By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
With cold winter weather knocking on Oshawa’s doorstep, there are some among the city’s population wishing for something that many take for granted: a roof over their head.
Speaking to a crowd of street-involved people and supporters of helping the city’s homeless get the supports they need, Daniel Cullen of the Heroes Offering Pathways of Empowerment (HOPE) Coalition says the government, both provincial and federal, needs to step up their efforts on providing affordable housing, among other things needed to lift people out of poverty.
“We need skills training that’s sensitive to the community that they’re working with, that are community sensitive and community aware,” Cullen says.
“When we begin to get employment, it moves upward, and people start contributing back to the community again.”
Also at the rally were politicians of both the municipal and provincial stripe, all of whom said work needs to be done to improve the homelessness issues seen in Oshawa and beyond, as well as offering their own ideas as to what needs to change.
“The only difference between someone who’s here today (on the street) and someone living in a house is three, four weeks of bad luck, or three or four months of bad luck, or an emotional issue within their family,” Mayor John Henry says.
“We spend all this money researching the issues when you only have to look around and see the issues. The challenge we have in Ontario is we have social housing that, one, we can barely maintain and two, we are the province in Canada…where social housing is paid off the backs of the ratepayer. And that is wrong.”
Councillor Dan Carter says that examples of successful efforts are out there already, pointing to Toronto’s Regent Park revitalization efforts, which has seen community housing either fixed or replaced and employment opportunities made more readily accessible. Carter says it is opportunities such as these that help lift people out of poverty.
“It’s about more than putting a roof over someone’s head – it’s about making sure there’s a job for themselves and their children,” he says.
“We’ve got to break the cycle of poverty, we’ve got to stop this legacy of poverty from one generation to another.”
Another possibility, Carter says, is a guaranteed basic income. As part of such a program, all residents, regardless of income, would receive a set amount of money on a regular basis from the government, no questions asked. The provincial government is currently undertaking a consultation process on a pilot basic income program, with the hope of determining for whom such a program would be for and where it would take place. According to proponents of the basic income system, the extra money spent on it would be made back through savings to the healthcare system, increased tax revenue and less money spent on other assistant programs.
“We know that $685 is not enough. You cannot make it when an apartment is $900. So why not take that leap and say, ‘Why don’t we at least try?’ What would be the indicators, what would be the results if we could cut the costs on our healthcare, on our policing, those who are unable to go to school.” he says.
“Imagine having an opportunity to have a guaranteed income, and we’re not talking about a lot. We’re talking about bringing people up from $6,000 or $8,000 a year to $24,000. That would make a big, big difference.”
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, who says she has had several people with precarious living situations come to her office looking for assistance, says that the powers that be should take the time to listen to those in these situations.
“We know the people living in the system and dealing with the challenges are the best to be able to tell us what is needed – where are the obstacles, what are the challenges – and that information has to make it to the top. We can’t just have the top making the financial decisions without the input of the communities and our neighbours,” she says.
“Everyone deserves to have a place to call home – whether that’s a house or an apartment or some corner of the world where you can make your plans and you know this is where you start your day. We need to have that.”