Is Caledon up to the poverty challenge? (Column)

by Monty Laskin/Caledon Community Services

Earlier this month, our nation’s capital hosted a summit on poverty reduction. The guests were leaders across sectors, people who commit their energies and resources to the intractable challenge of poverty that harms lives and families, quashes hopes and tarnishes communities all across Canada. Business, government, the voluntary sector and citizens alike came together and shone a spotlight on poverty reduction activities. They celebrated successes, planned emerging strategies and highlighted core principles that all social justice champions hold in common.

Poverty reduction efforts are not new. We’ve been at this for a very long time. The commitments of successive governments at all levels are two arms lengths long. Three actually. Promises made and promises broken, a heap of noble intentions and the occasional shift on a universal payment have left our country not nearly as far ahead as it should be on a matter that is so comprehensively destructive to hundreds of thousands of people from coast to coast to coast.

Closer to home, how is our own community faring on poverty reduction? More to the point, should it even be on Caledon’s radar screen? A reasonable question to ask whose response demands evidence rather than conjecture.

It is not uncommon for me to be asked why the Exchange has a food support program. Many long-term and newer residents of our community are incredulous when they hear that CCS has hundreds of families using the Exchange’s food support program, receiving subsidies for home heating and small bursaries for children’s recreational and/or educational activities. They are flabbergasted to hear that our organization supports seniors who cannot maintain themselves in their homes without monthly food supplements and other resources. So should poverty reduction be a priority for Caledon? The evidence seems to answer that question.

Sherri Torjman, Vice-President of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, writes extensively in the areas of community-based poverty reduction. She makes a compelling case that municipalities must get involved. And that cities have the tools required to wage war on poverty and put plans in place to help create prosperity in people’s lives. Torjman notes that cities, “fuel the engines of national economies”. But poverty is a blight on any prospering economy. The growing income divide between those with opportunities to thrive and those living in despair should concern all of us.

At the Poverty Reduction Summit, ideas for cities’ poverty work were grouped into five categories: Design for livability; Engaging citizens; Fostering social capital; Reducing costs; Leading by example.

As a community, we can pound our fists and demand change. We can insist that the Region step up more, that the Province reallocate increased revenue to the pressing poverty challenge and that the Feds make poverty a bigger priority in their go-forward strategies. Or we can turn our attention to these five approaches to poverty reduction and also stand alongside the United Way of Peel Region’s recent shout out: Change starts here!

Poverty is a daunting challenge for a small community like Caledon but the Ottawa Summit has made it somewhat easier by providing us with a “blueprint” from which we can pursue homegrown solutions. There’s little chance that CCS can succeed on its own on any of the five suggested interventions. That is precisely why the Exchange is pursuing collective impact. Close to a dozen community organizations are working together in a shared space to achieve things that none of us can achieve on our own. We’re all limited by a lack of resources. The Poverty Summit recognized that cities are also hampered by a lack of revenue to finance their own poverty reduction initiatives. That’s where Caledon’s social capital comes in! Our community residents are our greatest strength. Shared visions and shared commitments lead to shared solutions. The Exchange can be our community’s hub to address myriad challenges. It can bring our Town Council aboard, our social services, the business community and thousands of residents who want to tackle poverty and other pressing challenges that turn hope into despair.

The Poverty Summit called on cities to play a prominent role in poverty reduction. Caledon has many venues to make good things happen on that file: Through your affiliation with your faith community; when you volunteer with your favorite community social services or health service provider; when your child’s school is looking for teaching opportunities; in your work with a service club. Indeed, Caledon’s got what it takes to prove the Poverty Reduction Summit, and the United Way of Peel Region, right.  Change really does start here!


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