A small but hardy group camped out overnight outside Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray’s Parliament Street office to protest the provincial government’s cutting of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB).
The group opposed the cut, which provides money to people on social assistance who need to move for a variety of reasons including an abusive home and starting a new job. The protest was also part of a week of action that saw similar rallies taking place across Ontario. The CSUMB will no longer be available as of Jan. 1.
“This week of action and this fight against the cut to the start-up benefit is not some symbolic gesture,” said John Clarke, leader of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, during the Thursday, Dec. 13 protest.
He said the government’s decision to cut CSUMB funding would hit society’s most vulnerable members.
“What they will create is a situation where people are made homeless and people are kept on the streets,” he said. “It will lock women in domestic violence situations that they cannot escape from.”
Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan noted Ontario has fallen in terms of its standing among Canadian provinces when it comes to social housing, social programming, education, health care and other social indicators and pointed out cuts to CSUMB and similar benefits only worsen the problem.
He said recent tax cuts served to benefit the wealthy and corporations at a time when more people are struggling to make ends meet.
“If (the Ontario government wants) to start a class war in this province, then by Jesus, we’re ready,” he said.
Several people who have experienced homelessness spoke to the crowd, who held up banners, drummed and otherwise made their displeasure with the CSUMB cut known throughout much of the night.
Downtown Toronto resident and social worker Zoe Dodd said having access to social assistance saved her life while living in poverty.
“(CSUMB) means the difference between having hydro or eating or paying rent or having a roof over your head,” she said.
While the Ontario Liberals have been behind the cut, Murray has made it clear he supports CSUMB. He left a note to that effect on the door to his office and dropped by the protest to speak with those gathered there.
He reiterated his opposition to the cut but noted he is pushing for more to be done to address poverty and homelessness.
“It’s about more than just reversing the cut,” he said. “It’s about finding out how we can increase the capacity of housing.”
Murray called for a “fundamental shift” in the way the housing issue is addressed in Toronto and across Ontario.
“It’s amazing to me that we can have a condo boom going on but we can’t harness any of that to build affordable housing,” he said. “In the next 10 years, everybody in Ontario should have a key for a safe place to live.”
For more on CSUMB visit http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/social/odsp/income_support/odsp_maintenance.ASPX