Day 364 2011

I have been thinking, as one is want to do at this time of year, on the previous 12 months and reflecting. I am fortunate in that my family is healthy and we are safe and sound and together which is no mean feat in these times of collapses, fall offs, and cutbacks. We remain solvent emotionally. We still like being together.

WORK

So last year began with my work continuing at Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre which is without a doubt the best place I have ever worked. My colleagues, including my brilliant and thoughtful boss  Barb Schust-Lawrence, have at all times been supportive, inquisitive, and we are always open enough with each other to ask difficult questions without the feeling of being attacked. Politics amongst us has never raised its ugly head and that is due to the dedication we each have to working in a community that is often left behind and the brilliant cooperative leadership that Barb uses.

In April there was a radical shift in my work responsibilities as funding was cut to my position and my hours were reduced to half time. This was hard for me but was equally as difficult in retrospect for my fellow team mates. This meant a lot of reorganization and I thought at first that I needed to move on but somehow that never seemed to happen. The Board and Barb were always supportive and would often have projects for me that were important to me personally and to the community as a whole.

FRIENDS

Another shift, this one a much easier one, for me was the many new friendships I have formed in the last year. I became active on Twitter and because of that started getting involved more in the wider community.  I attended podcamp, an un-conference on podcasting, in the spring and because of that joined the Unlab.  That led directly to my cohost, the thoughtful and always interested, Stuart Clark and I creating This Week in London Tweets Podcast. The podcast is a weekly show that covers what’s on the minds of the London twitter community and has provided the opportunity to meet and interview some really interesting and engaged people in our forested city. I am looking forward to this next year to see where this show goes and how it evolves.

Also I met Ed Jackman (@edjackman). If you are at all on twitter and keep an eye on the London scene you will have seen Ed. Ed and I meet at the first City Symposium, the brain child of James Shelley – another on the go and engaged Londoner whom I am proud to know, and we fell into a conversation that seems to continue and evolve. Ed is one of those people who decides, much like James, to do something and then it happens. From his social media company, The Jackman Group, to his involvement with the London photo scene to Untrepreneurs, Ed is interested and involved and is continually building relationships. I am fortunate to have him as a friend.

I cannot fail to mention some other folks who I have gotten to know over the last year as well. Ronny (@ronnyxu) is someone who called me up for some info on mental health for a friend of his. Since that first meeting Ronny and I have gotten to know each other better and I am always impressed that he continues to meet his challenges (and that of others) with courage and caring. Let me also mention Ed Platero (film maker of London), Kevin van Lierop ( community ninja!), Laura Shelby (London’s Grace Kelly), Abe Oudshoorn ( a man who continually illuminates the issues around homelessness and poverty), Bill Deys ( one of the unlondon/unlab founders), Broderick and Scott ( owners of Kowrok), Titus Ferguson (Another unlondon/unlab founder and geek convenor), Chris Moss ( social enterprise goddess and supporter of all things community) , Donnie Claudino ( Artist ), Marty Leveque ( Anglican Minister and all around cool guy), Mike Battista ( AKA Phronk – one of the best creative writers I’ve met in a long time), Mike Marsman ( someone who I should have gotten to know sooner!), Kevin Labonte ( Green Party Candidate and stand-up guy), Derek Silva ( entrepreneur and supporter of TWILT), James Wilkinson ( force for chaos and joy), Rachel and Andy Berdan ( smart creative arts types – I like them), Ian Gifford ( the man who brought Q to London), Karen Shulman-Dupuis ( super smart social media maven and defender of good), Joel C Adams ( the man who oversees the operations of London`s most exciting tech incubator and godfather of the London Lawn), Kevin Dixon ( the Dean of London’s Anglican Cathedral and a man who is trying to shift some serious mountains), and Jo-Anne Bishop ( Pollyanna extraordinaire)

Also there`s Shawn Adamson (@late2game) who is one of the owners of rtraction ( a digital design company with a soul) who continues to ask the hard questions that need to be asked and has a heart that’s all about making things better for his fellow Londoners. Add to this London’s coolest individual, Jodi Simpson(@jodisimpson) Shawn’s partner and  one of the most thoughtful people in the city when it comes to issues small and large and I have found myself a wealth of new acquaintances and friendships.

