Emergency storm shelter set up at Minister of Misery John Milloy’s office in Kitchener

Here is the press release that went out to the mainstream media this afternoon.  Updates and pictures to follow.  PMUS is currently hosting a CSUMB sign-up clinic and will share details of today’s event after that wraps up for the evening.

THREATENED CUTS TO THE COMMUNITY START UP AND MAINTENANCE BENEFIT (CSUMB) ARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY

An emergency storm shelter was set up today in the constituency office of MPP John Milloy, Minister of Community and Social Services. Concerned community members, associated with Poverty Makes Us Sick, the Alliance Against Poverty and Common Cause KW, entered the office at 2:30 ready with mattresses, a first aid kit, flashlights and other equipment. John Milloy was not in on the plan, however.  Alison Murray of Poverty Makes Us Sick explained: “With the proposed cancellation of Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), creative solutions for housing and shelter are needed.  The recent storm warnings highlight the vulnerability of people who are under-housed.”

The police were eventually called.  Poverty Makes Us Sick needed to leave to host their weekly CSUMB sign up clinics, Tuesdays from 6-7pm at Queen Street Commons. Shelter supplies were left behind for future use.  Participants say that the peaceful action was a sincere effort to create a shelter and that it was also an attempt to illustrate the distopian realities that, they say, await us all if these cuts go through as planned. Phil Diceanu explains, “The cuts of the CSUMB will cause wide reaching and long lasting damage to people and communities in Waterloo region, where quality and affordable housing is in high demand.”

With 16,000 people across Ontario accessing this homelessness prevention benefit each month, the planned cancellation of the CSUMB has been decried by unions such as CUPE and anti-poverty advocates alike.  Social assistance recipients, perhaps, have no better allies than municipal governments, who have been tasked with picking up the slack after the cuts.  Municipalities across the province have spoken against the cuts, with many facing their own deficits and unable to take on the great responsibility of keeping people housed.  On July 12, 2012,  Metronews.ca reported:

David Dirks, director of social services, employment and income support with the Region of Waterloo, said the cuts mean a massive shortfall. Right now, about 17,000 people in the region are assisted through Ontario Works. Last year, the region issued $2.33 million for the startup and maintenance benefit, which is cost-shared with the province. The region’s share was about $400,000.  “This has significant impacts,” Dirks said. Combined with changes to the discretionary benefits program, for things such as medical expenses, Dirks said the region would have a multi-million dollar shortfall next year for Ontario Works and disability.

Niagara Region has taken steps to refuse to accept the cuts, while the City of Kawartha Lakes council has decided to take on the full burden of the new expense to keep their people housed and living in safety.

“The cancellation of the CSUMB comes at a time of transition in KW.  We see rapid gentrification with landlords turning on their low-income tenants to pursue the big pay-offs of selling to developers” says Reverend Oz Cole-Arnal of the Alliance Against Poverty.

Ian Stumpf of Poverty Makes Us Sick, paints a grim portrait of a cash-strapped municipality: “Property taxes were raised 1.4% in the recent municipal budget with all of that money going into the growing police budget. The province had plenty of cash for the new mega-courthouse that dominates our skyline.  So, we have to ask, is prison the new homelessness prevention program?  Is the mega-courthouse the new case worker?”

Sandy may have passed us over, but another storm is brewing.

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For background on the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) see our previous blog post.

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