Robert Kirwan, Candidate for Councillor of Ward 5, has sent in his responses to our survey. Here are the questions and his replies.
1) At the end of 2012 the Liberal Government eliminated the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), a mandatory benefit available for people on social assistance to access funds in order to pay for moving costs, furniture, and other things associated with maintaining a residence, or to escape violence and in emergency situations. As councilor while you call for the province to reinstate this vital provincial program? The replacement program is called the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative, (CHPI) a program that the municipalities are in charge of running with a more limited amount of money from the province. Some municipalities are defining the criteria of CHPI very narrowly, while others are topping up the amount of money available for CHPI so that they can provide the same level of assistance as used to be provided under the CSUMB. In Sudbury there have been problems with people on OW and ODSP accessing adequate funds for household necessities that would have been covered under the CSUMB. As councilor, will you commit to seeing that the city of Sudbury puts in the funds necessary so that CHPI policies and funding are at least the same as what used to be met under the CSUMB?
Answer: The short answer to this is, Yes. I believe that the City of Greater Sudbury has an obligation to the people who require this kind of assistance and if the province is going to download the cost to the City, then that is just something we are going to have to accept. I believe that we must still lobby he province for a return to the level of assistance that was provided in the past, but if it is not forthcoming, it is up to us to find the funds. We cannot disadvantage the people who need us the most.
2) The homeless or near homeless population of Sudbury is estimated in studies to be at least 600 people. Many people are unwilling or unable to stay at the Salvation Army run shelter, because of addiction problems, because they are uncomfortable with the religious aspect of the institution or because they have had bad experiences there in the past. In 2014 the city tried a six-week pilot project: Out of the Cold, an emergency shelter where people were not required to show any identification and where those who had consumed alcohol were not automatically rejected. The project will be continued into next winter but is only one step in helping to reduce the number of homeless living and dying on the streets. This shelter still needs to be made fully accessible and to have staff who are not associated with the Salvation Army. Will you commit to learning about the shelters, to listening to the experiences of those on the street and providing options that provide dignity for them?
Answer: Once again the answer is a resounding Yes. I will certainly champion this endeavour.
3) Homeless people living on the streets in Sudbury continue to die but they are quickly forgotten and are not remembered in dignity. Will you as councilor support the establishment of a Homeless Memorial for all those who have died on the streets through which homeless people who die will be remembered in dignity? For indigenous homeless people this Memorial must respect the traditions of indigenous peoples.
Answer: This would be a great project that I would certainly get behind.
4) Much of the existing housing stock available for people living in poverty in Sudbury is unsafe and unhealthy and there is often a long wait for public housing. What would you do to increase the amount of quality affordable housing available in Sudbury? Would you consider putting forward motions such as use-it-or-lose-it bylaw allowing the city to reclaim and put to use buildings that have been abandoned or are being left unused for speculative purposes? Would you support zoning rules that require low income housing be made available within new subdivisions?
Answer: One of my platforms is that the City must develop a plan specifically aimed at increasing the number of public housing units in the region. And if we cannot provide enough incentive for the private sector to take care of our situation, then we should look at the possibility of the city building the apartments needed to fulfill our needs. As for supporting zoning rules that require low income housing to be made available within new subdivisions, this is not something that I feel would be accepted by many developers and would need to deal with on a case by case basis. Mixing low-income housing within new subdivisions where most of the houses are in the $400,000 plus range would only be asking for the people in the low-income houses to feel out of place and centred out by comparison. They wouldn’t feel as if they belonged
5) As councilor would you ensure that services such as the Handi-Transit are available and easily accessible? This entails ending the current review process which has led to people who require Handi-Transit being denied their right to public transportation. All people using Handi-Trans already have medical authorization for this service and it does not need to be reviewed again. Paperwork and assessments are a barrier for many with emotional or intellectual disabilities.
Answer: There is not much more that can be said about this. I do believe that the Handi-Transit system seems to be flawed and in need of change. I am looking forward to examining some of the issues you have raised and asking some hard questions to get to the bottom of this matter. We should not be disadvantaging anyone in our community, especially those who have a need for handi-transit.
6) Currently tickets are being issued by Sudbury police to people panhandling in Sudbury. Will you speak out against this and defend panhandling as a basic survival strategy for some people living in poverty? Would you help to reverse the stigmatizing of those who have no feasible options but to ask others for assistance? Would you work against stigmatizing people living in poverty?
Answer: I do believe the whole issue of panhandling needs to be put under review. We need to champion any effort that reduces the stigmatizing of people living in poverty, but panhandling is something that is not socially accepted by the majority of people in society today. I can see it being something a person might need to resort to in an emergency, but from my understanding, some people make this a career.
7) Would you ensure that decisions regarding programs and services directed towards those living in poverty are done with the full consultation and participation of those who live in poverty? Consultation cannot just be with social agencies that work with those in poverty, but must be with those in poverty themselves, in ways that are fully accessible and understandable for the participants.
Answer: There is no question about this one. Of course these decisions must be done in consultation and participation of those who live in poverty.
8) There are also many low-wage workers in Sudbury who are living in poverty. As councilor will you call on the province to raise the minimum wage to $14 an hour and index it to the costs of inflation? This is what low-income workers in this city need.
Answer: I don’ t thing our energy would be wisely spent trying to lobby the government to increase minimum wage rates, but I am all in favour of doing what we can as a city to reduce the cost of living for those in the minimum wage bracket. These initiatives include providing low-income workers with free transit passes; subsidized day care; free access to municipal recreational facilities; and free admission to municipal sponsored special events. At least this way they may be able to do more with the income they have and it will be just like receiving more for their hourly wages.