I must mention also Don Seymour. Don is one of those people when I met him that I felt I had known him along time. Don is the Executive Director of WOTCH, a community mental health agency, who has taken the organization through some hard times and come out the other side stronger and better equipped to meet future challenges. In the mental health arena there are people who “Get it” and people who don’t. Don not only gets it but he advocates for people who often have no advocate. I’m proud to call him my friend.

Then there’s Glen Pearson. Glen and I got to know each other over twitter and then he invited me to meet. Since that time we have developed a deepening friendship. Glen was my former member of parliament, the very least of his accomplishments, and founded the London Food Bank. He and his wife also worked hard in Sudan to help to end slavery there and to bring about the creation of two new countries. North and South Sudan. He and his brilliant wife Jane adopted 3 wonderful children from that war ravaged country and we are all better for it. I am grateful for his friendship and our work together.

COMMUNITY

Another strong theme for me in 2011 was Community. Interesting word that, Community.  One of its definitions is – “ a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule”.  The rule that seemed to evolve from the conversations and friendships that I developed this last year was do good. Now this may seem overly simplistic or even smack of jingoism but when you think about it it rings of truth and common sense.

I have always been heavily involved with issues like mental health, through my family’s journey, and poverty, through the work I do, but something interesting happened this fall. Occupy London coalesced around the issues of income inequality and the lack of power we seem to have in our political and economic wellbeing.  I was familiar and had worked on many of these issues in the past so there was a natural affinity for me with this group. I went down to Victoria Park with a group of friends to meet the folks who decided to stake out their tents on some important issues but shortly thereafter our City Council evicted the Occupy London from the park. From this Glen was approached by the City to open a dialogue with the Occupiers. So he asked James Shelley, Myself, and Kevin Dixon, to come with him down to the park to make the offer. This, needless to say, was rejected and I understand why. What happened after that though has become one of the most meaningful things I have ever worked on. Glen was asked by City Council, through councillor Joni Baechler and with the support of Ross Fair, to ask for citizens input on the Social Assistance Review Committee. I’ve written about that here. We have so far held the first public meeting, under the auspices of City Symposium, earlier in December. I great number of people came out to learn about the income gap and what we’re doing and where we need to go. Our next two events will happen in January and we’re asking our fellow Londoners to learn how the most disadvantaged live and what we can do to change this uneven the playing field to a game that is fair for everyone.

FAMILY

The forth theme has been family. I have spent some wonderful time with my Mom and step dad fishing and laughing and being a family – something which I often need. My “little girl” turns 16 years old this January and I am constantly amazed at her imagination and ideas and I am grateful that she has inherited that absurd sense of humour I have – she’s one of the few people in the world that get my jokes. Then there is of course my wife of seventeen years, Heather. She is the anchor around which our family is connected to where we need to be and what we should care about and what we should let go. The three of us got to go to New York this fall and I am grateful that we got to experience so much art, and music, and Big Apple together with our old friends Andy and Aimee.  We’re a strong Family and we continue to be strong through the connections we strengthen to each other and build to the community around us.

DAY 364

So in reflecting on the previous 364 I have to say that it has been an outstanding year and I am a very lucky man for the riches I receive every day in my work, my friends, and my family. To all of you Happy New Year. If in reflecting at the end of 2012 I am a quarter as fortunate as I have been in the last year I will count myself lucky and raise a cup of cheer to you all in thanks for what I have.

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Irwin Cotler – When constituents of mine began reporting that they were receiving telephone calls asking if they would support the Conservative candidate in the pending or imminent by-election, I rose in the House to assert that the practice breached my privileges as a member of Parliament and indeed that of Parliament itself. MORE

Justin Trudeau and NDP – “His father famously uttered fuddle duddle in the House of Commons. On Wednesday his son went one better, calling the Environment Minister a “piece of shit.”Justin Trudeau, the Montreal Liberal MP, admitted he just lost his “cool.”He just couldn’t hold back in Question Period after Peter Kent attacked NDP environment critic Megan Leslie for not attending the climate-change conference in Durban, South Africa, last week” From Globe and Mail

Sandy White of the Globe and Mail “With the government’s omnibus crime bill set to become law, a critical question we should ask is whether we are becoming a society that fosters hope or one that extinguishes it. While Canada is a country of promise in many ways, the government’s course of enacting legislation that favours incarceration and punishment over treatment and rehabilitation stands in conflict to the values that make it such a formidable nation.”

