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Toronto mayor moves to create 400 new shelter spaces

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced over the weekend his desire to create 400 new spaces within existing shelters for the city’s homeless “as soon as possible.” This statement was made at the tip of Toronto’s homelessness crisis, in which one of four children live in poverty.

As of October 30, 2017, 70 homeless people have died on the streets. Over 5,400 people on average used a shelter night in the month of November.

“We’re already underway, talking to each of the shelters that exists in the city of Toronto, asking them to add capacity wherever they possibly can,” he said. These new spaces would include motels, shelters and drop-in centres.

It was previously suggested that Toronto open up armouries at Fort York and Moss Park to use as shelters, but that idea has been dismissed as they are under federal jurisdiction. The mayor also said he would not be declaring an official emergency. The plan would cost about $10 million from the city’s reserves.

Housing advocates have said this plan will put a strain on facilities already suffering from overcrowding. Most shelters are 96 to 100 per cent at capacity, especially during the winter months. Statistics also show that 95 per cent of motel beds in Toronto are used to house homeless people. Advocates say it would be easier and cheaper to open up the armouries.

This response caused a little bit of a stir at city council on Tuesday, with the mayor coming forward with facts from staff that say opening the armouries would be expensive and problematic.

“I will be bringing together private and non-profit housing providers to work with staff and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness to rapidly house as many people as possible,” he said in a statement. “Homelessness is a complex issue that we cannot ignore. While I know for some, our concrete solutions will never be enough – I know we can’t simply do nothing, we must take decisive action and I’m confident Council will join me in taking decisive action.”

Under the mayor’s plan, the city hopes to find space for 200 people by January.

This announcement is the first of a number of steps the City of Toronto is going to take to combat poverty. City council has also pledged to create more low-income and social housing, and hopes to get funding and support from the federal government under the new National Housing Strategy.

Canada missing data for inclusion in ONE analysis on girls education

For the last five years, Oct. 11 has marked International Day of the Girl, where people are encouraged to reflect on the importance of education and human rights, especially when it comes to the empowerment of young girls. This mission, led by the United Nations, aims to bring global attention and action to girls that are in crisis around the world, including access to safety, education, and a healthy life. This year, the theme will be to help girls before, during, and after a crisis.

In honour of International Day of the Girl, ONE campaign released their second annual report on the ‘toughest places in the world for a girl to get an education.’ ONE is an organization that spans worldwide and is focused on issues like justice and equality, especially in African Nations. The report is based on a data taken from the 193 countries in the United Nations. Education is one of the most important factor affecting the prosperous growth of women. Eleven factors were taken into consideration.

However, out of 193 member countries, only 122 countries had enough data to be included in the report.  The top 10 worst countries for girls to get an education are mostly located in sub-saharan Africa and the order is as follows: South Sudan, Central African Republic, Niger, Afghanistan, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Burkino Faso, Liberia and Ethiopia.

Canada, France, and Germany were included in the list of 71 countries that did not meet the mark for proper data analysis. Canada only met four data points:

  • Girls’ upper-secondary out-of-school rate
  • Girls’ lower-secondary out-of-school rate
  • Girls’ upper-secondary completion rate
  • Girls’ government expenditure on education (as a per cent of total government expenditure)

All the data was collected from the UNESCO database. Some of the factors Canada was missing include girls’ youth literacy rate, mean years of school, primary teachers trained to teach, lower-secondary out-of-school rate and primary out-of-school rate. Canada is positioned as a country that supports girls education and development. However, there is lots of data missing to gather a full understanding of where girls stand in these developed countries. Canada is all about promoting feminism, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leading the way as a self–proclaimed feminist. Canada also featured two cities, Toronto and Vancouver, on the top ten cities for female entrepreneurs, but the data collected by ONE shows a lot of information missing about our own educational system.

ONE’s report hopes to highlight key issues that need improvement in order for girls to thrive. Their report indicated that the toughest places for girls to get access to proper education are amongst the poorest in the world, and are often marked as fragile states. Girls can face social, economic, and cultural barriers all when trying to access and stay in school. However, the report can conclude that just because a country is poor doesn’t mean that girls cannot get access to proper education . For instance, Burundi has the worlds lowest income, but ranks better than 18 other wealthier countries in terms of girls education. While all the countries on the ‘tough list’ deal with different issues, ranging from childhood marriage to poor literacy, the key issues are transparency and funding.

