It will be critical in the months to come to continue to impress upon the provincial government and those vying to become Premier that cutting critical social programs will result in huge costs to individuals and society.
By Tom Cooper
Published December 28, 2012
Lost Causes are worth fighting for! With four days to go before the outright elimination of a critical provincial program aimed at preventing homelessness for individuals living in deep poverty, the Ontario government announced a significant portion of funding would be maintained.
An additional $3.19 million has been earmarked to address homelessness in Hamilton for 2013. It is one-time funding, diverted from other provincial government savings, but it is nevertheless an important concession by the provincial government to maintain what many communities believe are essential programs.
For the most vulnerable residents of Hamilton and other Ontario communities, the fight for this lost cause is not over. It is a momentary victory for the little guys, but nobody is celebrating yet.
The funding is still less than 2012's allocation; however, it is certainly not as devastating as would have been the case had communities across the province not taken action.
We can perhaps breathe a momentary sigh of relief in the realization that community-based action can be effective.
The Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) - which provides municipalities with funding to assist individuals on social assistance to find and retain affordable housing and prevent homelessness - was due to be axed on January 1st as part of the province's 'austerity' measures from the 2012 budget.
The City of Hamilton had agreed to continue funding the program for a six month period - but was not in a position to sustain the costs indefinitely.
Recognizing that Hamilton was not facing this crisis alone, two weeks ago, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) and Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination (HOPE) invited twelve community-based organizations from across Ontario meet at Hamilton City Hall to strategize and mobilize.
By the end of the day, a Joint Statement [PDF] had been issued to the government, opposition leaders and Liberal Leadership candidates to demand these devastating cuts not take place.
Community groups were unified in their belief that if the cuts were to happen, vulnerable residents would be placed at even greater risk. CSUMB is often utilized to assist individuals and families on social assistance with first or last month's rent, for utility arrears or if a home becomes unsafe due to health hazards (such as bedbugs or mould).
At a time when hundreds of women are being turned away from shelters, CSUMB is also often the only available program available for women and children fleeing domestic violence to relocate to a new, safe residence.
There is little doubt, the cuts would have forced people already in precarious housing into homelessness.
The groups that came together at City Hall from Windsor, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Brantford, Niagara, Peel, Halton, York, Toronto, Peterborough and Belleville were unified in their call that the Provincial government needed to put the brakes on, and reconsider the cuts that were announced in the 2012 budget.
Along with the joint statement, an 'Ontario Communities Unite' Facebook page was launched and community groups across the province mobilized. From sleep-outs in front of MPP offices, to meetings with community leaders and a bold social media presence - communities took action, and the provincial government heard the call.
Maintaining housing is far more cost effective than dealing with homelessness once it becomes a reality. It will be critical in the months to come to continue to impress upon the provincial government and those vying to become Premier that cutting critical social programs will result in huge costs to individuals and society.
Social service costs do not belong on the municipal tax base - it is a regressive way to fund human services because cities with higher needs are burdened with higher costs.
While a significant portion of CSUMB funding was retained, another program of discretionary health benefits that enables individuals on social assistance to promote health and retain dignity has not been funded - services such as dentures, eyeglasses, prosthetics, funeral services and baby supplies remain at risk. We'll continue to make that case.
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