Martin: The ‘Sloan Ranger’ rides — and rants — again

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He’s not impressed with London’s leadership on the troubling issues of poverty, homelessness, the opioid crisis or mental health.

Mike Sloan knows about most of those things from the street level and he is not afraid to call upon our leaders to quit talking and actually do something. He has appeared in news media roundtables where the well-spoken advocate for London’s less-advantaged shares his perspectives.

He’s active on social media, Twitter in particular, where he has earned the sobriquet “Sloan Ranger” for his passion for truth and justice and for speaking up for those who cannot. In nearly 40,000 tweets, he has challenged Mayor Matt Brown, Middlesex-London medical officer of health Chris Mackie, London Food Bank co-director Glen Pearson and others for what he feels are misguided efforts to assist the city’s least fortunate.

“The only group in society that doesn’t have a lobbyist is the poor. People pretend to speak for us, but only if it is helpful for them,” Sloan says.

He doesn’t mince words and his barbs and background research have prompted some of his targets to ask the media to shun him.

Sloan has found sympathetic ears anxious to hear his take on the real-life issues facing London’s neediest residents.

Among them is Paul Paolatto, who is mulling a run for mayor and at least a council seat. He says he values Sloan’s input and praises his “relentless advocacy for action.”

“In my effort to better understand the daily challenges faced by our most vulnerable citizens, Mike has become an invaluable resource to me, and taught me a great deal about his personal circumstances and those who share it,” Paolatto says.

The former police services board chair would prefer Sloan “not engage in personal attacks of anyone through social media, (but) I do give him credit for having raised the collective and correlated issues of poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental health in the city’s consciousness.”

Sloan, 48, moved to London from his native Peterborough in 2000, mostly to take advantage of relatively modest living costs. Sexually abused as a child by his father, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot work.

He studied journalism for two years at Concordia University in Montreal before becoming overcome by depression and anxiety.

His income totals $1,300 a month in benefits from the Ontario Disability Support Program and the Canada Pension. After paying $706 in monthly rent plus electricity, there isn’t much left over. He is among an estimated 40,000 Londoners drawing such benefits and living below the poverty line. Welfare payments, he notes, have failed to keep pace with inflation for nearly 20 years.

“Some say that my Twitter feed is too caustic, or too negative,” he admits. “I accept that view, but I tried being nice about important issues for many years. It gets nowhere. I hope I wake some Londoners up.”

In a recent tweet he wrote: “Why do we keep looking for solutions to poverty from people who live in the whitest, most affluent areas of the city?”

He ridiculed the mayor’s Poverty Advisory Panel and Brown’s recent call for an umbrella group to co-ordinate with city groups already dealing with the opioid epidemic. Too much talk, too little action, he says.

Although rejecting street drugs himself, he argues safe injection sites are needed to deal with the latter.

Sloan is particularly critical of food banks that have become so widely accepted. He used the London Food Bank once. “Food insecurity is driven by income,” he says. Providing people with sufficient money to buy their own food is a better solution.

He notes academics have found everyone on government assistance in Ontario is food insecure. “The consequence of this is poor health and a strong likelihood of developing a mental illness.”

With more than 500 Londoners currently homeless, he describes the $479 monthly housing allowance provided by the province as “a very cruel joke” given housing costs. Sloan has come within a whisker of being homeless.

Having tasted journalism at university, Sloan is living out one basic tenet of the profession that eluded him: He is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

In his own way.

Chip Martin is a retired London Free Press reporter and author of books on crime and baseball. 

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