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MEDIA RELEASE: Dec. 8th Letter from S-CAP to Sudbury City Council

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Dec. 8, 2014

Dear Mayor and City Council:  

The Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP) as an activist anti-poverty group that fights for the needs of all people living in poverty in Sudbury has a number of demands that you need to address at your meeting on Dec. 9th. These demands are drawn from the concerns and needs of the people living in poverty we have talked to and who have contacted us. S-CAP and supporters will be at the City Council meeting tomorrow night and we ask that you raise our concerns as questions and, if possible, as emergency motions at the meeting.    

1). Homelessness and the Out of the Cold Shelter

We are very glad that the Out of the Cold Shelter was finally opened on Dec. 1st. We are also glad that the hours of operation are now noted on a sheet beside the front door at 200 Larch Street. Unfortunately given the Salvation Army logo on this sheet many may think this is simply a Salvation Army Shelter.  

While S-CAP welcomes the opening of the Out of the Cold Shelter we continue to raise the concerns and needs of the homeless people we talked to about their experiences with the pilot project last winter and since. Their two major concerns are: 

1) that the shelter needs to be open for more extended hours (preferably on a 24 hour basis) since it is very cold during the day in the winter and shelter and warmth are required at these times as well.   

2). that there needs to be staff that is not from the Salvation Army given that many homeless people in this city have had problems with the Salvation Army, and their staff. Salvation Army staffing means that some homeless people will not feel comfortable going to the Out of the Cold Shelter. That the Red Cross provided staff for the first three nights for the shelter this year opens up other possibilities staffing for the first 3 days suggests other possibilities and in many centres like Toronto it is City workers who staff most of the shelters.

S-CAP is monitoring the situation with the Shelter and if problems arise we will be raising them directly with City staff.

To address the roots of homelessness the City must also make available safe, accessible and affordable housing and social assistance rates need to be increased dramatically so that people can afford the rental housing that is available. These issues must be put on the agenda for Council to discuss as soon as possible.

2). Handi-Transit Access

Many people living in poverty are people living with disabilities – both physical and non-physical disabilities. S-CAP has serious concerns about the City of Sudbury’s denial of Handi-Transit service to many people who need it.  New application forms and evaluations by an ‘Eligibility Assessment Advisor’ (EAA) have led to the denial of access to Handi-Transit for those with non-physical disabilities. A number of areas including Durham, York Region, and Hamilton allow people with non-physical disabilities to access Handi-Transit. The limiting of specialized transit to people with only physical disabilities goes directly against the intent of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which is to remove barriers for all people with disabilities. Those with non-physical disabilities do not need to face more attitudinal and environmental barriers, they need to be included in Handi-Transit. We are aware of a number of people who have been refused access including a blind person, people with a disabled infant, and others clearly requiring this service. Setting up an appeals process for those who have been unfairly cut off Handi-Transit, which is set to take place at tomorrow’s meeting,  is not enough and Council must move and pass an emergency motion on Dec. 9th clearly allowing people who have non-physical disabilities to access Handi-Transit and to end the unfair review process.

Moreover rides being refused to Handi-Transit users on the excuse of being “at capacity” denies people with disabilities the accommodations the provincial legislation provides for. Recently we have heard that people who need this service are being told it is “at capacity” and they are being refused rides for classes, medical appointments and to do necessary shopping. It appears that even for people who meet the eligibility requirements that the “at capacity” argument is being used to deny service. People with disabilities have the same right as other people in Sudbury to access public transit.

3). The need for Adequate Exceptional Circumstances Funding

The City must maintain the policies and rates of the former provincial Community Start –Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) which was abolished by the provincial government for the down-loaded to municipalities Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) funding. Right now under City policies a person who needs a new bed (mattress and box spring) because of a bed bug infestation but who does not need to move is only allocated $400 (under the City discretionary benefits policy) rather than the $799 they would have received under the CSUMB. They are only getting half the amount of funding support that they would have received under the CSUMB. This needs to be changed to allow people in poverty in exceptional circumstances the funding they require. We are asking for a change in the present City of Greater Sudbury CHPI Guidelines (June 2013) to remove the criteria of  “necessity to relocate” from the “catastrophic event” (flood, fire, bed-bug infestation) section so that the full funding of $800 could be available for the applicant.  We ask that this be addressed at the City Council meeting on Dec. 9th Failing this it must be on the agenda of the very first meeting of the Community Services Committee.    

4). SAMS (the new computer system) is not working for people on social assistance.

S-CAP is also concerned about the ways that the new Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) has created major problems in the lives of people on social assistance (both OW and ODSP) and also for workers in OW and ODSP. We are aware of people not getting cheques or other necessary benefits, people experiencing delays in getting badly needed support, or receiving the wrong amount on cheques. This has dramatically added to the problems many people on social assistance face at what is a difficult time of the year with the start of winter and with the holidays approaching fast.

We also know from talking to OW and ODSP workers that with SAMS it now takes much, much longer to do their work and this means that they have far less time to meet the needs of the people on social assistance that they work with, especially given their very high case-loads. We fully support the issues and grievances raised by both the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) regarding SAMS. SAMS is not working and this problem needs to be resolved immediately.  The needs of social assistance recipients and of workers in OW and ODSP demand immediate action to end these problems! One solution would be to revert to the pre-existing system while the SAMS system is fixed and perfected and adequate training can be provided. City Council must act quickly to ensure that people on social assistance in Sudbury get what they need during this difficult period.     

Yours sincerely,

Anna Harbulik, Gary Kinsman, Christy Knockleby, Clarissa Lassaline

For the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty.

For more information contact: S-CAP at 249-878-7227

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About the Sudbury Working Group

The Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op was formed to create independent media in the North, to speak to our issues and outlooks on our communities as well as the world around us. Independent media provides an avenue for people who are wishing to gain critical perspective on the issues that matter most to us, and to give a voice to those people and stories that you won't find in the mainstream media.

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