Commentary: Ontario’s Long Term Housing Strategy Consultation
To the Honourable Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs, Jim Watson
First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for including all the stakeholders in this consultation.
To quote from a speech that Nelson Mandela gave, on the occasion of his becoming an Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience, “ People have the right not to live in poverty…overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice…Massive poverty and inequality are such terrible scourges of our time… While poverty persists, there is not true freedom.”
My name is Joyce McNeely; I am forty eight years old, trying to live on a Canada Pension Disability. Until 2005, I had a good paying job, with benefits. I no longer have those things, but I do still have my life. I have concurrent disorders, alcoholism in recovery, bi-polar currently medicated and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to severe and multiple abuses as a child.
Presently, we, my common law husband and I, live in a market rental unit; which we can ill afford but for us it remains the only choice. Our housing is safe and clean; and something that we can be proud. I have lived in public housing before and would prefer never to again.
In 1970, Senator David A. Croll chaired a Senate Committee that produced a report entitled, “Poverty in Canada”. I was ten year’s old when that report was released, and I was living in poverty, there were no food banks then, the church distributed food vouchers and hampers at Christmas. One memory stands out vividly in my mind; I remember walking to the rectory of St. Georges church, on Piccadilly in Ottawa’s west end, from our home on Broadhead, in bone chilling February cold, with my mother and my four younger siblings. The food voucher was for a specific store, still further from our home. When we arrived at the store, my mother put what meager items she could purchase with the voucher into the cart and we headed to the cash. The nun’s from the school/convent were also at the cash with their bulging grocery carts; they had items that we could not even consider, grapefruit, ham and pie. The child that I was, somewhat precocious, I asked my mother why we couldn’t have some of their groceries, since we were the poor that I kept hearing needed help. Of course my mother was embarrassed, and very quickly threatened me to silence, apparently this just wasn’t done. That was the day I turned away from my Catholic upbringing.
The “Vision” stated in the Housing Consultation Strategy states, “to improve access to suitable and affordable housing… build strong communities.” This statement does not say enough, it is not only access to housing that we, the poor need, we need assurances that housing will be made a priority, that housing has to put first on the list of what we, the poor need. Without housing that is safe and clean, it is difficult to venture into the world when you haven’t had good nights sleep. I am not a planner, although my foster mother worked for the city of Kanata for twenty five year’s; nor am I an accountant, although I have been responsible for other people’s money at time’s when I was working and active with my union; after reading the fact sheet, dated April 16, 2009, I would suggest that the millions of dollars invested in the bricks and mortar of a decaying social housing system is and will continue to be throwing good money after bad. The brief calculation that I did do, tells me that $100,000. Dollars was spent per social housing unit in 2008. That this money could be better spent, I have no doubt, if we, my husband and I, had the available credit and down payment, we could purchase a home in the Barry’s Bay or Wilno are of Ontario, for less than $100,000. With today’s lower interest rates we would be paying less than market value for an apartment in Ottawa, and still have money left for groceries.
For housing to be affordable it need’s to be accessible to the lowest paid individual. Housing need’s to be safe, clean and something that one can take pride. For one to take pride, one generally need’s to feel some sense of ownership; ownership for many of us is so far out of reach within a city boundary, that we are pushed aside and marginalized in; public housing, nonprofit housing and co-operatives, all of which are so sorely under funded that the waiting list is seven to ten years long.
I am aware that the Federal and Provincial governments provide financial incentives to developers, corporations and individual home owner’s, for various types of housing, along with Eco incentives; I am certain that similar incentives could be developed to help people such as myself, the economically disadvantaged to own a home. There is a great deal of money being spent on housing for homeless, I believe, that with a different kind of support system, and monies directed specifically to put and keep people, who are economically disadvantaged, in a home of their own, with a support system geared to our specific needs, would bring about a wonderful shift in what we could give back.
The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was significant not only for Americans; I too cheered and cried with joy, for the hope that his election gave to people like me, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised and those like myself who have been marginalized by economic disadvantage. Here in Canada we have a long history of social activism that has given us many things well in advance of the United States, unfortunately those of us who rely on the social system know too well that the net is worn and there are too many of us falling through the gaping holes.
Recently, in my local Ottawa Citizen newspaper, it was announced that supportive housing for some who are already homeless, due to mental health and addiction issues will open in Councilor George Bedard’s ward. I would like to thank the City of Ottawa for starting to address the issue. The “Problem” hasn’t gone away; in fact it has gotten immeasurably worse. More and more I have become aware of feelings of disconnectedness, for those of us who are weak, vulnerable, sick, elderly, young disabled and poor; we are being pushed further and further to the edges of society. This has been well documented in the 2008 Senate report entitled, “Poverty, Housing and Homelessness: Issues and Options: First Report of the Subcommittee on Cities of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.”
We the sick, disabled and poor have none of the time, energy, money or resources to advocate for ourselves; we are just too busy trying to survive. Not having the monies to sustain ourselves, our time and energy is spent in constant movement, retaining living accommodations, going to food banks to supplement our larders and walking everywhere due to the transportation allotment being spent on food.
