London city hall: Activist wants politicians to approve a simple step in helping local homeless — give them more money

1 London

London News & Search

1 News - 1 eMovies - 1 eMusic - 1 eBooks - 1 Search

It’s hard to find somewhere to live with just $375 a month.

That’s one reason the London Homeless Coalition is calling for a bump to social assistance rates.

“You can’t separate income and homelessness,” said Abe Oudshoorn, a member of the coalition and an assistant professor at Western University.

“Although there are usually other complicating factors that are part of people’s pathways into homelessness, not being able to afford rent is kind of a feature for everyone’s situation.”

Oudshoorn has applied to speak in front of London’s community and protective services committee about the need for higher welfare rates. The shelter allowance under Ontario Works for a person living alone is $376, far below what’s needed to live in London, he said.

There are 2,900 families on the waiting list for affordable housing, Oudshoorn added. But social housing providers are cash-strapped too, often to the point that even necessary repairs fall by the wayside.

“An increase to the (social assistance) rate would help people be able to access market rate (rent),” he said. “These insufficient social assistance rates are leading to increased rates of homelessness in our community.”

Coun. Mo Salih, chair of the community and protective services committee, said he’s happy to hear from any agencies looking for council’s support.

“I recognize it’s difficult to make ends meet on what we have,” Salih said of current social assistance rates.

“I’m always believing in and supporting local groups and grassroots advocates and helping them. If they feel there’s some merit in doing this, I’m more than happy to do what I can.”

But as much as city politicians may want to help, there’s not much they can do.

Social assistance is run by the city, but the funds — and the control — rest with the provincial government.

Council support would be more of a symbolic stance.

“It’s really to get our council to speak to their provincial counterparts,” Oudshoorn said of the coalition’s goal.

The coalition also hopes council’s backing might empower other municipalities to support their campaign for higher social assistance rates.

Jeff Schlemmer, director of the Neighbourhood Legal Services clinic for London and Middlesex, echoed the calls for a significant raise in Ontario Works.

“The measure of a society can be found in how it treats its least well-off citizens. In Ontario over the last 25 years, we have been treating them progressively worse,” he said, noting welfare rates never rebounded after being slashed by then-premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s.

The legal clinic works with many clients sinking into a devastating spiral when they can’t pay their rent.

“You have a choice of living somewhere or eating,” Schlemmer said. “Every year it gets worse and there’s no end in sight.”

And there are ripple effects.

Ontario Works recipients aren’t always able to eat well. They’re often coping with bad landlords and unsafe homes. Sometimes they get stuck in emergency shelters.

Schlemmer even pointed to opioid use as a possible by-product.

“Opioids dull your emotional pain,” he said. “For some people, their lives are so grim, this is just like a temporary little vacation from their misery.”

The solution, at least in the short-term, is simple, according to Oudshoorn and Schlemmer. The first step, they said, is a little more money.

“By providing a little bit better life for the (worst-off) people in our society, we make our society much safer and better for all of us,” Schlemmer said. 

1 London

London News & Search

1 News - 1 eMovies - 1 eMusic - 1 eBooks - 1 Search



Leave a Reply