This Hunger Awareness Week we encourage everyone to take time to reflect and connect with those we know are struggling and consider who else may need a helping hand, a reassuring smile and a touch of kindness. Thank you for your support of our community’s Food Assistance Network. Together we are drawing the line on hunger.

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$15 And Fairness Campaign – A Day Of Action Across Ontario Tomorrow!

April 14, 2016

Today I’m happy to share a message from Marjorie, a BSW student on placement with us, and a representative of 15 And Fairness.

Do you care about any of the following?

$15 minimum wage?
Paid sick days?
Equal pay for equal jobs?
Fairness in the workplace?
Employment Act that protects ALL workers?

Come and join 15 And Fairness on Friday for a day of action!

The Ontario government is going to make changes with or without you now is the time to let them know what you think is important!

Meet us at Victoria Park by the fountain entrance closest to the Charles Street Bus Station. We will meet at 11:30am get organized and then march to City Hall! Come have your say! 11:30am to 1:00pm – BE THERE AND HAVE YOUR SAY! (more…)

Continuing Conversation About The Working Poor

March 29, 2016

The following is a repost of a piece that ran yesterday, in the Cambridge times, written by Marjorie, a BSW student on placement at House of Friendship.  It carries on the theme we explored in a few posts last year and raises some questions that the many people we meet each day struggle with.

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My name is Marjorie and I am a member of the working poor.

I have to thank Lisa Rutledge of the Cambridge Times for publishing her series of articles on the working poor last June.

This opened a dialogue which has persisted over time. I have been approached on the street, on the bus, at church, at work, by people who had read these articles, largely because my photo was featured in one of the articles.

I have, for some, become the face of the working poor.

Many wanted to discuss the issues. Many were experiencing the same problems, but others were surprised that I was dealing with these problems. It was not a visible problem to them.

There continues to be a misconception of just who the working poor are, and whether it is because of their behavior that they remain poor. Hopefully that misconception is being corrected due to articles such as the series done by Ms. Rutledge.

Now that the conversation has begun, where do we go now? How can we collectively improve the lot of the working poor.

It seems to me to be grossly unfair for a person to work full-time, to not be able to provide for their family in a meaningful way.

There is an argument for decent work, for decent wages. What would be a decent wage? (more…)

The State of Food Insecurity: Hunger Count 2015

November 17, 2015

 

hungercount2015-singles-p3-normalToday, Food Banks Canada released the HungerCount 2015 report, which shows that 850,000 people access food banks each month. More than 300,000 of those helped are children. Here in Waterloo Region 1 in 20 households received food assistance. Half of these households are families with children.

The HungerCount offers stark evidence of the realities faced by far too many people in Canada: the reality that a job does not always guarantee food security; the reality that safe, quality housing is too often unaffordable; the reality that social assistance, disability and basic pension benefits are inadequate to support people who have fallen on hard times.

The volunteers and staff who run community food banks are proud of the work they do to help Canadians put enough food on the table. Nationally, the food bank network has adapted to changing times by increasing the variety of food available to the people it helps, and by providing services that go beyond the simple provision of food. The network today is radically different from what existed in the 1980s, when food banks first started opening their doors in Canada.

In Waterloo Region, we have a vital community Food Assistance Network of more than 100 programs anchored by two food banks: the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. By working together the network provides a respectful, warm environment where members of our community can receive the nutritious food they need. They can connect with programs that empower them to learn more about healthy eating, budgeting, food preparation and services to help find employment, counselling, affordable housing and other needs. (more…)

Something To Chew On This Thanksgiving

October 12, 2015

House of Friendship thinks you should vote for the community you want to seeOne of the first volunteer jobs I had in Kitchener Waterloo was doing non partisan outreach to encourage people to vote. One of my tasks involved standing on a corner, down the street from St. John’s Kitchen (back before it moved to it’s new location on Victoria Street) and handing out material to the men and women who were going in and out of the building to get a hot meal.

I saw a lot of people that day, and not all of them were thrilled to talk to me about why they should vote. While some were enthusiastic, I would say the majority of them expressed indifference, and occasionally, a fair degree of hostility to the political process, in which they felt they had no say, or representation.

Fair enough, the last thing you want to do is stand around with a stranger and talk about the how and why of voting when all you want is something to eat.

