ISARC's end-poverty campaign launched

  • September 15, 2011

TORONTO - As campaign-style signs went up at Toronto's Anglican St. James Cathedral and other churches around Ontario Sept. 15, Ryerson University political science professor Myer Siemiatycki suggested provincial politicians look to the prophet Isaiah for a crucial plank in their platform.

"Loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free... share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house," reads Isaiah 58:6-7, the traditional reading in Siemiatycki's synagogue for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Oct. 8 this year).

"That's a hell of a political platform," Siemiatycki told a crowd of Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition supporters gathered outside the cathedral to erect signs that read "Let's Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario." Siemiatycki was there on behalf of Toronto's Darchei Noam synagogue, a member of ISARC.

Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim representatives were there to kick off ISARC's Faith to End Poverty Campaign. Allied with the Social Planning Network of Ontario's Poverty-Free Ontario Campaign, ISARC is trying to get politicians to outline their plans to raise at least some of 1.7-million poor Ontarians out of poverty. The downtown Toronto event was matched by similar kick-offs in 15 other Ontario communities.

ISARC chair Rev. Susan Eagle expressed frustration that none of the four major parties have committed to a target for new affordable housing over the next four years.

The 29 agencies of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto have named housing as a critical component of any serious attempt to tackle poverty. In a study guide to the 2011 election, Catholic Charities notes the gaps in Ontario's housing strategy.

"The housing strategy needs fixed goals for construction of new subsidized housing units, repair or retrofitting or for rental supplements," said the guide released by Catholic Charities on its web site Sept. 14.

There are more than 140,000 households on waiting lists for affordable housing in Ontario, 67,000 in Toronto.

Poverty should be a defining issue in the Oct. 6 vote, said Rene Adams speaking on behalf of people like her who have lived on social assistance.

"Food banks are not the answer," said Adams. "People need livable incomes."

"It is our duty, not only as religious people but as citizens, to ask for a change," said Imam Hamid Slimi. "Looking after the poor in every religion is a sign of goodness."

Real charity goes beyond handouts, said Imam Habeeb Alli.

"To make this a voting issue, that is a great act of charity," Alli said.

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