On Thursday evening, July 17, 25 community members participated in a poverty reduction forum at The Welcome Centre in Vaughan, the first community event sponsored by the new Social Planning Council of York Region (SPCYR).

Guest speakers were Avvy Go of the Colour of Poverty, Peter Clutterbuck of the Social Planning Network of Ontario representing the 25 in 5 Campaign, Neethan Shan of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians and SPCYR Board member, and Yasmin Dossal with COSTI and an SPCYR Board member. The moderator and facilitator for the evening was Rev. Sky Starr, also on the SPCYR Board. Also participating in the evening’s discussions were Jacquie Maund of Ontario CAMPAIGN 2000 and Michael Kerr of Karuna Community Services and the Colour of Poverty.

After presentations on the work of the Colour of Poverty, 25 in 5, CASSA and SPCYR, there was a general discussion in which participants raised the following issues and concerns:

  • There is a need for stronger approaches to fight systemic racism and discrimination. A mandatory employment equity program, for example, would make demands on employers to meet equity standards rather than placing the burden on individuals to pursue remedies for specific incidents in the workplace.
  • Poverty exists not because of a lack of resources but because a lack of political will. The Scandinavian countries are showing that we can have both strong economies and strong social programs that reduce poverty and increase equality. Poverty reduction is good for the whole community.
  • Lack of affordable housing is a major issue in York Region. It is important to emphasize that any effective poverty reduction must include a national housing strategy in which both federal and provincial governments assume joint leadership.
  • We should not forget two important communities experiencing high rates of poverty – single parent families and seniors, in both cases mostly women.

Participants then spent time at their tables talking about what was happening in the community to reduce poverty and what gaps existed and work needed to be done.

Reports from the tables to the whole group on what work was occurring to fight poverty included:

  • A number of groups working on the affordable housing issue such as the Alliance to End Homelessness and recent civic initiatives such as allowing secondary units in single family dwellings and York Region’s Community Plan to End Homelessness.
  • Services and supports available through the Welcome Centre to newcomers.
  • Groups working on food security such as the York Region Food Network and a Food for Learning program involving many schools.
  • Apprenticeship and mentorship programs to facilitate employment opportunities for immigrants

It was generally acknowledged that much that was and could be done locally were mostly “stop-gap” measures and poverty alleviation rather than reduction.

Reporters from the tables identified the following gaps and needs in poverty reduction in York Region:

  • A decent minimum wage.
  • More affordable housing.
  • Education, training and apprenticeship programs for youth and people making transition into new jobs.
  • Public education that poverty is an issue for the whole community (perhaps conveying the sense that we are talking about “prosperity enhancement” as a different way to communicate the message).
  • Better research and documentation on the face of poverty in York Region.
  • Less fragmentation and more coordination of supports to low income people.
  • More public investment in York Region (Fair Share of provincial funding to human services).
  • Strong anti-racism strategies and programs.
  • York Region should release land for use as affordable housing.
  • Learn from other jurisdictions (e.g. twin York Region and its cities with other Regions and cities doing work in this area).
  • Reach out to other institutions on poverty reduction and seek their support and endorsement for 25 in 5 (e.g. schools which are the major community hubs in York Region’s municipalities).