Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update # 21

Dear Colleagues, 

Be kind!” is the message coming from the Grey Bruce Health Unit this week as we move to Stage 3 of reopening and the mandatory use of masks.  I have attached a few new posters created by the Grey Bruce Health Unit Communications Team regarding masks. #strongertogetherGB

  • Concerned about what ‘reopening’ means for area charities and non-profits? Have questions? Want answers?  There will be a moderated Q & A call with Dr. Arra for Not-for-Profits and Charity organizations on July 28th, 1:30-3:00pm in which Dr. Arra.    
  • Please register here and ask your burning questions in advance!  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CWWGW3R

A morning smile is the announcement by the Ontario government of proposed  changes that would provide additional protection for payday loan borrowers by capping interest rates and fees on defaulted loans, ensuring that workers and families who use payday loan services can keep more of their hard-earned money. The changes were included in the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020 and will be amendments to the Payday Loans Act, 2008. 

  • Lenders would not be permitted to charge interest in excess of 2.5 per cent per month (non-compounded), providing rate relief to borrowers unable to repay their loans on time.  
  • A maximum fee of $25 that may be charged by lenders for dishonoured or bounced cheques or pre-authorized debits.  

INCOME SUPPORTS

  • ODSP will send information about CERB reporting and how it will impact ODSP monthly payments to all ODSP recipients who reported CERB. Income from CERB is treated similarly to how earnings are treated under ODSP. The amount of the CERB that is deducted from ODSP depends on the situation of the person receiving it. For individuals under 18 or in full-time secondary or postsecondary school, CERB is fully exempt, meaning that it does not get deducted from ODSP payments. For everyone else, the CERB is partially exempt: The first $200 received in a month is fully exempt and a 50 per cent exemption will apply for each additional dollar, no matter the total amount of CERB payments collected.
  • ODSP Grey Bruce’s hours are changing: effective August 4, 2020, service delivery hours will return to regular hours of 8:30am-5:00pm, from the current hours of 10:00 am– 2:00pm. 
  • This is not a return to regular client services.  Existing health and safety measures related to COVID-19 continue to be followed. Clients will continue to be served via secure methods such as over the phone, via intercom and in secure rooms. They will limit the number of face to face interactions with clients to where it is necessary to ensure client service.
  • new report by Statistics Canada outlines how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted Indigenous respondents. 36% of Indigenous respondents reported that the pandemic had a “strong or moderate” impact on their ability to pay for essentials while 25% of non-indigenous respondents reported the same. Despite experiencing higher levels of hardship, fewer indigenous respondents reported applying for government support. 
  • Recent polling by the Native Women’s Association of Canada found that Indigenous women are experiencing greater financial difficulties (46%) than other Canadians (34%) and the financial impact of COVID-19 closely correlated to rates of domestic violence against Indigenous women.
  • The Senate Finance Committee urged the Federal Government to work with Provincial, Territorial, and Indigenous Governments to “give full, fair and priority consideration” to a Basic Income in their COVID-19 Relief in times of Crisis report.

HOUSING SUPPORTS

  • A recent article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal takes an equity-informed perspective on emerging trends and interventions to reduce the impact of COVID on those experiencing homelessness. 

Recently, Tamarack hosted a cross-country rural communities and housing discussion and some of the highlights of the discussion were:

  • Funding – Emergency funding for sheltering people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic has demonstrated how quickly things can change when there is political will. Once funding for COVID-19 is gone, the solutions that were developed will likely not be sustainable. 
  • Short-term solutions – Many who were homeless prior to the pandemic are now being temporarily housed in hotels and motels. While there have been some benefits to this intervention, there is widespread recognition that this is a short-term solution and not permanent housing. There are concerns about long-term availability at motels/hotels as communities open up for tourism and concerns around how long government funding will last. 
  • Wrap around services – Food delivery programs, transportation assistance, internet and cell phone distribution, wellness checks, and mental health and addictions support have been an important element that has been coupled with housing responses during the pandemic. 
  • Housing supply – Lack of affordable housing stock in rural communities continues to be a major barrier in providing long-term solutions, even when funding is available for wrap around services such as mental health supports. 
  • Collaboration – Partnerships around housing and homelessness have improved since the onset of the pandemic. There is hope these new collaborations will be sustained into the future. 
  • Data – There is a need for more data to get an accurate picture of housing and homelessness in rural communities. Point-in-time counts prior to the pandemic may no longer be accurate. 
  • Recovery planning – Housing is not seen as a key focus of most COVID-19 recovery plans. Members are seeing plans being developed at provincial and federal levels rather than local or regional levels.