President and CEO of the ONE campaign, Gayle Smith said that “over 130 million girls are still out of school— that is over 130 million potential engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and politicians whose leadership the world is missing out on. It’s a global crisis that perpetuates poverty.”

In February 2018, Smith hopes there will be a Global Partnership for Education that supports education in developing countries. Various world leaders will be invited to fund this development and make a commitment to this cause.

Prime Minister Trudeau is, however, expected to make a few appearance in Washington D.C on Oct. 10 where he will attend the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit and Gala as well as participate in the Women One Roundtable discussion on Oct 11. It is hopeful that in the near future, more developed countries can make all issues of girls’ education more transparent because empowered girls make for powerful women.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Woman of the Week: Angie Draskovic

Angie Draskovic is someone who puts others before herself and firmly believes in the power of faith — faith in religion and faith in humanity. As President and CEO of Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic has seen first hand the difference this kind of faith can make in a person’s life.

Draskovic always had a passion for helping others, but it took her a while to figure out how she could put her abilities to use. Prior to her time with the Mission, she spent 16 years working in telecommunications. It wasn’t until she took a maternity leave that she began to re-evaluate what she wanted in a career, and that led her down a spiritual path of self-discovery and altruism.

 “I started to investigate what I really wanted to do and at that stage I had a greater sense of what my skill set was – marketing,” Draskovic said. “What I was passionate about was advocating for the poor and marginalized. That led to taking my skill set, marketing and sales, and having that benefit the poor and marginalized.” 

She worked in non-profit fundraising for a season before venturing out on her own to found the ZOË Alliance, a social enterprise that empowers village-based businesses in developing countries by providing a platform for their products. Shoppers can purchase hand-crafted items from businesses across the world knowing they were making a real economic difference in the lives of the people who created them.

The goal, Draskovic says, is to allow communities to grow alongside the business. It’s a concept called social sourcing and sustainable employment. The for-profit business encourages ethical employment and uses part of the funds collected to help create infrastructure within that community.

“I went alongside indigenous business owners and helped them develop products and business plans. Instead of it being a crafty business without much profit they were able to develop a growing businesses and more steadily employee people in the community.”

When ZOË Alliance was doing well as a successful commercial business, Draskovic felt like it was time to move on. She was on the board of the Yonge Street Mission at the time, and when a position opened up for the CEO’s role, she immediately felt drawn to it.

“I grew up, like many people we serve, in a single-parent family on social assistance. I know what it’s like to live in a rent-geared family,” she said. This history helped her connect with both the staff and the people the Mission worked for.

For Draskovic, working at the Yonge Street Mission is exciting and incredibly important. The people she serves count on the Mission. As she says, it’s not a career or a sector, “it’s a vocation.”

“I think the one thing I like about working at Yonge Street Mission is that it is an organization that has great historical depth and experience,” she said. “We are trusted, which gives us the opportunity to step into being a leader in the city around to truly reducing, or dare I say it eliminating, chronic poverty in Toronto.”

In addition to her work at Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic also sits on the advisory panel for Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. She says there is no “intellectually defensive argument” for the lack of resources spent on poverty reduction. At the same time, she acknowledged the bureaucracy that has led to resource limitations, saying that Toronto is doing what it can with the parameters it has to work with.

She said there are a few things that can be done to make an honest difference in the poverty gap. The first is to have faith in people and believe they can move up from poverty. Draskovic says too many people believe that those in poverty can’t change. “That’s a community thing. How do we respond to someone who dresses a little different than us and conducts themselves in a way that’s uncomfortable?”

Businesses need to provide jobs at a meaningful income so that families don’t require social assistance. As a founder of a for-profit business, Draskovic understands that making money is important, but many businesses put this profit before their community and the wellbeing of their employees. The increase in minimum wage in Toronto is a good start, she said. “If we could pay everyone enough to live on – that would be the biggest thing we could do. We would stop feeding it.”

Resources for poverty also need to be more proactive and preventative rather than reactionary. There are programs in place to help those who are below the poverty line; however, that help disappears the moment that person or family makes a little more money, which in turn throws them back into poverty. “It’s punitive,” Draskovic says. “We assume we have to make sure you don’t game the system and this prevents you from earning income and working your way out of poverty.”

