Building the Toronto We Want Starts With Poverty Reduction

Toronto City Council made history and sent a strong message by unanimously adopting TO Prosperity, our city’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy. Now, Council must fund it in the 2016 budget.

YWCA_Toronto-Poverty-TOYWCA Toronto has joined with over 50 civic leaders in calling on Council to ensure that the 2016 budget includes the funding necessary to reduce poverty. We urge Council to invest $75 million —representing less than 1% of the city’s $10 billion budget— to make real headway on core priorities. These priorities include child care subsidies for 1,500 children, shelter and supportive housing spaces for 1,000 individuals and families, and affordable rent for 7,000 households at risk of homelessness.

One year ago, YWCA Toronto held consultations with our tenants on how to eradicate poverty in Toronto. Recommendations were forwarded to the city as part of its outreach for the poverty reduction strategy. Our tenants participated in this process in good faith – with the hope that their voices would be heard and that positive change was soon on the way because many of them had been living in poverty for some time.

Women told us about the difficulty of finding full-time employment. Many are working two part-time jobs or are on short-term contracts. Most have no guaranteed hours of work, no benefits and no sick time. They also told us that finding affordable child care when they need it is next to impossible. Women need more childcare subsidies, more local spaces, and flexible hours of operation to deal with work schedules women are working today – particularly if they are precariously employed.

We heard that a safe and secure home at YWCA Toronto has transformed their lives and the lives of their children — they want this opportunity for all women. They want to ensure that women are never forced to stay in violent relationships because they cannot afford to leave or made to choose whether to feed their children or pay their rent. These are too frequently the real lived experiences of many women in Toronto.

When the city’s poverty reduction strategy was released we saw that our tenant’s voices were represented and that the recommendations they put forward were key components of the strategy. We congratulate Council for listening. But if the strategy is not adequately funded it cannot be implemented. This would be a tragedy and an enormous setback to addressing inequality in our city.

Currently, only $5 million — out of a budget of more than $10 billion — has been allocated to new initiatives aimed at reducing poverty. This is woefully inadequate in a City of this size with poverty levels in some neighbourhoods as high as 40%. Poverty destroys lives, limits opportunity and harms families and communities. There is a strong moral, social and economic case for investing in poverty reduction. And the City of Toronto Act gives Council the power to introduce new generating revenue tools to fund important initiatives such as poverty reduction.

Women living in poverty want to contribute to make their families, their neighbourhoods and our city stronger. In developing the 2016 budget, Council has the responsibility, and the opportunity, to take bold action to build a city that is liveable for all of its residents. We urge Councillors to allocate the funding needed to implement the city’s poverty reduction strategy.

Put quite simply, we cannot afford to wait any longer for action.

By Maureen Adams, Director of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto and Etana Cain, Senior Advocacy and Communications Officer at YWCA Toronto.