Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thoughts on the South Coast Shuttle

(Following is a sequence of numbered tweets that was posted on twitter.  I've posted it here as the twitter feed may not have worked for everyone/anyone.) 

1. Some thoughts on the South Coast Shuttle.  The shuttle operated this summer in @NorfolkCounty.  Follow our numbered tweets

2. Operating on Erie’s north shore @10woodbb was involved in small way as a sponsor. $250 got R name on some ads & 10 free tickets
3. The Shuttle was actually 2 buses running weekends and holiday Mondays on a longish 55 kilometre route- Port Dover to Long Point

4. The idea was to provide a safe and reliable transportation option to destinations and amenities from Port Dover to Long Point…

5. …with stops at many locations along the way: as well as 2 promote many tourism options 4 visitors & residents of Norfolk County

6.  Sorry for that bureaucratise.  It is in the staff report.  You can look it up at www.norfolkcounty.ca/ on the agenda page-Nov. 17

7. Let’s put it another way. The Shuttle was an option to the car. People could go 2 bars & restaurants, have a drink or 2 & not worry…

8.  ...about how to get home.  Good idea, eh?

9.  Also you could take your bike on the bus, go for a ride then take the bus home. We enjoyed the Lynn Valley Trail that way.

10. OK.  You want to know, did it work?   And what did it cost hard working, abused and under loved taxpayers of #NorfolkCounty 

11. First, did it work?

12. 20 riders per day. Ridership varied dramatically but it was better than the regular Ride Norfolk ridership

13. 1/2 of the riders were from away.  1/2 were from Norfolk. Riders said drivers Bob and Linda were ‘prompt and obliging”

14. Businesses were happy: E.g. Great promotion. More customers. Locals checked out their county.  Believe it will only get better

15.  Now, what did it cost?  Nothing to local taxpayer.  Sponsors, grants, fares and Gas Tax footed the bill.

16. For next year we like the idea of scheduled wait times at certain stops so riders can look around.

17. Shorter loops may be an idea to look at too.

18. Thanks to staff @NorfolkCounty particularly Brad Smith for a job well done.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Ontario Disability Support Program, Community Legal Clinics and Appeals

(This story appeared earlier this month in North End Breezes.  http://www.northendbreezes.com/ While the province is gradually uploading the costs of Ontario Works, municipalities continue to be impacted when those who are eligible for ODSP, but have been declined assistance, remain on Ontario Works.)

It is becoming increasingly difficult for people with disabilities who are eligible for social assistance to receive that assistance. 

“People who meet the criteria for ODSP, can’t get on it. As well, there are way too many hoops to jump through,” says Mary Marrone, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services for the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC).

ODSP is the Ontario Disability Support Program. This program is designed to help people with disabilities who are in financial need pay for living expenses, like food and housing.

An important part of community legal clinic practice is ODSP casework.

While the clinics have always done this kind of work, the proportion of caseloads made up of ODSP work has changed considerably over the years.

A little history is in order.

The Old Family Benefits program was changed to ODSP by the government of Mike Harris nearly twenty years ago. 

At that point qualifying for the program became a big issue.

Let’s go back to 1997-98.  When ODSP was set up, the total ODSP caseload for Ontario clinics was 185,479.  That sounds like a lot of people, you say.  Well, not really.  By 2013 that number had escalated to 314,033.

People who apply for ODSP and are denied have an option of requesting an Internal Review.  If that request for an Internal Review is denied, the next step can be to file an appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT).   The Social Benefits Tribunal is an administrative body that deals specifically with appeals regarding social assistance. 

In 1997 ODSP appeals represented 14% of the total clinic practice.  These days 67% of all new cases opened in the southwest region of Ontario that our Clinic is a part of are for ODSP appeals.

This shift in clinic practice means that people who want services in other areas of law we are mandated to provide may not be able to get these services.

We’re pleased that those appeals to the SBT are twice as likely to be granted as denied.  However, these successes are an indication that reform is required.

“Too many resources are needed to get to the right decision,” says Ms. Marrone.

As a result clinics are being forced to reduce their ODSP work. 

Recently the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic developed a new resource called Getting Ready for Your SBT Hearing.  A youtube video and a handout can be found on the clinic’s website at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/ontario-disability-support-program.php and in French at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/fr/posph.php

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Vote to End Poverty

This story originally appeared in North End Breezes http://www.northendbreezes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/October-2015-NEB-publisher-file-small-FINAL.pdf)

Last month community groups across Canada set out to make poverty an election issue in the October 19th federal election.

Their campaign aims to help Canadians better understand what poverty costs us.  It will encourage voters to ask local candidates and political parties about their plans to end poverty in Canada.

