Thunder Bay·Superior Morning

Basic income 'saved me' from returning to the streets, Thunder Bay recipient says as pilot winds down

A participant in, and an advocate for, the basic income pilot project in Thunder Bay, Ont., says he's facing a lot of uncertainty now that the program is in its waning weeks.

Basic income pilot to wrap up by end of March

Recipients of the basic income pilot project will receive their last cheques at the end of March, 2019. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

A participant in, and an advocate for, the basic income pilot project in Thunder Bay, Ont., says he's facing a lot of uncertainty now that the program is in its waning weeks.

The pilot, launched by the previous provincial Liberal government, was cancelled after the Progressive Conservatives came into office in the June 2018 election. Despite the six-month wind-down, anti-poverty activists have said canceling the program ahead of schedule puts many in very difficult situations.

For Joshua Hewitt, who, in the past has been in and out of homelessness, he said that means losing a lot of stability, as the pilot was a lifeline for him when he suddenly lost one of his two part-time jobs. That happened, he said, due to "a mental breakdown," brought on by a bad and unstable living situation, including violence in the home.

"The pilot saved me from being back on the streets again," he told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning.

"Knowing now that the pilot's winding down, yeah, I might have a nice place now, I might have a home, and I'm established, but I still have to struggle to keep my head above water at this point."

In announcing the pilot's cancellation in August, Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said it was "failing," and that a program that includes about 4,000 people "is not the answer and provides no hope to nearly two million Ontarians who are trapped in a cycle of poverty."

Joshua Hewitt speaks at a November 2018 rally in Thunder Bay, Ont., to protest the end of the basic income pilot project. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Hewitt said the pilot has helped him with expenses like prescription drugs and dental care — things he's struggled to have in the past — and has allowed him to volunteer and build his professional experience, including being named to Thunder Bay's crime prevention council.

"It's given me opportunities I didn't have before," he said. "It's given me the space and the time to focus on my mental health, focus on my recovery and really rebuilding the structures that I lost during homelessness."

"I think that's really important and a lot of people who are on the pilot may or may not have the same issues but I think it's important that they're brought to light."

'Very stressed out'

Seeing the amount of good — not only first hand but also among people he knows — that the basic income pilot has done is why Hewitt said he's "been such a big advocate."

"The feeling's very similar for a lot of my friends who are on the pilot," he continued. "We're very stressed out, it's difficult to save, it's almost like 'what's the point now?'"

"We're going to be trapped perpetually in the system again."

Compounding the end of the basic income pilot is navigating changes to other social services in the province and "transitioning back onto those systems," Hewitt said.

"It's very stressful for a lot of families out there who have kids," he said. "I can't imagine the costs that are applied to them."

With files from The Canadian Press

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