Do we care for our vulnerable?

ChathamDailyNews.ca – opinion/letters
July 19, 2012.   Walter Van de Kleut

Sir: It’s discouraging to read that Chatham-Kent council decided not to financially support the discretionary benefits program for people receiving Ontario Works (OW).

As of July 1, the provincial government capped the cost-sharing formula for the program, resulting in an anticipated shortfall in Chatham-Kent of about $800,000 per year.

This means that fewer poor people in Chatham-Kent will get help with adult dental and vision care, with medical report costs not covered by OHIP, with funeral costs, with mobility aids, and with rental and utility arrears.

About 15% of OW recipients work, often at low-paying service jobs in retail or fast-food restaurants. That percentage was higher when our local economy was healthier.

Often service employees have no dental or vision care benefits, and struggle to meet the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

The loss of provincial funds for community start-up and maintenance benefit effective Jan 1 will make it even more difficult for residents who have housing issues and/or need to move.

Many people in our community experience “cumulative disadvantage” – the combined effects of several factors: poverty; inadequate employment compensation; broken homes; physical, emotional, sexual or substance abuse; inability to learn; poor family role models; significant physical and/or mental health issues; inadequate education or training; and loss of employment.

Such cumulative disadvantage, where someone faces more challenges than she or he can reasonably handle, very often leads to despair. The result is that people in poverty struggle on a constant basis with a loss of hope.

The unavailability of discretionary benefits will make the cumulative effect of disadvantage and despair that much worse.

Cumulative disadvantage and despair can in turn lead to disrespect for others and for public well-being and order, thereby increasing the level of crime in a community.

I believe that the letter Chatham-Kent proposes to write to the ministry to object to the funding decrease will have far greater moral suasion if the municipality can state it continues to provide funding for discretionary benefits to vulnerable residents. Such a letter could also state that Chatham-Kent is proactively addressing a root cause of crime.

I understand that Chatham-Kent has limited resources and that the municipality cannot assume responsibility for every cost the province should cover. However, a municipality is not required to assume responsibility for every area of provincial jurisdiction.

I believe that a municipality ought to fund those matters that are “close to home.” How we treat the most vulnerable among us defines who we are as a community.

It’s not all that difficult to love those who are “lovable,” that is, to love those who are not a threat, behave in ways considered socially acceptable, and who have material goods they can and sometimes do share. The challenge for the generally well off is to treat the vulnerable, the poor, those facing cumulative disadvantage, with basic humanity.

What type of community are we? I hope council will reconsider its previous decision, and demonstrate that Chatham-Kent is a community that tries to take care of its vulnerable population.

Walter Van de Kleut,  Chatham

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