Which raises a big question: how can you engage with the political process when you have more immediate concerns in front of you, namely, no food, or even, no place to call a home? (more…)

More Fantastic Reasons To Support a Basic Income in Canada

September 23, 2015

Part one of this series outlined the state of food security in Canada, explained that most Canadians are food insecure because they do not have enough money for food, and concluded with an idea: basic income programs, which guarantee a certain income to all adult residents of a specific territory, could be an effective policy tool to reduce poverty and so promote food security.

Part two of this series considered a range of practical and philosophical objections to basic income schemes, but as I further explained, no concern is insurmountable. In fact we–Canadians–have tried this before, more or less, and it worked!

I want to repeat that point, because I can: we implemented a kind of basic income in Canada, with positive recorded outcomes.

The MINCOME experiment in Manitoba

From 1974 to 1978, through the “MINCOME” project, the poorest residents of Dauphin Manitoba received monthly cheques whether or not they were working, or disabled, or whatever. The value of the cheques varied according to family income, and brought each family up to a living wage income. The payments were not universal, but like a basic income, they did establish a no-questions-asked income floor. Sadly, when a new government was elected in 1979 the project was scrapped without any analysis or final report.

However, the University of Manitoba professor Evelyn Forget revisited the project documents in the mid 2000s, and wrote a research paper titled “The Town With No Poverty: Using Health Administration Data to Revisit Outcomes of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment.” Among other conclusions, Forget found that

overall hospitalizations, and specifically hospitalizations for accidents and injuries and mental health diagnoses, declined for MINCOME subjects relative to the comparison group. Physician contacts for mental health diagnoses fell for subjects relative to comparators. Overall, the measured impact was larger than one might have expected since only about a third of families qualified for support at any one time and many of the supplements would have been quite small.

Forget additionally concluded that “these results would seem to suggest that a Guaranteed Annual Income, implemented broadly in society, may improve health and social outcomes at the community level.” Although she qualifies her conclusions, as a good academic ought to, Forget’s results are significant.

Basic income saves us all money? 

The results of her study are especially significant given what we do know about our current social assistance programs–how they work, or don’t. Don Drummond, the former Chief Economist of TD Bank, has described Canada’s welfare system as

a box with a tight lid. Those in need must essentially first become destitute before they qualify for temporary assistance. But the record shows once you become destitute you tend to stay in that state. You have no means to absorb setbacks in income or unexpected costs. You can’t afford to move to where jobs might be or upgrade your skills.

Drummond’s comments refer specifically to the consequences for individual recipients of social assistance, which I do not want to trivialize. I have never tried to survive on social assistance. The daily grinding poverty that Linda Tirado describes is foreign to me.

Implicit in Drummond’s comments is the point I’ve already made here, and elsewhere: poverty is expensive, and so are our social assistance programs. We all must pay, every time those programs fail to provide real opportunities to the people they purportedly serve.

Canadian seniors have a guaranteed income

So we had the Dauphin “experiment,” which was a relatively small and successful demonstration of the positive effects of a basic income. We should not forget that our Federal Government every day administers another kind of guaranteed income scheme, which most every Canadian who turns 65 benefits from: Old Age Security (OAS). According to Statistics Canada, “your employment history is not a factor in determining eligibility: you can receive the OAS pension even if you have never worked or are still working.” If you are quite rich, you do not get OAS. If you have no other income, you receive a top-up, called the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

So here is more good evidence that guaranteed incomes make people healthier. In her research about food security, the Nutritional Sciences professor Valerie Tarasuk highlights an important connection between a guaranteed income and food security. Her point is simple: Canadians over 65 are the only group in this country to have a guaranteed annual income indexed to inflation, and a basic ‘suite’ of in-kind benefits, like drug coverage, transit subsidies, and various kinds of ‘senior days’ at private businesses. With that in mind, consider the following graph, from Tarasuk:

 

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Of all the groups of Canadians receiving financial assistance from the Canadian government, seniors (65 years and older) are the most food secure. They are the only group whose income, meagre as it may be, rises with inflation; and they have the most comprehensive benefits package. (And still there are over 600,000 Canadians 65 or older living in poverty.)

