What Makes A City World-Class? Investment In Poverty Reduction

heather budget2

YWCA Toronto CEO Heather McGregor (right) and Maureen Adams, Director of Advocacy and Communications (left) deputing to the Budget Committee.

There is a lot at stake in this year’s city budget. YWCA Toronto supports new revenue tools to stop unacceptable service cuts, and we urge Council to make a substantial investment in Toronto’s poverty reduction strategy. This is critically important for women in our city, who have disproportionately higher poverty rates.

The women we work with at YWCA Toronto are strong and resilient. They tell us that the rise of precarious employment in our city keeps them trapped in poverty. They tell us that without subsidized child care they cannot afford to move ahead, pay the bills or feed their families. And they tell us that the wait lists for social housing are so long that it feels hopeless.

Across all of our programs at YWCA Toronto, we have seen an increase in women living in extreme poverty, especially among single-mother-led families and senior women. This is consistent with reports that have named Toronto the income inequality capital of Canada and the child poverty capital of Canada – both pointing to growing gaps in opportunities and outcomes based on neighbourhoods, gender, racial and ethnic lines. We should all be concerned that our city is becoming increasingly divided.

Now is the time for City Councillors to make good on the commitment that they made by unanimously passing the city’s poverty reduction strategy just two short years ago. The women we work with want to see investment in new child care subsidies, shelter and supportive housing spaces, affordable rent and good jobs with livable incomes. Council must support new revenue tools to ensure more direct support for those who need it most. With poverty costing our city up to $5.5 billion annually – we cannot afford not to act.

KWT conference

YWCA Toronto supported a women’s press conference at City Hall calling for a gender equity lens in the budget process.

We echo the deep concerns about the $10 million in cuts to city services included in the draft budget, and the $76.8 million service cut “options” that are on the table. Many of the services currently on the chopping block are lifelines for the women with whom we work, and their children.

We are especially concerned about the cuts to Shelter Support and Housing Administration, including the elimination of homeless prevention services and to the Adelaide Resource Centre; the cuts to public health – including to student nutrition programs; the cuts to Parks Forestry and Recreation, and continued TTC fare increases. These proposed cuts will harm women and communities.

As a service provider, YWCA Toronto operates, among other things, an emergency homeless women’s shelter where beds are always filled. We are constantly forced to turn away women in need. It is the same right across this city – as was pointed out at previous Budget Committee meetings, this could mean that a woman may return to a violent spouse because she has no other options. The system is failing women.

We have also expressed concerns at City Hall before that the non-profit community is bearing a huge responsibility and weight for the funding for emergency shelter programs in the city. Next year, we will have to raise over half a million dollars ourselves to support our homeless shelter. The current funding formula is insufficient and relies on someone other than government to fund what is a human right.

And where is the funding for subsidized child care? YWCA Toronto operates 62-space child care centre, which currently has ten vacancies because subsidizes from the City have been frozen since the fall. Access to affordable, quality child care is good for the economy, and it provides women with a path out of poverty.

In closing, we often talk about Toronto as being a world-class city, and there are many examples of this. One is that the United Way in Toronto raises more money than any other United Way in North America. What this says, is that the citizens of Toronto understand the need for a poverty reduction strategy, and they are willing to commit money. YWCA Toronto urges Council to be on the side of that commitment by the citizens of Toronto.

By Heather McGregor, Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Toronto and Etana Cain, Senior Advocacy and Communications Officer at YWCA Toronto.