To understand how much energy this requires, read David McClelland’s biography about Simone Wiel, friend and fellow philosopher to Simone de Beavoir and Jean Paul Sartre. Simone Wiel was a Christian philosopher, who was born of French/Jewish bourgeois parents; she rejected her inheritance to fight for social justice for the factory workers in France. Simone Wiel turned her back on all comforts, living and working side by side with the factory workers that she wanted to help; she worked the same long hours, housed herself in tenement housing and ate the same meager rations that her pay from the factory allowed. Documenting over her years of enforced labour her struggle to ignite the workers and unionize, she became aware of a pervasive apathy that left her without the will to muster an objection, much less a fight for her or anyone’s rights. Wiel noted that the long hours of labour, the constant struggle to house and feed herself took all the fight out of her; in the end Simone Wiel may seem extreme, but the social activist/philosopher lived and died of a factory laborers life and death. She died of pneumonia, refusing treatment.
This past spring, a co-founder of the Morningglory Commune, in Killaloe, Gary Beckett, died of a totally preventable disease, malnutrition at the age of fifty-five. This commune was founded in the 1960’s, by a group of people who felt disenfranchised, as an example of how some have tried to find a better life outside the confines of urban living. I believe that the answer lies outside of urban confines for those of us who are so disenfranchised.
Let’s not wait, until we here in Canada, have our own “Hurricane Katrina”, a catastrophe of epic proportions, witnessed by all via our modern media. The displacement of hundred’s of thousands by this environmental disaster resulted in the relocation of the poorest residents of New Orleans. I was horrified by the loss of life and destruction of communities, but the settlement of many of those environmental refugees has proven to be of benefit for some. Some found a new life, in hurriedly constructed communities far away from the disaster area. It gave many a chance for a new and different life.
There are many examples, that can be held up as a way to move beyond simply housing the poor and the sick. I personally, do not require an expansive living space, nor do I want to be a burden on my family, friends, environment or government. Last month, I had the misfortune, to be witness to a conversation that my husband had at the Ottawa airport with, the once venerable in our eyes, David Suzuki. To summarize, David Suzuki does not believe that we are smart enough to save ourselves, never mind the planet. David Suzuki said, and I quote,” That we are too stupid to save ourselves let alone the planet, look at the mess that we have already made of it.” Thank goodness that David Suzuki is not God; otherwise we would already be condemned. I have hope that we, not just our government, or business or those who are well off, but we all can do something that will make a difference; the difference being in how we live.
There are many wonderful examples of environmentally sustainable housing that could be easily built to house people, such as me, my common law husband; and even my daughter and her father, in outlying communities; possibly in areas impacted by the economic recession. A Canadian company, Magna Corporation, built a community in a rural area of the United States, to help with the immense rebuilding operation after hurricane Katrina. Originally called Magnaville, it is still housing some of the relocated families from New Orleans. For specific details of the project and its ongoing work, refer to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Fifth Estate to view clips of this social venture. For another example of what came about resulting from this environmental disaster, please refer to the Katrina Cottage at www.cusatocottages.com distributed through Lowe’s, for some of those displaced by the hurricane.
To understand better what the sick and poor need, the example of Greyston Bakery and its Foundation of Social Venture explains well what can happen when we use a hand up, not a hand out. Please reference the attached article, entitled,” Healing Society, Healing Ourselves at Greyston Bakery”. Quote,” The unusual aspect of the Greyston bakery model is that it is not a program. It offers permanent employment…It isn’t just about helping the disadvantaged. This project actually helps all of us…Our mission talks about healing the rejected parts of society as well as the rejected parts of ourselves, so we try not to play into the class system of ‘us helping them.’…We believe the way to overcome social and economic problems, fundamentally, is by building strong community.”
The Greyston Bakery, in Yonkers, New York, began as a way to provide job training for the worst of the homeless, addicted and mentally ill of that poor neighbourhood. The book, “Instructions to the Cook, A Zen Master’s Way of Life”, details the journey from a small, low tech bakery with a run down apartment unit and several of societies; to a national Non-Profit foundation that provides multiple support services to the people of Yonkers and beyond. The Greyston Bakery provides Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream with the brownies and cookies for some of their ice creams. All done on the back bone of good works! Please follow the link to see for yourselves the amazing social changes taking place, from this one simple idea, www.greystonbakery.com .
There are some Canadian companies producing housing that is both inexpensive and environmentally sustainable. The Mini-Home, www.minihomeparks.ca is being produced in the Toronto area. Moose Factory Cabins www.hybridhome.ca has been designed for complete off-grid living and in fact their offshoot company Thermotech is building housing in Third world countries for $20 – $50,000. per unit. Canadian developers who are building homes and apartments that are low impact environmentally, www.windmilldevelopments.com and www.dharmadevelopments.com . Individually these companies are doing something different; imagine the potential social change that we could make, this is about a hand up, not a hand out!
I and my husband would happily volunteer for any housing experiment that this Ontario Housing Consultation Strategy may deem suitable. I believe that we have much to contribute, given time and opportunity; we only need safe, clean, affordable housing to launch from. Thank you for your time and I wish you success in your inquiry.
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