Guaranteed incomes promote health and ensure wealth

In their paper “How a Guaranteed Annual Income Could Put Food Banks out of Business,” researchers from the University of Calgary enlarge upon this point. They start with the remarkable fact that “Canada can boast of having one of the lowest rates for poverty among seniors in the world, largely due to its guaranteed income programs for those 65 years and older.” What’s more, “when low-income Canadians turn 65 years old and leave behind low-paying, often unstable jobs, their poverty levels drop substantially.” They explain how seniors enjoy a unique protection from budget shocks, and how this “disaster insurance” translates into better health: “Self-reported rates of physical and mental health improve markedly as well after low-income Canadians move from low-wage, insecure employment to a guaranteed income at the age of 65.” So while it is true that Canadians in general are among some of the most well-off in the world, it is also true that many Canadians get healthier and wealthier when they turn 65. In other words, we can still do better, and especially for non-seniors living on a low income.

The Calgary researchers’s solution is also fairly simple, and probably not surprising: expand the basic income program that already positively serves so many Canadians, to the rest.

We cannot end poverty, we are told, for so many reasons. It’s complicated, it’s inevitable, it’s not our problem. And yet, a basic income scheme could address the root cause of poverty–not enough money–and free up funds to address what remains.

“Faaantastic!”

Fantastic Reasons Why A Basic Income Makes Moral Cents

September 21, 2015

Ontarians of a certain age and inclination know Mr. Brown, the terribly obnoxious (and fictional) winner of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s “Cash For Life” prize. Each week the same mailman delivers a one thousand dollar cheque to Mr. Brown, and each week Mr. Brown crows with delight. “Faaantastic!” he says.

As a child I thought this was a lame commercial and a lame prize. As the spot progresses we see evidence that Mr. Brown is making modest material gains: golf clubs, a boat, incremental additions to his home. I had decided then that winning the lottery should mean being able to check out of life as we know it, buying a castle like Mike Tyson’s, tigers and all. This was not the case for Mr. Brown, who we see pathetically and predictably by his fence each week waiting for the mail man to bring him his cheque. I imagined Mr. Brown driving his slightly better car to his same crappy job; taking marginally better vacations; and maybe, finally, buying organic!

I am older now, and if not wiser, more experienced. I think: maybe Mr. Brown was home to meet the mail man because he quit his job. I think: maybe he quit his job to build the studio he needed, so that he could spend his days drawing charcoal portraits of golden retrievers, as was his childhood dream. I think: what would I do if I had a thousand dollars a week? And although that question invites all kinds of existential anxiety – because what should I be doing with this wild and precious life? I assume I’d eventually figure things out. (more…)

Eat, Think, Vote and Organize for Food Justice in Canada

September 17, 2015

This piece, by Kelly Hodgins, originally appeared in the Guelph Mercury. Kelly is the program co-ordinator for Feeding 9 Billion at the University of Guelph. She and her colleagues are hosting an Eat Think Vote event to discuss these issues with Guelph’s electoral candidates this Saturday (Sept. 19) from 12:30-3 p.m. at Innovation Guelph. All are welcome.

Farm from road

courtesy of K. Hodgins via D. Vlug

I recently received a set of old photos of my parents’ British Columbia farm from a woman who grew up there in the 1950s.

Each was accompanied by beautiful descriptions: the apple tree that fed a family of nine; the pigs that prepared garden beds; the butcher shed my father ran to serve local farmers; the kids’ chores feeding cattle. The captions spoke of a time when food production, processing, and consumption were integrated into our homes, lives and community.

Today, our food system is undeniably disjointed. Approaching the 2015 federal election, I can’t help but reflect on these issues and how they impact all Canadians — rural, urban, Northern, immigrant, adult and child.

Four in particular deserve attention on the 2015 election agenda. These have been identified by Food Secure Canada as the most necessary first steps to a more healthy, equitable and just Canadian food system.

First, we must understand that food has been commodified. Food production has vacated our backyards and has been assigned to an ever-shrinking, aging group of farmers. Food security is compromised when the majority of Canadians rely on purchasing food instead of growing or sharing it. This has serious implications for those who cannot afford adequate, nutritious diets. Four million Canadians are food-insecure today — a figure that is unacceptable in a developed, wealthy nation. Food insecurity is a symptom of poverty, and poverty is a problem of politics. Food Secure Canada is calling on a feasibility study into a basic income floor, to lift the most vulnerable Canadians out of poverty, thereby improving diets, stimulating demand for nutritious food, and lowering health-care burdens.

