Hot! ‘Not enough money for rent, food and bills’

wellandtribune.ca – news/local – Group pressing for change to make living affordable
25 Aug 2011.    Victoria Gray, Tribune Staff – Welland

John-Paul Bilodeau can’t afford to pay his bills.

The 57-year-old feels picked on and let down, but he doesn’t know who to blame.

“ We need more money, but money’s tight ( in the region). It’s tight everywhere. Who has money to pay? The city has no money,” he said.

Bilodeau is not alone. He is one of more than 800,000 people in Ontario receiving social assistance, such as Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program ( ODSP) funding.

He and four other people on social assistance who attend the Hope Centre on East Main St. in Welland organized a group in early June to give the province’s social assistance review committee their stories and to suggest positive ways to change the system. The group met every week to discuss findings and solutions. Wednesday marked its final meeting.

The meetings were spearheaded and facilitated by Mary Beth Anger from community Legal Services and on Wednesday by Brenda Lanigan, a community coach at the Hope Centre, who often helps people budget their social assistance money.

“ The whole welfare system doesn’t work,” Lanigan said.

“ There’s not enough money for rent, food and bills. Often you pay rent and bills go unpaid or you go without food.”

The group’s members, all on social assistance and struggling, are Bilodeau, Norma Kirby, Rita Marr, Deqa Abdi and Rene Lacourse.

The group was assembled to send recommendations to Frances Lankin and Dr. Munir Sheikh, who head the provincial review committee commissioned January 2011.

Bilodeau lives in a rooming house that costs about a third of his yearly income, but Lanigan said rooming houses are not the best places to get people back on their feet.

“ It’s not good for people struggling with addiction and ( lots of other things). They are just not the best places and waiting lists for housing can be nine years,” she said.

The local group will send six core recommendations to the provincial review committee as soon as possible.

First and foremost it believes money earned on social assistance should be raised because the cost of living has gone up.

Secondly, the group wants to see medical benefits for Ontario Works recipients and more funds for medical transportation. According to the manitoba Centre for Health Policy, many people struggling with povertyalso struggle with health issues more frequently than people with higher incomes.

“I’m diabetic, I can’t afford my insulin, or my blood pressure medication and other prescriptions,” Bilodeau said. “I’ve got one foot on either side of the grave ( and I’m slipping).”

The group wants one case worker to take care of all a person’s needs in one centralized building.

It believes there is a large need for more low income housing to be built in the region and thinks people on social assistance can help.

“If the region buys old buildings, people on OW and ODSB can help ( renovate them) and then the rent would go right back to the region,” Kirby said.

Many of the group’s concerns were about health care and housing.

Kirby said it is a constant struggle to pay for all of her expenses every month and added health care costs are mounting.

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