Yonge Street Mission is currently executing a research project to determine specific policies that, if changed, would drastically reduce poverty in Toronto. Once these policies are identified, Draskovic will focus on providing evidence and business case studies for public partners with the goal of transforming Toronto. “I’m excited,” she said. “We will see. I’m newer to the sector than many of my colleagues so perhaps that makes me optimistic, but I can’t imagine doing anything in a way you weren’t playing to win. Winning in this case means reducing poverty.”

When Draskovic isn’t working, she is studying part-time in an attempt to finish her master’s in leadership and management.

Affordable housing to recieve billions in federal budget

The federal budget is taking affordable housing seriously, with a new National Housing Strategy that wants to tackle Canada’s housing crisis.

The 2017 budget proposes to spend $11.2 billion over 11 years and will build safe and affordable housing across the country. In cities with high prices and a severe lack of affordable housing, like Toronto and Vancouver, this funding cannot come soon enough. The government’s proposed housing fund will be run by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) — the country’s public insurance program for mortgages. The CMHC will receive $5 billion over 11 years to work on several projects related to housing. Another $3.2 billion will be dedicated to affordable housing specifically and will use a multilateral investment framework, relying on private and public funding to get affordable housing projects up and running across the country.

Out of the $11.2 billion, $3 billion will be spent in the next three years and $20 million for this year.

The money budgeted falls short of what the big city mayors caucus asked for at their meeting in late 2016. They asked for a pledge of $12.6 billion, spread over eight years to solve the affordable housing crisis that are growing in Canada’s largest cities. Toronto specifically has $2.6 billion in repairs needed for Toronto Community Housing units on the brink of being closed down.

Mayor John Tory is asking that the province pitch in to the housing fund as well and fill the gap that the federal government cannot commit to. Affordable housing in Toronto needs a huge investment to repair current community housing units as well as provide more. There are 82,414 households on the waitlist in the city, most consisting of families and seniors, and with rising house costs people are desperate for somewhere to live.

All three levels of government ultimately need to work together to tackle the affordable housing crises popping up across Canada. The National Housing Strategy is a brave step and the commitment of billions of dollars will make headway to giving vulnerable parts of the population somewhere safe and healthy to live. Without a home, it is nearly impossible to escape the throes of poverty — finally it seems that Canada is realizing the importance of shelter in the Great White North. Let’s hope that investment is maintained!

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.

When will the minimum wage reflect reality?

Earlier this month, the Ontario government announced an increase to the minimum wage from $11.25 to $11.40.

In a statement, Kevin Flynn, Ontario Minister of Labour, said that “our government understands that cost(s) of living increases every year. In order to help families keep up, we’ve tied the minimum wage to increases in inflation, putting more money into the pockets of Ontario workers each year.”

And man, have they ever helped! An extra 15 cents! Ontario residents should be pleased, over the moon even. Ever dreamed of owning a car, being able to take your family on trip, or even just splurging on a movie once a week? Well, now you still won’t be able to do it, but you are closer to to the dream, right?

Let’s do some simple math.

Assuming you are a full-time worker (40 hours a week) living off of minimum wage, this will increase your bi-weekly salary to $912 — before taxes of course. That means your annual income prior to taxes is about $23,712.

The average cost of an apartment in a city like Toronto is approximately $1,500, which means that over $17,000 of that money will be spent on rent, not including amenities like hydro or Internet. Groceries are an extra one to two thousand dollars a year depending on how big your family is and how hungry you plan on being.

Of course, then there are medical bills, transportation costs, and cell phone charges. But hey, you got a raise, so not to worry.

The problem with these minimum wage hikes is that it is tied to inflation, as was explained by the honourable minister of labour. Canada’s workforce is expected to be grateful with this small pay increase, but in reality, it’s not going to help. And pretending it will is extremely dangerous.

While the price of labour increases with inflation, so does the cost of goods. This means that a minimum wage rises at a similar interval as the cost of bread and will do nothing to alleviate the poverty rate.

If the government really wants to make a difference, it will work towards raising the minimum wage to a level that allows families to live in a sustainable way.  Society needs workers who perform these minimum wage jobs, and they should be paid accordingly. Minimum wager earners work hard, with no benefits or security. And yet they are rewarded with a dismal pay cheque.