The Windsor-Essex local poverty reduction strategy developed the campaign concept.
Canada has been called to take immediate action to address poverty by the United Nations, the Canadian Senate, and Committees of the House of Commons. In spite of this, there is still no national plan to eradicate or reduce poverty.

“Over four and a half million Canadians have been left behind. National action to end poverty must be a priority for all political parties," says Tom Cooper, Director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

It is hard to believe that in a country as rich as Canada 4.8 million people are fighting to make ends meet.  That is one in seven of our citizens living in poverty.

Three Quick Facts about Poverty in Canada

1.  Poverty hurts our health care system.

It costs our health care system $7.6 billion a year to not address the symptoms of poverty.  That figure comes from a study done in 2008 by the Metcalf Foundation. More recently,  a University of Toronto study of more than 67,000 Ontario adults found that food insecure households spend 121% more in health care costs than other households.
We’re treating symptoms of an issue that we could address directly.

2.  Poverty is bad for the economy.

Jobs that are part-time, precarious or low-paying are increasing. In July, for example, Statistics Canada reported that our economy lost 17,300 full-time jobs.  More part time ones were added (23,900). However, with decreasing earnings from employment, how can people put money back into the economy?  Many barely have enough to pay for rent, childcare or food.

3.  Child Poverty Rates in Canada are shameful.

Over 1.3 million children live in poverty in Canada. That's 1 in 5 children who don't get a fair start. Moreover, new research by American neuroscientists published in Nature Magazine showed that the stress of poverty can have significant effects on a child's brain development.
What You can Do?

• Learn more about the campaign by visiting VotetoEndPoverty.ca

• Put a Will Vote to End Poverty sign on your lawn or in your window.  See http://hamiltonpoverty.ca/vote-to-end-poverty-lawn-signs-now-available/ to get one.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Regulating the Predatory Lenders

Ward Three Councillor Matthew Councillor Green (pictured to the right) has a motion coming to Hamilton City Council on Wednesday September 9th.  The motion is requesting authority from the Province for the City of Hamilton to limit the number and regulate the locations of payday loan cheque cashing outlets.

Many other municipalities in Canada and the United States have implemented tighter restrictions on payday loan companies. In Winnipeg, for example, payday lenders must be a minimum of 1,000 feet apart. Another municipality, the town of Esquimalt, has increased its business license fee from $100 to $2,000. (http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/task-force-recommended-to-improve-citys-payday-loan-regulations). About 200 U.S municipalities are regulating these predators.

Last month, Global reported that cities in Alberta were banding together to fight against the 600% interest rates allowed by law in that province. (http://globalnews.ca/news/2185642/alberta-cities-organizations-band-together-to-fight-600-payday-loan-interest-rate/)

They'll put payday loan companies out of business, argues lobbyist Stan Keyes.

While many would like these guys put out of business altogether, alternatives are needed because the major banks have abandoned low-income communities and earners.  In Sheffield England, Council has come up with an alternative by offering municipal loans to residents. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/aug/08/sheffield-money-payday-loans-rates-poverty

I've argued that postal banking could be an alternative that would provide access to financial services for all Canadians.  HTTP://WWW.HAMILTONJUSTICE.CA/BLOG/?POST=PAYDAY+LENDERS+CONTINUE+TO+OUTRAGE+US&ID=303)

In the meantime, I commend Hamilton's Councillor Green for his initiative.

Here is his motion:

WHEREAS the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Consumer Services is responsible for the Consumer Protection Act and the Payday Loans Act which regulates and licenses money lending businesses;

WHEREAS the Province of Ontario regulates the interest rates of money lending businesses while Municipalities have the authority to regulate and license businesses to protect consumers if this is not already done by the Province;

WHEREAS the use and expansion of payday loan and cheque cashing outlets in Hamilton neighbourhoods is a significant consumer protection issue identified by the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and neighbourhood and community groups; and

WHEREAS it is important that customers of payday loan and cheque outlets have a complete understanding of the financial services being offered.


(a) That the Mayor be authorized to forward correspondence to the Province of Ontario, to the attention of the Minister of Consumer Services, requesting that the protections afforded by the Payday Loans Act be strengthened and that Municipalities be authorized to limit the number and regulate the locations of payday loan and cheque cashing outlets;

(b) That Staff be directed to research the feasibility of licensing payday loan and cheque cashing outlets to assist in consumer protection by requiring the businesses to post their rates, show comparative and annualized rates and information regarding debt counselling.

(c) That staff analyze and map pay day loan and cheque cashing outlets in Hamilton and report back to Council on recommendations for alternative accessible financial services for Hamilton residents.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Gentrification Becoming a Problem for Hamilton Tenants

(An earlier version of this story appeared on www.hamiltonjustice.ca)

More than 200 central Hamilton residents rallied in McLaren Park last Wednesday..

