Maggie Helwig, left, Andrea Budgey and Leah Watkiss from Faith in the City adopt costumes from The Hunger Games to make a point about the city’s strategy on poverty. Photo by Meggie Hoegler

Faith in the City adopts "Hunger Games" look to help the poor

  • January 10, 2018

Toronto’s diverse faith community will do what ever it takes to catch Mayor John Tory’s attention and address poverty in the city — even dressing up like characters from The Hunger Games.

On Jan. 10, members of the Faith in the City coalition dressed up as characters from the popular dystopian-themed film as part of a peaceful protest to illustrate the inequity in the present city budget.

In November 2017, city council approved a $41 million budget to fund a Poverty Reduction Strategy as well as various environmental, housing and child-care strategies.

In the current draft budget, only $9 million will be allocated to fund these programs — less than a quarter of the approved budget.

“Council can approve a budget, but that does not mean they have to fund it,” said Elin Goulden, an Anglican member of Faith in the City.

Joe Mihevc, City Councillor for Ward 21 is confident that changes to the budget will be made prior to February.

“There will certainly be more than $9 million allocated,” said Mihevc. “Frankly, we have to fight for as much of that $41 million as possible. We have to aim to get it all because it’s not just poverty reduction — the plan also funds an environmental plan and an office on Aboriginal issues.”

Faith in the City hopes to meet with Tory and hold a re-vote, which would require council to commit to the previously approved budget within a designated timeframe, before the budget is finalized in February.

“People know and recognize The Hunger Games,” said Leah Watkiss, Program Director for Social Justice, Peace and Care of Earth for the Sisters of St. Joseph. Watkiss came up with the idea to stage a reaping (in the films when young people are chosen at random from each District to compete in a fight to the death) to illustrate how the budget cut is forcing programs to compete against each other for meagre funding.

“It’s eye-catching and creative,” said Goulden. “People stopped and took notice. It makes them think ‘Wow and that’s a dystopian society so what does that say about how our society is doing?”

Faith in the City has been advocating for social justice within city politics since 2013. The coalition played a major role in No Casino Toronto, which stopped a mega casino from being built downtown.

hunger games faithinthecity 02From left: Leah Watkiss, Sr. Pat Dowling, Sr. Betty Lou Knox, Elin Goulden stand outside City Hall, Jan. 10, 2018. (Photo by Meggie Hoegler)

When Watkiss mentioned the coalition to the Sisters of St. Joseph, they were eager to lend their support. Sisters Pat Dowling and Betty Lou Knox joined Watkiss at City Hall. For them, protesting the city council’s budget was a moral obligation rather than a leap into politics.

“There are people struggling to survive. Meanwhile the city has a great budget planned out but they won’t commit to investing in these programs which will ultimately save lives,” said Watkiss. “As Catholics, and as people of faith in general, we are called to stand up for the dignity of life, which is what we are doing.”

Deputations were presented to the budget committee on Jan. 10. Recommendations will be brought before city council in early February, when council will vote on the final budget.

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