No one should have to choose between a roof over their head or groceries for the month. Ontario CAN do better and it’s time the government seriously and actively considers a higher minimum wage.

 

Minimum Wage in Canada*

  • Ontario: $11.40
  • Alberta: $12.20
  • British Columbia: $10.85
  • Manitoba: $11.00
  • New Brunswick: $10.65
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: $10.50
  • Northwest Territories: $12.50
  • Nova Scotia: $10.70
  • Nunavut: $13.00
  • Prince Edward Island: $11.00
  • Quebec: $10.75
  • Saskatchewan: $10.72
  • Yukon: $11.07

 

*According to the Government of Canada.

Meet YWCA Toronto’s 2016 Women of Distinction

Half of the federal government’s Cabinet is made up of women, but 90 per cent of women do not report sexual abuse. Investment in community infrastructure is on the agenda again, but in Toronto alone, there are 95,000 households on the social housing waiting list.

While it would be wrong to claim there has been little or no improvement on so-called “women’s issues,” it would be equally erroneous to suggest that continued progress is inevitable, especially for women and girls living in poverty, fear, and isolation. The work to secure equality and social justice remains an ongoing challenge. That’s why we need to support associations like YWCA Toronto.

For 140 years, YWCA Toronto has provided shelter and support to those seeking refuge from violence and abuse; offered training and resources to help women into jobs and out of poverty; increased participation and empowerment among girls; and advocated for a fairer and more equitable society.

Over the past year alone, more than 6,000 women received training, job-seeking assistance and links to community resources through YWCA Toronto’s employment and skills development centres. More than 900 women and their families found permanent homes through YWCA Toronto and 1,300 women and their children were able to escape and recover from violence. Working together, YWCA Toronto was able to help 1,000 more women and young girls than the previous year.

YWCA Toronto has also played host to the launch of the provincial government’s Action Plan on Sexual Violence and Harassment; advocated for better child care, poverty reduction and national housing strategies; and called for action on Truth and Reconciliation recommendations, among other things.

YWCA Toronto recognizes that these results can only happen if women work together. For the past 35 years, YWCA Toronto has honoured extraordinary women who have worked tirelessly to make a difference for women and girls across the city, country, and the globe.

More than 200 women have received a Women of Distinction Award since the first awards ceremony in 1981. They are game changers in their respective fields – law, education, health, culture and the arts, politics, environment, international development and corporate leadership. These women have used their talent to improve the lives of other women and young girls, and helped raise awareness about inequities in local, national, and international communities, and create systemic change.

See for yourself. On May 26 YWCA Toronto is hosting the 2016 Women of Distinction Awards ceremony – the organization’s biggest fundraising event of the year. Proceeds support the over 30 programs that serve more than 12,000 women and families in the Greater Toronto area.

There will be eight women receiving the honour of a Woman of Distinction award. These women are truly awe-inspiring:

Roberta L. Jamieson (President’s Award) First Nations leader, highly acclaimed public figure and CEO of Indspire, Roberta has spent five decades in numerous breakthrough positions advocating for change and justice for Indigenous people and Canada.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente (Young Women of Distinction) Tessa Hill and Lia Valente were 13 when they took on rape culture as a documentary project and turned it into a successful public campaign bringing sexual consent into Ontario’s health education curriculum.

Colleen Johnston (Corporate Leadership) This senior executive from TD Bank Group and women’s leadership guru has successfully championed for stronger representation of women in corporate leadership, which helped to significantly increase the number of women in TD’s executive ranks.

Georgia Quartaro (Education) Georgia created innovative education programs and violence-against-women training that reaches women and marginalized groups who have experienced trauma and responds to their needs and potential.

Reeta Roy (International Development) Reeta Roy saw that opportunities and conditions for girls and women farmers in African countries were disturbingly unequal to men’s. The MasterCard Foundation she heads guarantees that at least 50 percent of program participants are women and girls.

Elizabeth Shilton (Law and Justice) Elizabeth argued before the Supreme Court to uphold the rape shield law; won a pay equity case ending wage inequities; defended the right of sexual assault survivors to keep their names out of the public eye; and prevented the disclosure of counselling records of sexual abuse survivors.

