Nearly a decade ago Toronto established a set of priority neighbourhoods to focus efforts at reducing social difficulty. By-and-large the establishment of priority neighbourhoods has been seen as a good thing. The time has come to re-examine the list and see what kinds of adjustments are to be made. Every one of the priority neighbourhoods is located in what you can fairly describe as a suburb. Only two-and-one-third of the designated areas are south of Highway 401 or west of Highway 404. The outcome of the analysis the United Way and city officials generate will tell us a lot about suburban poverty in Canada’s largest city. More importantly it tells us what will be done about it.
Short features in response to the Brookings Institution’s new book Confronting Suburban Poverty have been accumulating steadily from all over America. This is one from just across the Canadian border in Buffalo, NY and it features a visit to a drop in centre.
Drop in centres provide court quality evidence of the existence of suburban poverty should anyone happen to need it. They are usually informal, volunteer- and donation-driven places where people exiting the middle class often have their first encounter with the realities of downward mobility. Located in ad hoc premises most of the time and frequently sponsored by religious organizations with or without a bit of official help they have formed a major component of many a community response to suburban poverty. They can be fairly powerful places despite their challenges.
Coffee-and-carbs, water and juice are usually on offer and there are efforts made at helping out with used clothing, food, bus tickets, footwear, meals, diapers, school supplies, household items. Referrals and all kinds of advice are their stock-in-trade. Drop in centres sometimes don’t look like much but when well run they can attract a surprising array of helpers and donations: everything from a no longer needed suit for a job interview to pizza leftover from a corporate meeting. Before long a good drop in centre becomes a focal point for a number of practical relationships and associations directly responding to immediate needs.
It can be stressful trying to maintain consistent levels of help to a large group of people in difficulty. Boundaries are challenged constantly, but amazing things happen in the drop ins and positive anecdotes grow fast, at times by the day. In moving past describing suburban poverty to relieving suburban poverty there could be worse things to do than strengthen the drop in centres.
image: post office building in Buffalo, NY by Pubdog via Wikimedia Commons
Liverpool’s struggles, its decline as a seaport and manufacturing centre, followed by the mixed results of the Thatcher era is a generation past now. This item from The Independent seems to indicate new difficulties already well on the way.
image: detail of map from Meyers Konversationslexikon (1885–90) via Wikimedia Commons.
The simplest definition of poverty probably is “a personal lack of money.” As we are drawn into arguing rightist and leftist approaches to social programs, wages, taxes and the general management of the economy it is possible to simply forget this piece. What a clarifier it may be for some of our fellow citizens to come across the suggestion that it would be helpful if lower income people had more money. Canada’s Working Tax Benefit is a refund for lower income workers that effectively tops up their paycheque. The Caledon Institute for Social Policy began an effort recently to have the federal finance minister consider an expansion of the benefit. It currently costs the treasury a little over a billion to maintain the credit. This amount is a blessing to the working poor but it does not lift them out of poverty. An improved tax credit for the working poor seems like a practical approach to the difficulty generated by low-paying service sector jobs and temporary employment. The idea that people can do their part, put in forty hours a week at a job, and still be poor requires a remedy. Ideological arguments against giving money to the poor because it damages their character are defrayed by attaching the tax benefit to the earning of income. If someone else has additional and/or better ideas, …let’s hear ’em!
Give Canada’s poor a raise Carol Goar/therecord.com
Caledon Institute of Social Policy
image: Revenue Canada headquarters, the Connaught Building in Ottawa by Jcart1534 via Wikimedia Commons
Home to the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County is experiencing suburban poverty. We came across some material the other day indicating that the authorities there have begun to respond. Part of the battle seems to be getting people to accept there is such a problem.
Food, transportation and the public libraries have been identified as areas in need of support. We’ve already seen transportation as an aggravator of suburban poverty. Where social services are thinner on the ground and such things as drop in centres or food banks spread further afield in lower density suburbs than in built-up urban areas people can fall into social difficulty faster and can find their responses made less effective. Libraries have been suggested as locations for social services outreach, communiation, intake and assssment tasks in suburban areas. Bolstering transportation assistance, help with car repairs and the donation of cars to social agencies, is also seen as a practical response in a place where automobility is almost mandated by physical environment.
Assessing community need in suburban Allegheny County
14 page .pdf file via forbesfunds.org
Suburban needs task force
Allegheny County presentation – 20 page .pdf file
South Hills Interfaith Ministry
Charitable agency in Allegheny County which began life in a mall – in 1968!
image: Pittsburgh in 1920 via Wikimedia Commons
…and so we see that Sandy has affected New York City in ways differentiated by neighbourhood and class structure. Firstly, without electricity people cannot access benefit programs delivered via swipe cards. That puts bottled water, batteries, candles, food out of reach of many of the poor experiencing this emergency.
Word all over the Internet seems to be that working class suburbs have borne the brunt of the storm’s physical damage. AlterNet just posted a three page article gathering impressions from Staten Island, Red Hook, Breezy Point and Long Beach. Emergency aid and the restoration of services are simply not happening there as fast as they reasonably ought to be. It looks like a series of cold, mini-Katrinas edges New York City today.
photo: John Herve Barbie via Wikimedia Commons
There is no bad time to take a good look at poverty. Unless, of course, you are living in it daily. Then you’d probably prefer to look at just about fuc&ing anything else. The rest of us, as voters, taxpayers and citizens of conscience, can’t really be excused for our distractedness on this. Ontario has experienced a fairly steady erosion in its social services and safety net throughout much of the neo-conservative era. Going forward, the industrial economy is looking shaky. Ontario was a surprisingly powerful manufacturer for a long time. It has been twenty years since there was a major review of social assistance here in suburban-poverty.com’s home province. High time!
Image: Wikimedia Commons
We mean that headline without any sarcasm. None at all. Who would but admire the current mayor of Phoenix, Arizona for trying to feed himself on barely thirty bucks for a week? That’s the food stamp budget for a single person. Out of a population of six and a half million just over one million Arizonans are in poverty and using food stamps. Mayor Greg Stanton recorded the experience on a Facebook page and, as you might expect, it wasn’t easy. But you know what? A mayor should show solidarity with his people, especially those in hard times. That is what Mr. Stanton is trying to do. Good for him. There are some interesting links in this piece if you are curious about the US food stamp program. The program is actually in serious jeopardy as deals cut between Obama and the Republicans will strike at keystone social programs in January.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton Lives On Food Stamp Budget For A Week
(45) Dollartrauma at Dollarama
How Do You Take Your Poison? Chris Hedges on Truthdig re January
Readers with access to American network NBC may like to set aside some time tomorrow night for a special episode of the program Dateline called America Now: Lost in the Suburbs. Newsguy Lester Holt looks into long term unemployment, food banks and the recent confirmation (Federal Reserve Bulletin for June 2012) that something like 40% of the wealth of the US middle class has simply evaporated. Even if a lot of that wealth was in the form of bubble money and attached to specualtive real estate in a Ponzi economy this must surely represent permanent demographic change, a permanent state of damage. What a spectacle it is, to see “ordinary” middle class American families go from employment and reasonable fulfilment of their ambitions to poverty. 2008 was a long time ago for some of the people interviewed. Holt focussed on Boulder, Colorado, a community where the majority of people thought things were really quite good, that they were getting a deal as square as their state. Now it’s all about food banks and scraping by after your savings and unemployment insurance have run out.
Great recession Fallout Huffington Post