$2,000 donation to help tackle precarious work

Peace & Justice Grey Bruce is a member of the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force. In partnership with the PTF’s Income Security Action Group, Public Health and United Way of Bruce Grey we are launching a campaign to work on bringing a living wage to Grey Bruce.  The article below highlights the work of the Peace & Justice and new funding from the Society of Energy Professionals to address issues of precarious work.

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Peace & Justice Grey Bruce wants to get as many people as possible talking about what it calls the social and economic dangers of “precarious work.”

The local non-partisan coalition plans to use a $2,000 donation from the Society of Energy Professionals to continue to shine a light on the problem and lobby governments for action to address it.

David McLaren, a member of the organization, said a chunk of the money will be used to produce a report on precarious work, a term used to describe the low-wage and often part-time or temporary jobs that are on the rise in Ontario communities.

“We’re also going to be continuing our partnerships with other people. We’ll be trying to make this an election issue for the municipal election. And we’re going to be producing a lot more materials,” he said in an interview Thursday during an event and cheque presentation at the Grey Bruce Health Unit in Owen Sound.

“The idea is to go out and bring more people into the tent, if you like, under the umbrella, to talk about this. And some of those people will be in positions to do something about it as well.”

McLaren said social agencies and anti-poverty advocates cannot fix the problem on its own. Companies and businesses also need help.

“As soon as (employers) start paying higher wages, then they too become in precarious positions, so the only other place to look is to government. Government does have a mandate, they do have some authority under various legislation,” he said.

Municipalities, for example, can mandate that all of their employees receive a “living wage,” which is about $15 an hour in Grey-Bruce, he said. They can also insist that the companies they contract to provide services will pay their employees a living wage as well, he said.

The province, meanwhile, can require a higher minimum wage, while the federal government can revise its taxation system and legislation to support better-paying jobs, he said.

Peace & Justice Grey Bruce says precarious employment is work that does not pay well enough to get a person to the end of the month. Most often, the job does not include benefits. Some people are working three part-time jobs to make ends meet.

The organization says 20% of Owen Sound families are low income with a median income of $15,590 a year, which Statistics Canada says is about half of what is required for a family of four to stay out of poverty.

McLaren said Peace & Justice Grey Bruce is part of a coalition of organizations that is working to tackle precarious work. It also includes the United Way of Bruce Grey, the local poverty task force, the Grey Bruce Health Unit, municipal politicians and unions.

Dick Hibma of the Society of Energy Professionals said his local, which is made up of 1,100 Bruce Power employees, supports efforts to assist people in precarious jobs that have no voice.

He said his union wants to see all people paid a living wage.

The political decision-makers, including members of the provincial and federal governments, hold the key to fixing the problem, he said.

Grey looking for ways to improve rural transit

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

The Grey County administration building
Grey County has set the wheels in motion for a study it hopes will lead to an improved rural public transit system in the area.

A steering committee of senior Grey County staff, along with Toronto-based Lough Barnes Consulting Group, will spend the next several months on the project, which will involve creating an inventory of available transportation options, identifying service gaps in the region and coming up with recommendations on ways to create a more robust system, said social services director Barb Fedy.

“Basically, how do we take what currently exists and co-ordinate them?” she said in an interview.

Addressing rural transportation issues has been identified as one of the county’s strategic priorities.

County council set aside $50,000 in its 2014 budget for an initiative that “seeks to develop a long-term strategy for co-ordinating a rural transit system within Grey County that will support the needs of our community without creating additional burden on the county budget,” according to a Grey County news release.

Phase 1 of the project will focus on consulting with stakeholders, such as service providers, potential funders and The Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force’s transportation committee.

The consulting firm, which was retained following a request-for-proposal process, will develop maps of current transit services and gather information on their schedules and eligibility criteria.

Recommendations on potential ways to close transit service gaps in the region are to be presented to the county’s social services committee this fall.

Transportation, especially in rural communities like Grey-Bruce, is a significant challenge for people living in poverty.

Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, told The Sun Times earlier this month that a lack of transportation is one of the single biggest barriers for people on low incomes to accessing supports in the community.

Participants of the recent Food Bank Summit in Owen Sound said some people are unable to access food banks because they do not have a way to get there.