Amidst chants and drum beats, tenants and housing advocates were putting out a message to all three levels of government the signs captured the feelings of those in attendance.

“Housing is a Right”

“Canada Needs a National Housing Strategy”

“We are the Faces of Affordable Housing”

The mainstream media was present.  Dan Nolan from the Hamilton Spectator reported on the evening event in the July 30th edition of his paper.

Speakers called on all three levels of government to take action. Demands included

• That the City of Hamilton immediately take measures to mitigate the negative impacts of gentrification. The city’s current planning and policy documents have failed to take into account the very real impacts of gentrification on low cost rental housing.

•  That Ontario’s Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS), which is currently under review, include measures to protect affordable housing so that units like ours will not be lost.

•  That the federal government develop a national housing strategy. The emphasis should be on maintaining and creating and affordable rental housing that is safe, accessible and in a state of good repair.

Gentrification is a growing concern in the City the Clinic’s Maria Antelo told CBC Hamilton.
“Right now, what tenants want is whatever is available to keep (rent) the way it is and prices shouldn't going up because our city is becoming a bit trendy.  At the same time there has to be a balance. Tenants understand that we do want beautification in our city, we do want investment in our city but we want politicians, developers to understand housing is a basic need, it's not a luxury." http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/hamilton-tenants-rally-against-gentrification-1.3171560             

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Harry Leslie Smith in London (ON) Next Week

Recently I wrote a bit of a story about Harry Leslie Smith and specifically about his book Harry’s Last Stand.


A major theme of the book and Harry Smith’s advocacy efforts is to save the National Health Service (NHS).

On Twitter (@Harryslaststand) and in his book Harry characterized the big political battle in the U.K. as being fought to save the NHS. I must say I knew little of the National Health Service when I read the book.

Certainly those with closer ties to the U.K. will have views and knowledge on it.  I’m going to come back to lessons from the U. K. election another day.  Today I’ll like to talk about Harry’s Canadian tour.

He is in the midst of it now.  The last stop is next Tuesday (July 21) in London. It is at the

Museum London, Lecture Theatre
421 Ridout St N

Smith will be addressing what is a stake in our upcoming federal election.

A discussion will follow with a panel of progressive activists including Abe Oudshoorn (housing activist and nursing professor at Western University), Jonathan Sas (Director of Research at the Broadbent Institute),  and Kaylie Tiessen (economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Ontario).

The Broadbent Institute is running the tour.  You can find out more at

Monday, July 06, 2015

Street Soccer Championships in Hamilton This Month

This story orignally appeared in North End Breezes, the community newsletter of Hamilton's North End. http://www.northendbreezes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/July-Summer-2015-NEB-publisher-smaller-file.pdf-final.pdf)

A unique event is coming to Hamilton this month.
Street Soccer Canada will be running the National Homeless Championship. The games will be played in Gore Park on Saturday July 18th and Sunday the 19th.  Teams from Comox, Kelowna, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton and other cities are expected.
Players from this competition will be selected for the Homeless World Cup. 

That event will be held in Amsterdam this September.

In 2003, Mel Young, a Scotsman, and Harald Schmied, an Austrian, were attending a conference dealing with the future of street newspapers.  They came up with the idea of a Homeless World Cup. 

It is a different game than the traditional soccer (football) you’ll see at the Pan Am Games.

It is played four players a side on 16 metre x 22 metre court.  The game lasts 14 minutes (two seven minute halves.) A three-on-two rule, intended to promote scoring, has evolved so that only two players are allowed in their own defensive end.

To be eligible, players must have been homeless in the past year (in accordance with the national definition of homelessness,) make their living as street paper vendor, be Asylum seekers or in drug or alcohol rehabilitation (and also have been homeless.)

Changing Attitudes

The Homeless World Cup is more than a competition. It is designed to challenge societal attitudes towards homeless people.

In that context it is worth reflecting on the situation in Hamilton.

Here, over 3,100 individuals experienced homelessness – staying at some point in the past year in one of the City’s emergency shelters.

Hamilton is part of a national movement of communities led by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. The movement is mobilizing people to house 20,000 of Canada’s most vulnerable people by July 1, 2018.  As part of that program, individual and families were interviewed this April. Four hundred and fifty four (454) individuals were canvassed by volunteers in Hamilton’s downtown streets, shelters and agencies.

Here are just a few facts from the survey that may surprise you.

• Two thirds of those interviewed had experienced homelessness for six months or longer.

• Seven percent of those surveyed had served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

• 266 of the individuals surveyed had visited hospital emergency rooms a total of 994 times in the previous 6 months.

Much work has to be done to solve our housing crisis.  Unlike other nations, Canada doesn’t have a national housing strategy.  Perhaps, we will hear about housing and homelessness during this fall’s federal election campaign.