Hamilton spearheads 12-city protest against poverty funding cuts

Hamilton is at the centre of an effort to reverse deep provincial cuts to programs that fight homelessness.

Hamilton is at the centre of a 12-city effort to fight deep Ontario government cuts to programs that fight homelessness.

Earlier this year, the province made sharp reductions to the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit, which keeps people from homelessness through efforts such as a rent bank and an emergency utility arrears program.

'We want to have a united voice to fight these cuts.'—Tom Cooper, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction

It also cut the discretionary health benefits program, which helps fund services ranging from funerals to dental benefits for people with low incomes.

Steel City anti-poverty reps will host activists from Windsor to Peterborough in the city hall council chambers on Friday to plan a co-ordinated protest.

Ten provincial organizations will also join the effort.

By the end of Friday's meeting, the group should have a plan to fight the funding cutbacks together, said Tom Cooper, meeting organizer and director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

"We want to have a united voice to fight these cuts."

Covering the province's share of the discretionary benefits program would cost the city an additional $3.7-million in 2013. The province's portion of the Community Start Up program is another $4.3 million.

The city of Hamilton is funding both programs on an interim basis after Jan. 1, 2013, when the provincial money runs out.

Cooper has called in a communications consultant to help develop a message and plan on Friday. That will include approaching all of the provincial Liberal leadership candidates vying to replace Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"We believe there's a window of opportunity," Cooper said. "There's currently a leadership race taking place. There's the possibility of a provincial election in the spring. All of these points are intersecting to enable us to influence the discussion."

The meeting will include representatives from Windsor, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Brantford, Niagara, Halton, Peel, Toronto, York, Peterborough and Ottawa.

It's the only meeting of its kind happening in Ontario right now, which is part of the problem, Cooper said. Municipalities need a plan for a co-ordinated protest.

"That's why there's a lot of interest in everybody coming together."

Cooper made a presentation about the plan to the city's emergency and community services meeting on Monday. Coun. Brian McHattie said he's glad to hear about the co-ordinated effort.

"Involving all of the communities is critical on this."

The meeting, called Ontario Communities Uniting, will be held at city hall on Dec. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca