Impoverished voices speak out

OrilliaPacket.com – Local News
December 4, 2010.   By Jennifer Burden, The Packet & Times

The voice of impoverished Orillians can be heard in a new book that will soon hit the desk of every member of Ontario’s legislature.

The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition’s (ISARC) book Persistent Poverty: Voices From the Margins, based on a provincewide social audit on poverty organized by local faith communities, was officially launched in Orillia at St. Paul’s United Church on Friday.

“(Orillia) has a voice in that book. You may not be able to go through and say that was Orillia, but they all shaped it,” Jody Maltby, chair of Orillia ISARC social audit committee, said. “This book will go to every member of provincial parliament.”

The ISARC social audit explores the effects of the Ontario government’s policies and actions on people living in poverty and our society as a whole. The book is a compilation of findings from that audit.

In April, seven marginalized members of the Orillia community took part as interviewees in the local portion of the audit. They spoke with Rev. Monica Moore of St. Paul’s United Church and others about their experiences with poverty and offered suggestions on how to better their situation. In the afternoon, social service providers and community partners joined in on the conversation.

An Orillia-centric report was compiled and those findings are part of the new book.

The biggest issue arising from the Orillia discussions was the need for more affordable housing, Moore said.

“Definitely, the affordable housing was a really critical one. As soon as that housing piece is not there, not safe, or not appropriate to their needs, it really impacts negatively on other aspects of their lives,” Moore said.

Another issue that came up repeatedly during the discussions was the systemic problems within support organizations.

Moore said there seems to be some “disincentives” in the forms of clawbacks within social assistance programs.

“There’s a constant fear people live with that they’re going to be kicked off their benefits and then they’ll lose their homes and won’t be able to pay the bills,” Maltby said.

In the report, it states that each interviewee had a story about how the system works against them and frustrates them. They spoke of a system that fosters fear and disincentive to work.

One unnamed interviewee said, “It makes you dependent on the system. I want to contribute and give back.”

Moore said people need dignity and hope for the future if they are going to become self-sufficient.

“Every time they try to better their lives, it seems like there’s a clawback,” Moore said. “That’s really hard on people’s spirits. Society is really telling them stay where you are.”

Many of the interviewees also spoke of embarrassment when asking for social assistance.

“Applying for welfare was the most demeaning thing I ever went through — becoming a stripper would have been more dignified,” said one interviewee.

Another said, “I cried every single time I went in for welfare.”

Those sentiments were included in Persistent Poverty: Voices From the Margins, written by Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen.

Both Maltby and Moore hope not only MPPs will read the book, but also members of our local municipal council.

“We have all the players who want to do this. We’ve got to get them all talking together and we have to bring our government at all levels on board,” Maltby said.

The book is $19.95 with discounts available for bulk purchases. To order a book, call Between the Lines publishing group at 1-800-718-7201 or email info@btlbooks.com.

jburden@orilliapacket.com

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