Persistent Poverty

Persistent Poverty

Voices From the Margins

By Brice Balmer, Mira Dineen and Jamie Swift


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  • Ontario Legislative Assembly Speaker's Book Award, 2012 (Short-listed)

It’s a very short trip from the limousine seat to the curb. Jim Mann never missed a payroll for the dozen men who worked for his flourishing landscaping business he built from the ground up. Now he lives hand-to-mouth. His pockets are empty long before his next social assistance cheque arrives.

In early 2010 over two hundred civic and faith leaders fanned out into thirty Ontario communities. Their goal? To explore how the least fortunate people in one of the world’s richest places are faring.

The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition’s latest social audit exposed a tattered social assistance system run by volunteers desperately struggling to fill the gaps. There can be no papering over the savage inequalities and suffering exposed in this compelling look at life from the margins.

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Persistent Poverty is peppered with the stories of real people facing economic hardship and the humiliation, shame and stigma that come with being at the have-not end of the table in an affluent province…. As a former businessman, now on social assistance in Kingston, said wryly, “It’s a short trip from the limousine seat to the curb.”

– The Kingston Whig Standard

ISARC’s faith community is in solidarity with people one stumble from the street. The voices know the scene. The authors have done their homework. This is a must read in classrooms and in public conversations, but most importantly for those in government.

– Father Paul Hansen C.Ss.R, Director, Redemptorist Biblical Justice Consultancy

How long, O Lord? How long before our politicians listen? Four poverty audits have taken place since 1986. But we still desperately lack affordable housing. More families still use food banks. Sole-support mothers still must plead for relief from mandatory school fees. People with mental illness still wander our streets. This is scandalous in a rich place like Ontario. I encourage people to read Persistent Poverty and take action. Show that we still care for one another.

– Terence Finlay, retired Anglican Archbishop of Toronto

Persistent Poverty will leave you demanding dignity for those left behind by our inadequate social policies. Elected politicians should be forced to read a chapter each night before bed.

– Margaret Little, Political Studies, Queen’s University

According to Jewish liturgy we are all capable of rising above our petty self interest and acting in a truly humane way by taking concrete steps to end the suffering of the poor and the trauma of the oppressed…. This book identifies injustices and provides direction for the policy change we so urgently need.

– Rabbi Shalom Schachter, Beth Israel Synagogue, Peterborough, and National Representative, CUPE


Introduction The Work of Hundreds of People
Chapter 1 "As Sharp As You Could Cut Them"
Chapter 2 Back to the Future? The Choice Is Ours
Armine Yalnizyan and Jamie Swift
Chapter 3 Working Harder is Hardly Working
Chapter 4 Precarious Work: How Lax Employment Standards Perpetuate Poverty
Mary Gellatly
Chapter 5 Ontario Works: How Did This Happen to Me?
Chapter 6 The Disorienting Disability Support Maze
Chapter 7 The Affordable Housing Deficit: Out of the Cold
Chapter 8 Housing Strategy on the Brink: The Time Has Come
Michael Shapcott
Chapter 9 The Cost of Hunger: Food Security and Health Issues
Chapter 10 Food Insecurity: A Source of Suffering and Ill Health
Elaine Power
Chapter 11 Poverty and Health: "I'm One Stumble from the Street"
Chapter 12 Poverty Makes Us Sick
Dennis Raphael
Chapter 13 Families Matter: The Catch-22 of Poverty
Chapter 14 Ontario's Push to Early Childhood Education and Care for All
Laurel Rothman
Chapter 15 "It's Not My Country Yet . . ."
Chapter 16 Rural Poverty: Hidden in the Country?
Chapter 17 Theological Reflections on Poverty
Bhante Saranapala, Sister Doryne Kirby, Rabbi Larry Englander, and Imam Shafiq Hudda
Chapter 18 A Pebble in the Shoe