Michael Swan

Book shines spotlight on poverty

  • April 2, 2021

The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition is once again battling poverty in Ontario, this time with facts laid out in black and white and printed in a book.

For the fifth time the Queen’s Park lobbying organization for faith-run food banks, shelters and social services has published a book outlining the experience of poor people and connecting their words with the statistical picture of poverty in Canada’s largest, richest province. Overcoming Ontario’s Poverty Pandemic: Report From the Voices From the Margins Project is available in paperback or as a download from isarc.ca. The book was launched with a Zoom event March 16.

“This coalition, ISARC, is at its best when it keeps the light on this perennial pandemic,” Hamilton Bishop Doug Crosby said at the book launch.

Speaking as president of the Association of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, Crosby argued for an unflinching look at the reality of poverty.

“The publication in fact shines a bright light on a crushing reality endured too often quietly by too many brothers and sisters in our province,” he said.

As in all of the Voices from the Margins book projects over the last 20 years, the publication is based on a province-wide set of hearings at which people living on welfare or on minimum wage are encouraged to talk about their daily struggles.

“It keeps getting harder and harder to get off the streets,” Jeovany in Toronto told a Voices From the Margins hearing. “I’ve been on the waiting list for 12 or 13 years. People keep getting added. The administrators say you’re number 77, then you’re a different number.”

To put Jeovany’s experience in context, editor Murray MacAdam points out that more than three per cent of Ontario’s population languishes on waiting lists for openings in Ontario’s limited supply of rent-geared-to-income housing. Ontario hasn’t built any new social housing since 1996.

Compared with previous books and previous rounds of Voices from the Margins hearings, it’s clear that “the crisis of affordable housing has really gotten worse,” MacAdam told The Catholic Register.

“It was quite powerful to hear people at these events talk about some of the places they have lived. That’s exacerbating other elements of their lives,” he said.

MacAdam has previously guided three of the ISARC books, which have made their way onto the desks of Ontario politicians and into the curriculums of some community and social work courses. MacAdam is hoping this book gets into as many hands as possible. For readers who can’t afford the $15 cover price on the paperback edition, the PDF download of the book is offered on a pay-what-you-can basis, even if that number is zero.

Rather than just a parade of unfortunate stories, Overcoming Ontario’s Poverty Pandemic also proposes practical solutions, MacAdam said.

“On the positive side of things is a strong move for a basic income. That is, I think, a sign of hope,” he said. “The range of people supporting (basic income) is quite diverse.”

Voices from the Margins hearings received submissions arguing in favour of a guaranteed minimum income from Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, clergy, anti-poverty activists and poor people themselves.

The Ontario government killed a basic income pilot project running in Thunder Bay, Lindsay and Hamilton-Brant a few months after the 2018 election.

Crosby spoke of his time spent auditing Voices From the Margins hearings in Hamilton.

“The palpable, emotional exhaustion I felt at the end of those days was minimal in comparison with the bravery and the fortitude, the strength, of the presenters who represented a very wide swath of our society,” Crosby said.

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