Hamilton Spectator: Hamilton poverty looms horribly over campaign

Posted October 19, 2018

In a city where cranes are everywhere along the skyscape stacking the decks of "gentrification," down on the street there seems to be someone new every week with a cup at the car windows.
 
There are tenant strikes and people falling off the cliff of a withdrawn basic income program, and neighbourhoods where 70 per cent of the children live below the poverty line.
 
Poverty. Hamilton has been at this forever, but especially since 2005 when the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) was formed. There was an enormous push of commitment and good intentions and, yes, much was done.
 
But here we are, 2018, 13 years later, on the cusp of a municipal election and ... poverty? Still very much here, stubborn as ever.
 
Wednesday evening, the HRPR hosted a forum on Poverty and Inequality in the City, at city hall, timed to coincide with International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and to dovetail with the home stretch of the election campaign. Several candidates were among the 100 or so who attended what was both a bluntly sobering and spirited discussion of the issue whose persistent urgency throws a mirror on our failure to tackle root causes, a failure which impoverishes us all.
 
Joe-Anne Priel, retired general manager of community services for the City of Hamilton, recalled that one of the most uplifting moments in the effort to put poverty at the forefront of city social and economic policy was the commitment, announced by then-publisher Dana Robbins, of The Hamilton Spectator in 2005 to "hang its corporate hat" on addressing poverty.
 
The results were groundbreaking work as the Code Red series, reflecting years of joint research between McMaster University and Spectator reporters, especially Steve Buist. It peeled the poverty picture back to the raw data on just how wide the gap between poverty and affluence in the city was/is — the life expectancy among the poor up to 21 years younger than among the affluent, and low birth-weight rates in some Hamilton areas three times worse than in some Third World countries.
 
"I thought I would end my career on a high note," Priel reflected, then adding, "but this was followed by a tragic set of circumstances," in terms of social policy to address poverty, namely, the election of Doug Ford.
 
"I love Hamilton," she said. "What we can do for ourselves no other community can do. But we need love. This hate s--- is gonna get us nowhere.
 
"I hope we update Code Red and I hope we call it (the premature death that can come with poverty) what it is — social murder."
 
Laura Cattari, campaign co-ordinator HRPR, followed Priel, giving her account of "lived poverty," finding herself after she could no longer work full-time due to a disability.
 
"Poverty is in every ward of this city," she said. "I hope you (candidates) continue to invite people to educate you on what it is to be poor."
 
Outgoing city councillor Matthew Green, executive director of Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, said Doug Ford is not the "bogeyman," but a "symptom" and inevitable product of the nasty logic of a system designed to defeat the struggling.
 
"We're not in a crisis of surprise," he said. "This is a crisis of design." He called the city the biggest force of gentrification insofar as "its only way to raise revenue is through property taxes and building permits.
 
"There are billions being made by corporations and developers a mile from people who are living in tents"
 
He said we need "deeply socialized housing and until we have that the next 10 years will be worse than the last," adding that he fears the "decisions over the next four years (of Doug Ford's term) will make Mike Harris look like Jeremy Corbyn."
 
But, he concluded, there are things everyone can do, like support the rent strike now going on in Stoney Creek.
 
The event was organized by Dave Cherkewski, a member of the HRPR speakers' bureau, and moderated by Sarah Adjekum, of Mohawk College, and some other speakers included Mike Wood of ACORN and photographer Jessie Golem, whose photo series shows the faces of the cancelled basic income project.
 
 
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Article by Jeff Mahoney for The Hamilton Spectator