MPP Jennie Stevens raises issues during question period
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens says a crisis is on its way if the provincial government doesn’t take steps to address housing affordability, while also reviewing what is doled out to social assistance recipients.
“It’s a complete recipe for disaster and we’re just seeing it begin,” Stevens said in an interview Wednesday, moments after raising the issues during question period at Queen’s Park.
Last week, Niagara’s five food banks and social service agencies issued a joint statement saying the province needs to take measures to address significant increases to the number of visits all of them are seeing.
Jon Braithwaite, chief executive officer of The Hope Centre in Welland, and Pam Sharp, executive director of Project Share in Niagara Falls, both said a review of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Progam are vital to turning things around, as people are struggling to survive on what they are allocated.
Stevens said these programs have been “unchanged” and “not even looked at” for far too long.
“This government has to do it. It’s something that has not been done for years,” she said.
“If we ignore it, it’s not going to go away, and it’s going to get worse.”
Putting a down payment on a house and competing with buyers from big cities seems impossible, as does coming up with soaring rent costs in Niaagara, said Stevens, adding that out-of-area investors and landlords seem to charge outlandish amounts.
“They’re basically putting families out of the rental market and out of the housing market. Affordable rent just does not exist anymore.”
Stevens said she is not satisfied with the responses given to her during question period.
“It was clear to me that the government has no clear plans to fix the problem,” she said.
Paul Calandra, house leader for the Progressive Conservatives, told Stevens the government has “been working on affordability since Day 1” before he pointed to a recent announcement from the province about “transit-oriented communities” and how this will “make a huge difference” on the bottom line for people who struggle financially.
Said Stevens said during the session, “When you’re on ODSP you can’t even afford transit, yet alone put food on the table.”
Jill Dunlop, associate minister of children and women’s issues, said the pandemic has exacerbated provincial programs.
“The program itself is facing challenges that limit our ability to help these people get back on their feet,” she said.
Last Thursday’s combined statement was signed by Port Cares in Port Colborne, The Hope Centre, Project Share, Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, and Community Care West Niagara.
The social sector and food security leaders are calling for help to “ease the burden of providing day-to-day basic life supports and to find longer range transformative and impactful solutions to relieving the growing poverty burden,” they said in a release.
Seeing the largest increase in food bank visits out of the group is The Hope Centre, which saw 70 per cent more people in April compared to the same month last year.
“Most alarming” is an increase of more than 170 per cent in families with children turning to the centre for emergency food, said Braithwaite.