Hamiltonians call on Ottawa to do something about poverty

So many people came to speak about poverty at the Hamilton Convention Centre on Friday afternoon that the crowd spilled over to a second hall.
Hamilton Mountain NDP MP Chris Charlton was at the Hamlton Convention Centre Friday afternoon to listen to the public's concerns related to issues of poverty in the city. (Adam Carter/CBC)

So many people came to speak about poverty at the Hamilton Convention Centre on Friday afternoon that the crowd spilled over to a second hall.

They came to make their case to an all-party, anti-poverty caucus made up of Hamilton Mountain NDP MP Chris Charlton, Conservative Senator Don Meredith and Liberal Senator Art Eggleton.

The caucus says it's attempting to find "non-partisan" solutions to poverty — listening to people's concerns and then taking them back to Ottawa.

Deirdre Pike, senior planner with the Social Research Planning Council of Hamilton, presented the council's new "Poverty Profiles" at the meeting — a list of statistics garnered from the 2006 and 2011 census' breaking down poverty statistics in Hamilton by riding.

The results are bleak. According to their profiles, one in five Hamiltonians are living in poverty. The rates are even higher in the Hamilton Centre riding, where nearly one third of residents are considered poor. (For a breakdown of the data, click here.)

"This isn't new data, but we're presenting it in a new way," Pike said.

"We need to know that someone is going to listen to you and make changes," she said to the panel.

Widespread concerns

The panel heard about a wide range of issues relating to poverty in the city. Race was one, as participants outlined race-related underpinnings found in impoverished communities.

"The racialization of poverty needs to be given a voice," said Evelyn Myrie, the executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

"Immigrants are still often not recognized for their skills in this country," she said. "Support services remain severely underfunded."

Countless other problems were mentioned, including high levels of poverty in Aboriginal communities, cuts to programs for people with disabilities, and the high numbers of women living in poverty in the city.

"We see too many women at the YWCA that simply cannot make ends meet," said Denise Doyle, the CEO of the YWCA Hamilton. "For many women, finding employment means joining the ranks of the working poor."

Hamilton's over-reliance on food banks was also raised as a prime concern. "One of the most basic choices people end up having to make is 'do I eat or do I have a roof over my head?' said Alan Whittle, the Good Shepherd Centre's director of community relations and planning.

The city's food banks faced "critical shortages" throughout the summer, constantly scrambling to make ends meet for those who needed to use the service.

Time and time again, those at the meeting raised the issue of a sufficient living wage. They say many people in Hamilton just don't earn enough in their jobs and end up living as "working poor."

Real change?

"This caucus came out of a huge frustration," said Chris Charlton, the co-chair for the anti-poverty caucus and MP for Hamilton Mountain.

She said "the time for reports" on poverty has passed. "The reports are fabulous, but we're looking for action."

Senator Eggleton assured the crowd that the group did listen to all that was said and will be taking the information back with them to Ottawa.

"The purpose of the caucus is to get movement in parliament," he said, but added that movement and progress will be incremental and slow.

So will any real action come from this meeting?

"I have hope in the spirit they seemed to imbue," Pike said afterwards. "But they're definitely far from tangible responses at this point."

"The difference will be if the prime minister and cabinet give weight to the caucus."