Fedy said it can be a “huge challenge” for people living on Ontario Works, for example, to get to a grocery store or a medical appointment from their home in the country.

There are more than a dozen transit providers in Grey County, including Owen Sound Transit, Saugeen Mobility & Regional Transit and Home & Community Support Services of Grey Bruce. Grey County’s social services department also offers a van service for eligible people.

Fedy said the problem is the services are not co-ordinated.

“We will be looking at identifying options to build on what we have now to create a more robust system,” she said.

Hunger Awareness Week: Who Do You Think Uses the Food Bank?

May 5th-9th is Hunger Awareness Week in Canada

The 2008 recession may have hit six years ago, but Ontarians are still dealing with the aftermath. Full time jobs with benefits are merely a dream for thousands of Ontarians who are carrying the burden of a downtrodden economy. While salaries decrease, the cost of housing, hydro bills, childcare, and food are on the rise. The media and our governments may proclaim our economy is on the mend, but the people visiting food banks today paint a much different picture.

Food bank use in Ontario hit an all time high in March 2012, when 412,998 individuals relied on support from their local food bank during that month alone. Numbers have decreased slightly since, but food banks in this province are struggling to keep up with demand. Factory closures, company downsizing, and depletions of personal savings are leading many who once considered themselves middle-class Canadians, to turn to social support services to make ends meet.


The traditional idea of who uses a food bank is a myth. There are no traditional food bank clients. In fact, the largest group of individuals accessing food banks are children. Close to 40 per cent of food bank clients in this province are boys and girls under the age of 18.


Would you guess that two of the fastest growing groups of food bank users are senior citizens over the age of 65, and current post-secondary students and recent graduates? Did you know that there is a food bank or emergency food support program on almost every university and college campus in the province?


Hunger is a symptom of poverty. Food banks in our provincial network understand this, and are working tirelessly every day to alleviate poverty in their communities. By planting and tending to community gardens, lobbying their MPPs for raises to social assistance, hosting a job fair and resume writing session, building a community kitchen, and running after school snack programs, food banks are proving day-in and day-out that they understand what hunger looks like, and why it is happening.

At the provincial level, the Ontario Association of Food Banks strongly believes that the provincial government can and should take a more active role in tackling the root causes of hunger. That is why we are asking Queen’s Park to create a housing benefit for low-income tenants, develop a provincial food policy that ultimately provides access to affordable, nutritious food, and complete a thorough review of Ontario’s social assistance programs, while focusing on an increase in secure, quality employment.

This Hunger Awareness Week, ask yourself: who do you think uses food banks, and more importantly, why? Together, we can take a stand against hunger and poverty.

The hashtag for Hunger Awareness Week is #HungerWeek
For more information, please visit: OntarioHunger.ca or oafb.ca

 Follow Ontario Association of Food Banks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OAFB


Common threads in stories about being poor

By Scott Dunn, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Darryle Latendresse

Darryle Latendress

Diners at the Owen Sound Hunger and Relief Effort soup kitchen one night recently discussed what life is like being poor.

Ivan Farrow moved back to Owen Sound a few years ago from Orillia after 19 years. He lives with his parents, which he said he finds is safer than living on his own. He said he’s 27 and has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“I can sum it up just to say it sucks. It literally sucks. It could be worse. Each person thinks of different scenarios about poverty. Some like it. Some just want to crawl into a cave and die there.”

* * *

Cindy Sumpton, Owen Sound.

Hydro bills are her biggest concern now.

“Disability doesn’t provide as much money as the rent and the hydro and all your bills come to, and then have money for food after. They don’t give you enough. Like just the basics is what they give you, like rent, food, for your dentist or health care, you know to get your medication. They don’t give you a whole lot.

“They should give people more money on their income to help out with other things instead of leaving them broke from month to month to month, and having to come to a place like this or the food bank or Safe ‘n Sound, you know to get help for food.”

* * *

Darryl Latendresse, 21, Owen Sound.

He figures he makes $1,100 or $1,200 per month. He would like to make $1,600. Paying hydro bills and eating three square meals a day is tough for him, he said. He comes to the soup kitchen about three times a week.

“People on welfare, they’re able to work and they want to get on Ontario Disability Support Program because basically they’re lazy, right? I myself could easily get on ODSP . . . I actually work . . .

