London program lifts people out of poverty, builds confidence

A program to help end poverty in London has successfully helped 72 people make the transition since it began four years ago. It's called Bridges out of Poverty - Circles.

Bridges out of Poverty - Circles helps those on Ontario Works transition out of poverty

Jessica Justrabo, Coordinator, Bridges out of Poverty-Circles (left) and Kristina McKim, Bridges out of Poverty-Circles participant (right). City of London supports a program aimed at lifting people out of poverty. It also saves the city money on social assistance payments, according to coordinators.

A program to help end poverty in London has successfully helped 72 people make the transition since it began four years ago. It's called Bridges out of Poverty - Circles. 

"We support individuals who are currently on Ontario Works," said the program coordinator,Jessica Justrabo on CBC London Morning. "We look at where people have been, look at what they like to do and what their skill sets are and we develop a plan with them."

That plan includes meeting four times a week and being partnered with a mentor. Together, those involved in the program create a sense of community, said Justrabo.

"Not only do we try to network them to other individuals who have experience in different sectors, we try to also create that community of support that reinforces that they belong in our community," she said. "That's a huge thing that many people feel disconnected to their community. They don't feel like they have a voice."

Building confidence and connection

That's how Kristina McKim feels. McKim is a participant in the program. She describes herself as a shy person by nature but since she got involved with Bridges she said people have noticed a difference in her. 

"A lot of people have mentioned that to me and how my confidence has grown," said McKim. "It's taken me awhile to actually see that on my own."

McKim returned to college to become a recreational leader. The single mother earned a bursary and is now a proud graduate. 

"I have grown my social supports," she said. "Before I thought I didn't need anybody, I could do everything on my own. But with going to college I've realized that I actually do need people and the more people you have around you the bigger your support is and the more opportunities are open to you."

The program is on track to save the city almost $500,000 by next year. But, the need is great, said Justrabo. With the Ford government on the verge of releasing its funding for social services Justabo wants provincial politicians to remember work is just one piece of the puzzle. 

"In order to continue to work, especially for sole support parents or individuals who struggle with mental health or addictions, people need people," she said. "Our cities, our province need to reinforce that connection and I think that connection will sustain that belonging in the city of London."

If McKim could meet with Premier Doug Ford face-to-face she'd tell him that affordable housing needs to be a priority. 

"Even when I'm working I still find it hard. I don't know how it can happen but something that would make it easier to afford child care and everything like that," she said. "Just being able to balance it all."

A full report was presented to London's Community and Protective Services Committee on Tuesday. There's a quote from another participant in the report that Justrabo said she loves:

"It has given me connection and education but has also allowed me to step into my own power and know that I can create whatever life I want for me and my children." 

Listen to the interview on CBC London Morning.