Here’s what you can do – Show Up

The Citizens Panel

In my last post I asked where was everyone and many of you answered. I am deeply grateful for this. Some of you asked where you can show up and help and I have a suggestion for you that I hope and pray you’ll take me up on.  I’m involved with some amazing people, Rev. Kevin Dixon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Sue Wilson of the Sisters of St. Joseph, James Shelley, co-ordinator of the City Symposium, and Eric Shepperd, and Glen Pearson, on a citizens panel trying to make some concrete suggestions for the thousands of people who are on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP). Our province, Ontario, is in the middle of a review of these services (called SARC for Social Assistance Review Committee) and as a part of this you have an opportunity here in London to speak to some very specific points in order improve the lives of the most vulnerable in the places where we live.

In London a review was held with agencies and people with lived experience currently using the OW/ODSP system. Some of the thoughts that came out of this were: “Londoners expressed interest in simplified social assistance rules. While they want consistency, they also want workers to be able to respond to their individual needs. They want a program that better provides enough income to meet the cost of living particularly for food and shelter and they want a program that includes transportation as a basic benefit. They want a program that allows people to keep more of the income they earn from working and want a program that does not require that assets virtually be depleted as a condition of eligibility. Having access to adequate housing is fundamental.”Click here to read the entire report form the London meeting.

Let me give a little background so you have something to go on. Currently if you are on Ontario Works you get about $582.00/month to live on. In London the Low Income Cut off measure ( the poverty line) is a little more than $1500/month. So if you’re making a little more than $1500/month you have enough to pay your rent, get groceries, buy your clothing, ride the bus, and generally squeak by. But remember if you’re on OW you’re only getting about  582/month. That’s a difference of more than $800/month.

(Graph supplied by James Shelly)

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Low income cut of vs OW vs ODSP

Also if you’re on OW or ODSP and you make a little extra cash, say you get a part-time job or 10 hours of work from a temporary employment agency, that gets clawed back from what you receive every month. So if you make an extra $100 that month 50.00 will be taken off of your OW cheque. So if I get paid $10.50/hr. for 10 hrs. that equals $105.00. But half of that, 52.50, will be deducted from my 582/month. So we end up with 529.00 for your OW cheque . So really I get paid $5.25 for every hour that I work while on Ontario Works.

I don’t know many people who would work for $5.25/hr. If I wanted to make 10 hours’ worth of pay I would have to work for 20 hrs on OW. Now some of you may think that this is a good deal, that we’re giving them money anyways so they should be grateful for what they get. But think about this for a second:

  1. The economy is really bad right now
  2. Part time work is becoming the norm
  3. 1 in 5 children live in poverty in London
  4. Would you work for 5.25/hr.?

Add to this, and I have seen this first hand, that you’re OW benefits may get cut off until OW verifies your income and we have a serious disincentive for anyone to try to make a little extra money.

At the City Symposium event on Dec. 13th we are going to be talking about the income gap that is growing ever wider in our country. We’re going to use this talk to then gather people around and offer recommendations to the City of London on this Social Assistance Review Process. The City will then take these recommendations and adopt them and send them on to the Provincial Government as well as the Federal Government. We will meet twice in January to do this.

So in my last post I asked you where you all were. In this post I am asking you all to show up on Dec.13th at the Wolf Performance Hall at the Central Library in Downtown London and to make a difference. You will hear about the growing income gap and then WE NEED YOU TO SHOW UP IN JANUARY  to input on improving the lives of our cities most vulnerable in a tangible, practical way.  I am begging you to make a difference. So tell your church leaders, your service clubs, your neighbours, your friends, your boss and coworkers, to show up, to make a difference, to be a part of something important.  I don’t think I’m asking too much. I just want you to change the world. Who’s in?

City Symposium 5 – Income Gap

Additional resources to understand the issue