Dr. Cheryl Wagner (Health) When HIV/AIDS first hit women, Dr. Cheryl Wagner was one of the first – and few – Toronto physicians to whom they could turn for expertise, help and health care. She extended her work to include researching and advocating for services to address their distinct needs.

Celebrate these women and what they have accomplished! To get your tickets to the exciting event at The Carlu (444 Yonge St.), visit www.womenofdistinction.ca.

Meeting Mr. Williams

Last November, I had the pleasure of visiting Atlanta for a tradeshow my company was exhibiting in. It’s been a long time since I had been there, and much had changed. I was impressed with its parks and buildings, its air of confidence, and the friendliness of its people. When it comes right down to it though, great cities are made by the people that live there.

I met Mr. Williams shortly after I parked my car. I had a lot on my mind – I had to get registered, find my booth, and figure out a way to tote all my stuff there, and all in less than an hour. Mr. Williams started the conversation. “Excuse me sir. It was really cold last night, and I’m hungry. I was wondering if you could help me out.”

It was hard to guess his age – he could have been forty, he could’ve been sixty. The only thing that seemed obvious, from his appearance and his manner, was that he has lived this way for many years.

I am not shocked or surprised when this happens, because it’s a fact of life in our society, especially in the larger cities. I have spent some time in various community organizations that focus on the issue of homelessness. Through this, and the wise insights of some really dedicated people, I have gained a sense for some of the reasons a person might end up on the street. It’s not as easy as “drugs”, or “alcohol”, or “laziness”, or even “choices”. For many, it’s a mental or emotional health issue. For others, it was a matter of having no choice; home was not a safe place. And for others, likely Mr. Williams, it’s a trans-generational issue; their grandparents were jobless and largely homeless, their parents were born into that state, and then they were too. It’s hard to break the cycle, and safety nets alone won’t fix it.

I usually keep a few loose bills in my pocket, but the moment I heard his polite petition, I knew I was caught in an awkward state; I only had Canadian money in my pocket, and a couple $20 US bills in my wallet safely tucked in my inside jacket pocket. I answered as kindly as I could; “all I have is a few Canadian dollars, if you want them, you can have them.” I lied. He started walking away. But then he turned and came back, and as if he didn’t hear or understand my explanation (or perhaps he didn’t believe it), he asked again, “please sir, can you help me?” I knew what the answer was – it was ‘yes’, of course I could help him. The real question to me was would I help him, or would I lie again? At the same moment, another business traveller a couple of parking spaces away yelled out, “hey! Quit bothering those people. Why don’t you get a job!”

In that moment, I realized I can be part of the continuing broken paradigm, where the beggars beg and the rest of us don’t have the energy to really understand, or I could slow down for a moment and see him as an individual, not all that different from me. “What’s your name?” I said, I as began the process of fishing out my wallet. “Mr. Williams”, he answered. “Mr. Williams” I said, “I’m sorry I lied.” I gave him twenty bucks, and then continued to load marketing material and a computer screen on a dolly I brought with me. He asked to help, but I told him I had it covered. He insisted, nearly begging me to accept his help. I was worried about the screen falling off the dolly, and said I’d prefer to do it myself. I hope he understood, but I realized afterward that my accepting his help would’ve been a bigger blessing to him than the money I gave him.

We, the manufacturers, the entrepreneurs, the business leaders and the workers – we are the true wealth generators of our society. It’s not Wall Street or Bay Street, or the government, it’s us. We also are the beginning of the solution – not the whole solution, but the start. We can’t cure society’s problems with our money, no matter how much we might make or give away. Where we need to be more generous however, is with our time, our caring, and our understanding. Mr. Williams might have been asking for a few dollars, but what he really needed was to matter to someone – in that morning, me. I don’t know what needs to be done to change his life, but I think spending a bit of time with him may have changed his day a bit – and who knows what happens from there. (I do know it changed my day – and who knows what happens from there.) Changes are needed in our society, but I think it starts with us, at a more personal level.

Thank you, Mr. Williams. I hope you are doing well.

Paul Hogendoorn is cofounder of FreePoint Technologies. “Measure. Analyze. Share.” (Don’t forget to share!) He can be reached at paulh@getfreepoint.com  or www.getfreepoint.com