Is Caledon any different?
By Monty Laskin/Caledon Community Services
Chew on this. That was the message of more than 500 people a while back at Queen’s Park when they unveiled their artwork panels stitched together in the manner of a social safety net. There were stark images that depicted serious challenges and obvious struggles. One panel had the image of God and Adam’s outstretched hands from the famous Sistine Chapel frisco. It illustrated the distance between those who have and those who have not. The quilt, more broadly, depicted the experiences of people struggling against a rising water line in every community in Ontario.
Strife and hardship enter our lives, that’s a rule much like taxes and death. If you have the required supports you can manage it well. You dig deep to discover your resiliency, you survive and hopefully prosper. When the going gets tough, you lean on outstretched helping hands. If you don’t have supportive resources, either your own or those of family and friends, or if your supports are stretched thin, it’s a huge struggle to stay above the water line.
Are things in Caledon any different? Or do children, youth, seniors, entire families have an easier time staying above the water line in Caledon when hardship enters their lives?
I asked some organizations in Caledon that are in regular contact with people who are struggling against the water line.
By water line I mean the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO). And to be clear, this measure affords little other than survival. You’re not living well, you’re not eating well, you’re not housed well. The LICO identifies an income level at which you spend 20 per cent more of your income than the average family does on food, shelter and clothing. For an individual, the figure is $19,300; for a family of four it is $36,504. Imagine living on that.
So what was I told by Caledon agencies?
Bethell House was illuminating. Executive Director Nilda Patey explained: “Grief is the price of love. Normal reactions include physical symptoms, emotional shock, denial, sadness, despair and more. Poverty has a huge impact on the complexity of grief. Developing coping strategies is that much harder.”
Jim Rutten, General Manager of Albion Hills Community Farm, shared a vision around food and poverty: “When communities are at their best they naturally gather around food to celebrate, reflect and innovate on life’s challenges. Caledon needs strong spaces that allow those kinds of exchanges. Without it, poverty is left on its own. And poverty should never be left on its own in Caledon.”
Caledon Meals on Wheels knows all about poverty and food. Executive Director Christine Sevigny notes that, “when a senior lives in poverty they have the problem of being unable to afford fresh and healthy food items that typically cost more. So they don’t get the proper nutrition they require to stay healthy.”
Of course, children and poverty should be more than ample for anyone to issue a call to arms! Teresa Colasanti, the Executive Director of the Caledon Parent-Child Centre, makes a compelling case for that call. “The early years of life are critical in the development and future well-being of the child. When parents struggle to provide basic needs, it is incredibly challenging to ensure optimal child development.”
My CCS colleague, Kim D’Eri, the Manager of Poverty Reduction in CCS, told me that she is constantly in touch with individuals and families who are challenged by poverty, persevering and keeping themselves on a positive course. And there are others not keeping themselves above the waterline. When I inquire about the distinction, she always talks about two things in particular: resiliency and support networks. Kim explains that people have to know how to dig deep. And they fare much better when they are not alone, when there’s a network of family, friends and community who are part of their solution.
That unveiling at Queen’s Park that I mentioned earlier? It actually marked the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. How good is it that Caledon’s community agencies are on this same mission. We haven’t yet secured the backing of the UN but we do have something just as good. The Exchange is opening in a few weeks, built through the leadership of a caring community and through the extraordinary support of Solmar Development, the Town of Caledon Council, David and Marty Graham, Mars Canada, Garden Foods, the Bedolfe Foundation, Sound Electric 2000, Johnson Chou Architecture and Design and so many Caledon businesses and residents. Each of my colleagues’ organizations will be offering their services in the Exchange, using its resources to provide nutrition, family activities and all kinds of support that addresses poverty. We know that we’re a much stronger army in our community’s war on poverty than we are as separate soldiers. And with Caledon’s resources behind us, we’re a formidable force on the trail of poverty reduction in Caledon.
To learn more about the Exchange, please contact Kim D’Eri at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monty Laskin is the Chief Executive Officer of Caledon Community Services