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Is Toronto stuck as the child poverty capital or can it raise a village?

Toronto is one of the most liveable cities in the world, but if you live in poverty with your children, it’s quite a different story. Ranging from long daycare subsidy waitlists, high rent, extraordinary transit costs, and expensive food, raising a family can seem nearly impossible.

Child poverty is a difficult pill to swallow and Toronto has been dubbed the Canadian capital in a report called ‘Divided City’ that was released in early November 2016. The report said that Toronto has the highest rate of low-income children in an urban area at 26.8 per cent.

Two years ago in November 2015, Toronto approved its first-ever poverty reduction plan after a report was released entitled ‘The Hidden Epidemic’, which outlined the impacts of child poverty in the city. Though child poverty has decreased from 29 per cent in 2009 to 26.8 per cent, it still impacts specific neighbourhoods in Toronto. The 2016 report is the first update since ‘The Hidden Epidemic’ and shows that child poverty has decreased overall, but is now concentrated to particular areas such as Regent Park, where 58 per cent of children live in low-income households. Families struggle to pay rents, using over 30 per cent of their income on rent (the threshold to be considered low-income) and children end up missing out on important recreation activities and parents struggle to feed their kids.

Unfortunately, with budget cuts the poverty strategy has been put on the back burner and important investments for children such as affordable housing and funding for recreation and daycare subsidies is facing debilitating cuts. The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, Family Service Toronto with Ontario Campaign 2000, Colour of Poverty and Social Planning Toronto came together to create the updated report to emphasize the need for City Council to stick to their poverty reduction goals and avoid cuts as much as possible.

One of these goals needs to be affordable housing. Currently there are nearly 100,000 people on the affordable housing waitlist and helping families to obtain housing needs to be a first priority to help reduce poverty for families. If most of your money goes towards paying rent, it is nearly impossible to escape the spiral of poverty. One third of families with children under the age of 18 live in unaffordable housing. The report also highlights that a lone parent living on Ontario Works would have to pay 107 per cent of their income in order to live in inner-city Toronto. This pushes families out to areas with less transit and away from many of the jobs in the city. Affordable housing in inner-city Toronto needs to become a priority immediately.

One solution that City Council discussed in the Executive Committee is the poverty reduction goal of providing low-income TTC fare cuts. This will help transit users to better afford their commute to more available jobs and help alleviate the pressures of living a low-income lifestyle. Executive Committee passed the ‘Fair Pass Program’ that would lower the adult single fare by 33 per cent and the adult monthly pass by 21 per cent unanimously. The program, if approved by council, will be implemented in March 2018.

Though the city is working towards implementing small measures as a part of their poverty reduction program, all cuts that involve children-led programs including housing, recreation and daycare subsidy, need to be avoided. Oftentimes, it seems that children get left behind in the wake of transit-focused initiatives when it comes to the city council budget. Most importantly, affordable housing solutions need to be offered immediately, including portable housing, recognizing the need for affordable housing based on using more than 30 per cent of a parent’s income on rent and changing rent control guidelines.

Children are the city’s most important priority and putting them first is the only way to make Toronto Canada’s best city. Every child deserves to play in a safe home without pests, and learn how to swim or play tae kwon do. Families also need access to healthy food and equitable employment opportunities where their children are in safe daycares so that parents can obtain employment or go to school. Only when Toronto loses its reputation as the child poverty capital will it be a safe place for families to live. Only at that point will the city of Toronto truly be a considered a village that raises a child.

New portable housing for domestic abuse survivors and their families

Imagine packing your belongings in the middle of the night and waking your children to escape the place you call home. Frightened and without any place to go, 3,491 women and 2.724 children arrive at the doorsteps of emergency domestic abuse shelters each night. About 300 of those women and children are turned away.

Once they actually get up the courage to leave their abusers, survivors of domestic abuse and their families face a number of challenges. They must find a safe place to go, obtain a new home and all while living with the fear that their spouse is trying to find them. The government of Canada and Ontario are trying to help the situation by investing $20 million over two years into the Survivors of Domestic Violence Portable Housing Benefit Pilot project. The pilot project will provide 1000 survivors of domestic violence per year with immediate affordable housing.

As is stands, when women and their children find temporary housing in an emergency shelter it can take several months to find another place to live. Going back home is often not an option. This leaves families stranded in very unstable living situations. Domestic abuse survivors are placed on the waitlist for rent-geared-to income and must wait for social housing to become available. Though domestic abuse victims are given priority on the waitlists, the state of social housing waitlists in Canada leaves many of these families stranded for months.

It also leaves the victim of abuse in a vulnerable situation because they don’t have access to permanent housing. In Canada, 26 per cent of women who are murdered by their spouse have left the relationship and half of these women are killed within two months of leaving their abuser. Women are also six times more likely to be killed by an ex-partner than a current partner, placing the victims in a vulnerable situation after leaving their abuser. Women and children are still in danger after leaving an abusive partner, and obtaining safe housing is paramount for their safety.

The federal and provincial government are taking steps in providing better resources for domestic abuse survivors and the affordable housing situation. Though the new pilot program is a step in the right direction, more efforts to provide victims of domestic abuse with optimal support is of upmost importance.