POLITICS

Group rallies against government cuts to benefits for low-income Ontarians

10/17/2012 04:12 EDT | Updated 12/17/2012 05:12 EST
TORONTO - A group of Torontonians hit the streets Wednesday for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, hoping to put the issue on the provincial government’s radar.

Roughly 200 people marched on Bay Street to demand more services for low-income Ontarians and protest the cutting of the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit.

The government benefit provides low-income applicants with up to $1,500 for housing, rent, utilities and well-being, and is scheduled to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013.

Nearly 164,000 individuals and families across Ontario currently rely on the benefit, which receives about $120 million in funding.

“The (benefit) has been the way people save themselves from homelessness, the way people take back something so they can survive,” said John Clarke, founder of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, who organized the rally.

As of the New Year, housing support will instead be delivered through the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative, a $246-million program under the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that merges five existing homelessness and housing programs.

The government will allocate $63 million of the benefit's former budget to the new initiative.

“(The initiative) is designed to use resources more effectively by allowing municipalities to have more say in how they use their housing resources,” said Charlotte Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for the ministry.

In protest of these changes, the group marched from Toronto City Hall to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, where they delivered 52 benefit applications to a representative of minister John Milloy.

“These are 52 people whose lives are on the line,” Clarke said before submitting the applications. “There are thousands more. This has to be stopped.”

Speakers from various workers’ and social service organizations stressed that ending the benefit would put more people on the streets and force women back into abusive homes.

“For many women, the (benefit) has been a glimmer of hope — that opportunity to start again,” said Sheryl Lindsay, a social worker with women’s support agency Sistering.

Lindsay’s organization is one of many to sign an open letter to the government produced by Clarke’s coalition, which also demands a 55 per cent raise in welfare and disability rates.

The downtown rally was followed by a similar demonstration in Toronto’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood.

Another rally will be held in Kitchener on Oct. 25.

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