“In Toronto, some people will just go and they’re not even poor, they’ll sleep on the streets and people will give them so much money. Like there’ll be a homeless guy and he’s actually rich. I’ve heard about stuff like that in Toronto.”

* * *

Neil Towers, 63, Owen Sound.

He said he was a real estate appraiser but health problems led to job loss, then Ontario Works, then ODSP. He’s also a guitar player and says there are a lot of fellow impoverished musicians.

“I was used to a reasonable income. I drove a decent car and all that, and then I had some health problems which led to this. Just not enough money going around. I lived for a year on welfare and I was living out at Stonetree. The rent was my entire cheque . . . .”

“That’s how it affected me and I’m sure a lot of other people. They develop health problems, some mental health problems perhaps. Mine was a heart attack and diabetes and a whole combination of things . . . I’d been gainfully employed all my life since I was 14 and all of a sudden I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t buy a job.”

“The hardest part is the stigma I think — that people and as a result you — (think you) have it yourself. You know, that oh, I’m a loser because I can’t earn a living anymore. And I think a lot of people must go through that when old age starts getting up on them. Their limited income. Their income goes way down if they haven’t planned for their retirement, which I’ve never done. I lived a day at a time, a week at a time. Never thinking I’d get old and need a retirement fund . . .”

“The only reason I can have a car, drive a car is because I don’t smoke, I don’t drink beer and I don’t do drugs. Sorry, but a lot of people that are in this situation do all those things . . . And this place (soup kitchen) helps out because then you don’t have to buy as many groceries.

“The best part of it is all the musicians I’ve met. There’s a lot of good players . . . Sometimes we just get together on the street and a bunch of us will play and it’s magic.”

* * *

Anthony Miller, Owen Sound.

His ODSP benefits are being clawed back by $98 per month because he inherited $30,000 from his father’s estate. He went off benefits, took 30 months to spend the windfall, returned to ODSP but said he can’t show receipts for where the money went. ODSP generally allows $6,000 inheritance before recalculating benefits based on the extra income.

“That’s $98 in groceries I could buy. When I had that inheritance there, I had a lot of money, $30,000 right? And I thought oh a lot of money, you know, oh my God. And I found out one thing, that money talks. Right? That if you have money, you can pretty much get anything. People will help you, people will do anything for you. Why aren’t people acting the same way when you’re poor?

“Why aren’t people that are well off saying, OK, here’s a guy that’s trying, that doesn’t have much, nice guy, you know? Why aren’t the rich helping the poor out? They don’t know what it’s like to live day-to-day and month-to-month and live in poverty, you know? With their very rich cars and their big houses.

“I’ve met a lot of friends that are in poverty. And I find that people in poverty, most of them, they’re the ones that help each other. Like if somebody poor had a $10 bill and you hadn’t eaten in a week . . . I find that the poor people will give you $8 of that $10, well here, go get a sandwich or go get something to eat. Whereas rich people frown on you and think, oh what a bum. Why doesn’t he get a job? Some people can’t work.

“If they even had some sort of jobs for people that are on ODSP, like to make an extra $300, $400 . . . I’m sure there’s offices, buildings all over Owen Sound here that I’m sure would just love to hire somebody on ODSP that is able to do the work. To cut their lawn or clip their flowers. You know what I mean? Make a few extra dollars. But every time you try to work, ODSP takes 50% of your wages (above $200 earned income), so you’re not getting any farther ahead anyway.”

* * *

Beatrice Mann, Owen Sound.

She’s been on ODSP for about seven years. She said she didn’t eat anything over the prior weekend because there was no place to go for a free meal. She next ate the following Monday night at the soup kitchen.

“You plan when you’re going to eat and when you’re not going to eat . . . . (I) pay way to much rent, $750 plus hydro. Went without heat two days in this place that I’m in now but I went a week in my previous apartment . . . .

“I think about it (financial situation) way too much. But what keeps me going is my daughters and my granddaughter. Right? I know I have to get up every morning and brush the dust off and get myself dressed and look happy and whatever, for my granddaughter, ’cause I don’t want her to seeing her nania looking sad or upset all the time, right? Yeah, she’s my world.”