Invest in Rural Resiliency: Address Poverty

In recognition of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, this statement was developed by the following community agencies operating in rural eastern Ontario:

 North Hastings Community Trust  -   Community Development Council of Quinte  -  Rural Frontenac Community Services  -  The Table Community Food CentrePoverty Round Table Hastings, Prince Edward

 

Introduction

Eastern Ontario’s lakes, beaches, parks, sugar bushes, vineyards and pastoral farmlands draw many visitors from the city. But the scenic playground that urban residents experience in cottage country is not the reality for people who live there all year. Life in many rural communities is very different from that imagined by people who live in cities. (See the Background Statement.) Rural residents are known for their resilience and independence, and are proud to support themselves. They do not want to ask for help.
 

The Developing Crisis
Poverty is reaching crisis proportions in rural Ontario. Rural economies increasingly rely on tourists and seasonal vacationers (campers, bikers, boaters, fishing enthusiasts, hunters and cottagers)
as local industries and family farms go out of business. Many people leave rural areas to find work, while those who stay have limited employment options. Too often the reality is hidden poverty, food insecurity, transportation problems, homelessness and under- or unserved mental health and addictions challenges.

In an effort to attract new people to their region and boost tourism, rural municipal governments focus on the scenic and attractive aspects of rural reality—rarely do they reveal the hidden poverty that exists. Rural poverty is dispersed across spacious landscapes along with a lack of services and attention, which helps keep it hidden. 

Make the Basics of Life Available to All
Housing, electricity, heat, water, food and transportation are expensive and sometimes scarce in rural communities. Municipalities and local service organizations lack the resources to provide the web of supports that urban people with low incomes
take for granted. Emergency shelters, meal programs, public transportation and water and sewage services are not available to many rural residents. Service providers based in urban centres who allocate services and resources do not understand the scope, depth and impact of poverty in rural communities.
 

Root Cause of Rural Poverty
While rural people develop creative solutions with the resources they have, income insecurity is the root cause of poverty. Inadequate income, combined with lack of affordable housing, rising utility costs, food insecurity and scant public transportation, intensifies the experience of poverty in rural communities. The province must raise the rates for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to levels that ensure people can live in health and dignity.

People who live in rural communities require/need the same basic services as their urban counterparts. Yet rural service providers with limited resources face overwhelming demand for a broad spectrum of services.

Investing in rural communities is a wise investment in sustaining and boosting rural resiliency. Without adequate rural services, intractable and expensive problems in health care and other social supports will likely increase. Inadequate investment
will prompt further migration to urban areas, where rural people used to surviving through social ties and rural resiliency will put
further demands on urban social infrastructure. 

Immediate Investments
We therefore call on Premier Kathleen Wynne to:

  • Raise social assistance rates to at least the Basic Income pilot level, and index them to the real cost of living as experienced by poor people.
  • Stop the claw backs as people pursue self-employment opportunities
  • Subsidize housing and housing repair.
  • Increase subsidies for utilities (electricity, heat and water).
  • Fund rural transportation.
  • Fund community agencies to improve services to rural people—including food security, mental health and addiction treatment services.
  • Engage rural communities in developing vibrant, healthy and sustainable communities that meet the needs of local residents—as well as seasonal residents and visitors.

 

A pritner friendly version of this statement and background is available as a PDF.