Background to Invest in Rural Resiliency: Address Poverty

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The following information provides background information to a statement developed for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty 2017. The statement and this backgrounder were developed by:  North Hastings Community TrustCommunity Development Council of QuinteRural Frontenac Community ServicesThe Table Community Food Centre, and Poverty Round Table Hastings, Prince Edward
Many poor people in rural communities have lived independent lives and been resilient in many ways. Aging and changes in the labour market—plant and business closings, increased precarity of work—have made them more dependent. People in rural communities are perhaps more reluctant to display their poverty. If the degree of their poverty is made public, they risk losing their housing—as inadequate as it may be. 
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. Many rural people who live in poverty
have limited access to the basics of life. Organizations that provide community services in the counties of Prince Edward, Hastings, Frontenac and Lanark report the following:
Housing is a major issue. Rental housing is expensive and becoming scarcer. In Prince Edward County, for example, some long-term rental housing is being converted to Airbnb accommodation for tourists visiting local vineyards. 
Many rural people own their homes and land through inheritance or lack of rental options. Some live in cottages or other housing that needs repair; they may have nowhere to go. Some live in housing with dirt floors. The federal loan program to repair and rehabilitate rural housing was recently downloaded to provinces and then to municipalities—who do not have moneyto meet the existing need.
In more extreme cases, people live in hunting camps with no heat, plumbing or septic systems. Some do not want service providers to visit them at homes for fear that their property will be condemned. Agency staff working in urban communities
who decide on their eligibility have tight guidelines and little understanding of this reality. For example, Ontario’s homelessness prevention program assists residents to pay for oil, electricity or propane but not necessarily wood as a fuel. Poor people often heat with wood because it is free if they can cut and split it themselves. However, when they become ill or elderly they may need cash to buy wood.
Homelessness in rural communities is not as visible as in urban communities. For example, in North Hastings some people reportedly live in their cars and
go to the local library to use the Internet and to wash. Individuals eligible for social housing must wait six to eight years.
Utility costs
Utility costs are still high, despite recent reforms and subsidies introduced by the province, and often range from $800 to $1000 a month. Many people struggle
to pay their utility bills—necessary to keep their house. The delivery fee hurts rural residents. Electricity, often used for heating, may also be required to operate water and septic systems. In north, central and south Frontenac, only one town has a municipal water system.
North Hastings Community Trust reports that calls for help to get wood for stoves and heating have doubled.
Food Insecurity
Rent and utility bills must be paid to avoid becoming homeless, so food may become optional in a household budget. Food insecurity rates are high in rural communities. Many people live in “food deserts”—5 km or more from a store thatmay be just a gas station or convenience store. Food is more expensive and of poorer quality when only one store is within a half-hour drive. 
Demand at food banks has increased from people with minimum-wage jobs and those relying on social assistance or on a fixed income. Many communities have no local access to food—let alone fruit and vegetables.
Many people do hunt, fish and grow their own food. However if they are ill or elderly, they may need cash to buy food.
Getting to a food bank from many rural communities is difficult, as bus transportation is limited or non-existent. So most people need to use cars—and become desperate if their vehicle breaks down and they can’t afford to repair it. Some people hitchhike to get to the food bank or rely on their neighbours.
There is no ODSP office in North Hastings, and the Ontario Works office is 2.5 km from Bancroft. ODSP pays for rides only to medical appointments; stops at grocery stores are not allowed. One agency provides a volunteer transportation program that costs the agency 50 cents a kilometre—cheaper than taxis and Uber—but a ride to a doctor can cost the agency $100. The new Ontario Seniors Public Transit Tax credit of up to $3,000 is available only for public transit services operated by the province or a municipality, which is not viable in many rural communities.
The population of seniors living in poverty in rural communities is increasing. They may have lived there all their lives, downsized or moved from the city to their cottage. An increasing number of widowed seniors now find their single income is not enough to pay for the basics: housing, utilities and food. The increasing stress of this poverty can cause or mask mental health problems, which may go unnoticed by service providers due to the clients’ isolation. When they are noticed, multiple health conditions often require expensive treatment and sometimes hospitalization.
Social Assistance Rates
Provincial social assistance rates are inadequate to cover the costs of housing, utilities, food and transportation for rural people. For instance, a single person on Ontario Works in Hastings or Prince Edward County receives $798 a month. But the monthly rent average is $700 month, which leaves $98 for food, transportation and all other costs.”
Municipal Services
Municipalities do not have the money to support the services that people with low incomes require, because full-time residents and cottage owners pressure them to keep taxes low. Municipalities use a significant portion of their funding to keep roads safe and bridges repaired. The townships are as “poor” as their residents. Bancroft recently increased its water/sewage rates by 53%.