Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bett-Lou Souter - For Facts Sake

                My background is two different science majors and an advanced diploma in biotechnology, so I am stubborn as hell. There is pretty much only one thing that can ever sway me away from my position, facts. To my delight, I had the opportunity to listen to Betty-Lou Souter speak about her organization, community care. Why is this to my delight? Simply because she had facts, and they were informative and eye opening. Here main focus is on poverty, but in a unique way.  She focuses on poverty in her area.

This concept has always made sense to me, fix at home before you fix your neighbours. We currently have a disparity within our backyard, there are currently 10 641 individuals on the affordable housing waiting list (Niagara Region 2011). Of those, 2022 are families with children, and it is increasing, so that number greater than 10 000 is getting even larger. In 2011 there were 1800 households at risk of becoming homeless and just over 800 individuals. This does not include those that are currently homeless; they are a much harder problem to collect data on. Last shocking fact, in 2011 400 000 people were accessing food banks, mind you this may include repeat visits for regular patrons, but regardless this is a huge number. So it looks like we need to fix here, shouldn’t we?

Mrs. Souter is addressing this problem head on. As she mentioned in her talk, when she goes to politicians she goes ready to tell them these facts. Also her organization is directly dealing with as much of this as possible, above I mentioned there were 10 641 people on the affordable housing list in Niagara in 2011. Well in 2013 community care took 13 732 calls asking for help in getting housing. They are trying to help as many people as possible; they offer financial support food support, legal help everything and it is all provided by the community. There is no government funding, they are not allotted any funds but what they can generate. Interestingly Community Care does not just hand out the food; they offer information on eating healthy. They seek to empower the person using their facilities, it is not about cranking through cases and just providing a service. It is also about teaching good habits and offering independence. Community Care is a great example of helping by creating social capital.

                To me it seemed that Mrs. Souter’s message was not about poverty, it is about ending poverty. Specifically through community based programs and co-operation. What struck a chord with me was the information that they work collectively as food banks in our region and share resources. That is brilliant as you may have a region with very charitable people and not so many patrons, or vice versa. Also she is actively meeting with politicians to try and get her points across and into legislature. I was really wowed by the low income cut off information. A single person cut off is at $20 366 a year. That is low, I currently make more than that and I find myself short every once and a while. Also the amount of money that Ontario works provides for shelter is currently $376. I have rarely seen a place where rent is that low and the living conditions are not horrid. Add in a child and the amount goes up, but barely. A single parent with one child gets $596 for shelter. Maybe they could rent a room together for that but not an apartment, especially not a two bedroom. I assume these amounts are supposed to be supplemented with your own income but the cut off is very low for this social assistance. A family of four living at a cut off of 37 843, that leaves only $21 500 that the parents could make, in a year and combined. If they exceed that amount they lose the $16 344 in support. This is what Mrs.Souter is saying essentially, that it is really hard to get ahead in that system. As soon as you can take your own step forward, you are knocked back to shaky ground.