Barn from house

courtesy of K. Hodgins via D. Vlug

Second, we must pay serious attention to our children, specifically through a national student food program. The frolicking children in these old farm photos had an innate connection with food, and they were (like it or not) involved with its production. Today, my parents host school tours, in which a fraction of the students have ever set foot on a farm, and an astounding majority admit knowing little about cooking. A school food program will improve food literacy, as well as help address the deplorable rate of food insecurity noted above. As the only G8 country that doesn’t provide healthy meals for its kids, we are failing to support our young people’s well-being, as well as their learning capacity.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Canada faces an unprecedented farmer-succession crisis. The average age of producers is 55, and there is marginal incentive for any young person to take over. Policy is critically needed to make agriculture a more attractive and viable profession for the next generation of farmers — policy that allows energetic young agrarians like myself to realistically consider moving from talking about food to actually producing it, or that allows new immigrants with invaluable agricultural expertise access to land and capital.

Barn

courtesy of K. Hodgins via D. Vlug

At the same time, those of us trying to create a sustainable food system are facing greater threats every year. The water tower featured in the old farm photos is now replaced with a well — digging deeper for water as summer rains become more sporadic.

But Western Canada’s dry summers (typified by the devastating 2015 drought) are not the only climatic shift affecting our food system. Climate change is intersecting negatively with food-security most dramatically in Canada’s North. There, food gathering traditions are being upturned due to changing migration patterns and weather systems.

Each year, vulnerable northern Canadian communities are made more reliant on imported food. We urgently need politically mandated action that takes direction from those most affected to rectify the astonishingly high food prices and skyrocketing rates of diet-related diseases, which is set to only worsen as centuries-long traditions are erased through irreversible ecosystem change in Canada’s North.

The woman who sent me these old photos of our farm ended her note by saying: “After mother sold the farm, I stopped driving by. The buildings were gone, the fences down, and fields empty. A few years ago, I cautiously decided to come to take another look. My heart soared to see the farm up and running again. Thank you for returning my childhood home back into the land it was intended for.”

I call upon the next governing party in Ottawa to similarly revitalize our Canadian food system.

We cannot afford to see a nation of empty fields and collapsed fences while remaining complacent with four million hungry bellies. We must stimulate our national food system into a healthy and just one: a food system that supports livelihood-insecure producers and food-insecure consumers in tandem.

photo courtesy of Hodgins Farm Valley Road

photo courtesy of Hodgins Farm Valley Road

 

Two Ways To Make Jobs Better and Reduce Poverty

August 4, 2015

“If you’re going to look at poverty, you absolutely have to look at peoples’ work.” So began the Social Planning Council for Cambridge and North Dumfries 10th Annual Poverty Symposium.

Sounds simple, and obvious, and yet we often talk about everything else, when we talk about poverty.

In part, I think this is because work is an incredibly complicated and immediately overwhelming topic. We can give people food, and they’ll probably eat it. We can build a shelter, and people will probably sleep in it. But how do we make sure that people have decent jobs with decent pay?

(more…)

How a $15 Minimum Wage Reduces Poverty and Saves Us All Money

July 23, 2015

[ed: This article also appeared in today’s Waterloo Region Record.]

Karen Maleka is a part-time personal support worker. She works in and around Cambridge, taking care of sick people, old people, people who can no longer care for themselves. Each week she works 35 to 40 hours, and yet her employer classifies her as a part time employee.

I met Karen last Thursday morning in a Tim Horton’s parking lot on Hespeler road, where she had just hopped off the bus. As we drove towards Guelph, where Karen would share her experiences at a public consultation organized by the Ministry of Labour, I asked her what she planned to say. “I’m going to talk about benefits. Because my employer says I’m part time I have to re-qualify for benefits every year, by working at least 1500 hours. Last year my friend found out she had cancer. She missed a lot of work because she was so sick, and she lost her benefits.”

Ontario’s economy is changing faster than its labour laws, and Karen’s situation is increasingly common. Every year more full time jobs disappear, replaced by part time, temporary, and contract jobs. These precarious jobs are lower waged than similar, full-time work. They come with few if any employment and health benefits, like paid sick or vacation days. They are unpredictably scheduled and lack protections when wages and rights are violated.

(more…)