The Faces of Poverty in Ontario

the poor and rich divide

Some startling statistics hit me hard as I was having my breakfast. According to an article in the Toronto Star, which I have included the link for, below, 1.7 million people in Ontario are poor,including 400,000 children. Let these two statistics sink into your mind and heart. Every day 1.7 million of the citizens of this province live trying to stretch their very limited dollars for the essentials of food, shelter, clothing and transportation.

Is it any wonder that food banks can’t meet the need. A pastor wrote to me saying that he is trying to get the food banks to improve the quality of the food being offered. Food banks do their level best to help with the growing need . They really do try to offer the best quality of food. The fact remains that most of the food donated is high in salt. While the food feeds the gnawing and agonizing pain of hunger, it causes an increase in the number of people who will get high blood pressure.

Bonnie Visser at a North Bay Do The Math event in North Bay, Ontario, puts a human face on the need for a food supplement of $100 a month to be added to the cheques of those receiving social assistance through Ontario Works and Ontario Disability. In the video below it is plain to see Bonnie struggling as she talks about the indignity of going to a food bank. She feels guilty having that apple or sandwich, knowing her own children are hungry. But she most have something, anything to feed the pain that eats away at her body and her spirit.

Dr. Chris Mackey of the Hamilton Public Health Office in the video below states that there is a clear link between the diet of those receiving social assistance and people developing heart disease and cancer.

My heart goes out to Darren Nesbit at the Do the Math Event in Sarnia as he shares his story. He has a rare genetic disease that prevents him from working. Tears come to my eyes as he talks about how there isn’t even enough money left to buy his mom a birthday gift. For those who have never been poor it’s a hard thing to get your head around. Yet, this is an every day struggle for those living on social assistance.

Take six minutes of your time to watch his story. Hear his heart cry out as he talks about the reducing healthiness of his diet as the month goes by. Then, ask yourself why in a province that has more than enough to feed all of its citizens why such a thing should be happening to Darren and Bonnie, and people like them.

It’s easy to cite this statistics. But when you see the faces of poverty, they become hard to ignore.

I have seen poverty on the front lines of social services giving out food to family services clients. It is gut-wrenching looking into the eyes of despair and the death of hope. I struggle to fight back the tears. I want to imagine this is some surreal nightmare I will wake up from. I feel like I’m going to vomit as I have to tell a family they can’t receive any further help that month ,as I look into the faces of hunger, the darkness and the human misery of poverty. They are there for my help, so I hide my anger and my sadness from them..

Bonnie and Darren are just two of the 1.7 million faces of poverty. What do you have to say to them?

I have heard many say that those on welfare are bums, a waste of flesh and better off dead. Yes, there are those who will always cheat the system. I had to blacklist one of them in family services, who took his food voucher and bought booze with it. Yet, I and so many social workers can tell you who work on the front lines, that most on welfare are honest; but when hunger’s pain is unrelenting it becomes more difficult to stay true to your core values.

True to yourself. True to your conscience. The faces of poverty want us not to ignore them.

 There are no easy solutions. What each of us can do is offer our prayers and our practical support. A cup of coffee and a listening heart can go a long way with a poor person. The gift of groceries not asked for can make the last half of the month for a social assistance recipient go a little smoother.

Please also prayerfully consider that many of those on ODSP are on it because of medical conditions beyond their control. Many of them don’t get a lot of their medications covered because they aren’t on the Ontario Drug Formulary. The Exceptional Access Committee of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for drugs not covered under the Ontario Drug Formulary often denies them help, because they state that the drug manufacturer has not submitted a peer review of the medications. They are not likely to because such reviews for medications to treat rare illnesses receive little if any government subsidy. This means the drug manufacturer will need to spend millions of dollars to go through all the federal government hoops to get the medication to pass the peer review. The person on ODSP or Ontario Works and the working poor are left that they can’t afford the medication.

The poor person’s health suffers. They die a little more each day first in body and then in spirit. Death becomes a greater mercy as the pain of living becomes intolerable.

You can be their hope. Through acts of kindness you can bring back hope’s dream again. A dream for a life free from poverty , free from the humiliation of going to a food bank, free to get the job and the education those who can strive for and accomplish such things can achieve.

This is our opportunity to show our heart and to join in doing the hard work that will be needed so food banks will no longer be needed. It will take the efforts of community and government working together.

Every Ontarian should have a voice in how can we improve the lives of those on Ontario Works and ODSP.. Please email me at with your responses. I will take your thoughts into advocating for changes to the social assistance system with my contacts.

Let us work together, so we can have an Ontario where all of its citizens can escape poverty and have all of their dreams realized.

If the UK can reduce child poverty by 23% in five years, how much more can we do working together so the faces of poverty can tell a different story, one of hope. Hope that has not been extinguished and lives to fight another day.

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