In Grey County and Bruce County, housing and homelessness remain important priorities.  A July 9th, 2020 report to Council reported on the County’s work, partnerships and next steps. The full report is attached. 


Stay well, Jill 

Giiwe: Reducing Indigenous Homelessness

Members of the Poverty Task Force’s Community Voices and Housing Action Group partners participated in a Giiwe Circle with author Jesse Thistle.  Jesse presented his work on the development of a Indigenous Definition of Homelessness with The Homeless Hub. Jesse also shared his personal story, his new book From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. and joined us in our Giiwe Circle.  Jesse Thistle – who has traveled all across Canada – commented that Giiwe was a unique project and its Circles a unique experience that he had not seen in any other communities across Canada.

Giiwe is an exciting Indigenous led, inter-agency collaboration brought to us by the staff at M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre. The project aims at reducing off-reserve Indigenous homelessness. Giiwe is centred on fostering a coordinated housing-related response to Indigenous specific housing needs and preferences in Grey Bruce.

Giiwe has successfully established and sustained an Indigenous led, inter-agency collaboration with 11 organizations while strengthening relationships and promoting trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners. It has also facilitated a referral process and established inter-agency agreements to better serve Indigenous peoples living off-reserve. A recent Evaluation Report highlights the work being done.

Giiwe Circles incorporate cultural safety training, collaborative case management and relationship building to increase Indigenous leadership with improved collaboration and understanding of Indigenous practices, which ultimately lead to the prevention of Indigenous homelessness.

 

Income Security: A Roadmap for Change

Income Security: A Roadmap for Change Report was released on 2 November 2017.  The government held a public  consultation and they intend to release an “Income Security Strategy for Ontario” early in 2018, using the Roadmap as a guide.  All levels of government including the Federal government are involved in the development of this 10 year plan along with 3 working groups: Income Security Reform Working Group, First Nations Income Security Reform Working Group and Urban Indigenous Table on Income Security Reform.

Why this matters – the problem

The income security system was designed for the workforce of the past, where many people had long-term, well-paying jobs. Today, low-paying, part-time jobs of short duration are much more common. Many people have long-standing barriers to work and social inclusion due to:  intergenerational poverty, history of colonialism, mental health and addition issues.  More people turn to social assistance as a “first resort” despite the limitations of these programs.

Why this matters – the human toll 

Essential needs are increasingly out of reach for many people. It’s harder for people to climb out of poverty. More people have disabilities, are facing barriers to employment, social inclusion and higher costs of living. Poverty and low-income are negatively impacting people’s health and well-being.  Systemic racism and discrimination are contributing to entrenched inequity.

In 2008, it was estimated that poverty costs $32 to $38 billlion-a-year in Ontario. Around $2,300-a-year for every household in Ontario.

Why is this report important? 

This is the first report in 30 years that recommends major investments in and improvements to programs that affect the lives of people on low-income in Ontario. It reflects a fundamentally different approach to supports and services that puts people – and their needs and rights – at the centre of the system, with a recognition that social and economic inclusion, and not just getting a job, should be the goal.

It not only recommends increasing the amount, quality and kind of benefits and services that low-income people receive, but also is transforming the vision for the income security system, the principles behind the provision of programs and services, and changes the goals to a rights-based, equity approach and recognizes the realities of different groups who live in poverty and/or experience poverty.

The Roadmap recommends a new vision:

All individuals are treated with respect and dignity and are inspired and equipped to reach their full potential. People have equitable access to a comprehensive and accountable system of income and in-kind support that provides an adequate level of financial assistance and promotes economic and social inclusion, with particular attention to the needs and experience of Indigenous peoples (pg 69).

To achieve the new vision, the Report recommends changes in 5 key areas:

  • Making a commitment to income adequacy
  • Improving the broader income security system
  • Transforming the social assistance system, including a First Nations-based approach
  • Providing immediate help to those in deepest poverty
  • Respecting First Nations jurisdiction and ensuring adequate funding

The Roadmap reflect years of advocacy for change to Ontario’s income security system.  It is a tool that we can  use to ensure greater investments are made in the Provincial budget. We need to ensure that all candidates in upcoming elections are made aware of the Roadmap and support the transformation of Ontario’s income security system.

At our recent Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force meeting we shared a background summary of the recommendations prepared by the Income Security Advocacy Centre along with the link to a Webinar by Income Security Advocacy Centre .  An Income Security Roadmap Presentation – Nov 17  prepared by Anna Cain, Director of Ontario Works Branch, MCSS highlighted the recommended changes and was the basis along with the full Report of our discussion.