Voices From the Margins: will we listen?

Posted on 25 January 2020
With Michael Oulton, Anglican Bishop of Ontario, and Mary Raddon.

Donna’s comments still haunt me.

“I got no money. I got no heat in the winter. I don’t go out.  It’s really tough.”

We were sitting around a table in a Brockville, Ontario, church basement. We’d just had a simple but tasty meal that we’d all help prepare.  Now one by one people like Donna, living on social assistance, spoke about their lives – their issues, whether their housing is adequate, do they have enough money for basic needs, what would make their lives better.  Organized by the ISARC interfaith antipoverty coalition with which I’m involved, the low-income residents spoke to a team of local faith leaders who listened intently, as part of a Voices From the Margins project.

You might think this was a totally grim event. You’d be wrong.

Looking at me through unseeing eyes (she’s blind), Donna told me: “I’ve been waiting for this night for so long.” She was eager to speak about her life to people who cared. A rare opportunity for her. How often are those in poverty featured in our media? In our conversations? In our elections, like the recent federal election?

That’s why this Voices initiative is so important. “We’re not welfare bums,” a man named Jason told our Peterborough Voices event. “We’re not dumb and useless. People don’t know our stories. We all have unique stories. We are so much more than what society says about us. I appreciate being here. It’s important to be heard.”

Jason and Donna’s  stories, and many others, and their action recommendations will be highlighted in an upcoming book by ISARC on the Voices project that I’ll be editing.

More immediately, ISARC just submitted a brief to the Ontario Government’s pre-budget consultations, see www.isarc.ca. We called for a basic income, more housing funding, higher social assistance rates, reversing the cuts to Legal Aid – measures which could bring joy and dignity into Donna’s life, and so many other lives.

Last year’s Conservative Government budget had 63 references to alcohol availability.  Poverty? Not one mention.

Here’s what you can do:  first, read our budget brief and tell your MPP you support it.  Second, support our Voices From the margins initiative. Contact me for details.