As a first-time attendee of a Tamarack summit, and as a person with living experience, I really didn’t know what to expect. The irony of only being able to be part of this event because I qualified for a scholarship wasn’t lost on me — while I’ve been a major contributor to the Hastings - Prince Edward Poverty Roundtable and the delivery of its action plans, and read up on Vibrant Communities – Cities Reducing Poverty, I knew very well that there was no way I could have afforded to go on my own steam. People paying what feels like a lot of money to get together and talk about poverty — what might that be like, I mused on the drive to Mississauga.
Coming from a background of technical writing, editing, and instructional design, but presently subsisting as a client of the Ontario Disability Support Program, I found much I could relate to from both the lived/living experience and the academic strategist groups gathered in the room. Nonetheless, it is always interesting to listen to and read, from the context of someone living with the daily fall-out of income, food, and housing insecurity, how people “studying” aspects of poverty conceptualize it. There is less sense of urgency, and more faith in the ability of organizations and agencies, to reduce or eradicate poverty. We whose lives are directly damaged wonder how much longer we can hang on, as governments change hands and funding priorities shift.
With the Ontario Government and the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services allegedly in the process of overhauling the province’s woefully inadequate social assistance programs, my impression of my fellow living/lived experience participants was that we felt like the summit was smack in the middle of the eye of the hurricane. After the cancellation of the Basic Income Pilot Project only a couple of months ago, and the implementation of the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 last winter, but now waiting uneasily to find out what fresh new difficulties might be on the way this fall, the enthusiasm of the policy wonks over the rolling out of the National Poverty Reduction Strategy seemed a little disconcerting.
After all, what the “strategy” mostly accomplished was coming up with a definition of poverty. In other words, a starting point, when people like me have operated under the belief for two or three years that action was going to be well under way by now. Real action. Game-changing, bold approaches to eradicating the scourge of poverty in our communities, cities, and across the country. We ARE the definition of poverty. It almost doesn’t matter that bureaucrats and ivory-tower dwellers have found wording they agree upon to decide who is or isn’t poor enough.
Thus, I went home from Cities Innovating to Reducing Poverty with mixed feelings that have become even more mixed in the weeks since. On the one hand, it was exhilarating and affirming to find so many individuals and organizations together discussing our common goal and describing some impressive approaches to achieving it. The breakout sessions were exciting, and the panels invigorating. On the other hand, I felt distinctly out of place, as I’m sure other living/lived experience people did, too, at the gala -like Peel Region Reception and Strategy Launch — not the least because when you are already there on sponsorships or scholarships, not having cash for the cash bar underscores the difference between you and the people whose work and status make poverty an interesting intellectual exercise and set of metrics.
A conscientious reading through of the brochures and reports I picked up over the two days, and of the notes I made, strengthens my convictions that we all have lots of work to do, even as the eye passes over us and the other half of the storm bears down on Ontario.
Read other Highlights from the Poverty Reduction Eastern Summit:
- Highlights from the Cities Innovating to Reducing Poverty Eastern Summit by Natasha Pei
- It Takes a Village by Judith Obatusa