Alsadaka (The Friendship) Dinner at Fairlawn Avenue United Church on September 30, 2017

On September 30th, over 100 guests attended our Syrian friendship dinner.  We enjoyed delicious Syrian food catered by a Syrian newcomer, lively and moving Syrian music by SyCa, and  engaging conversation with our many Syrian newcomer guests.  Money raised will be used to support the important work of the church and will help to support our next Syrian refugee family expected to arrive at any time.  For pictures of this great event, go to

And to learn more about our Refugee programme and other ways to reach out to others through our Embrace Action ministries at Fairlawn, go to

March 8th at Fairlawn: Meet Seekers- the first in a series of conversations about poverty

Fairlawn has a strong tradition of working with others to address poverty. In fact, the lofty goal of our Embrace Action vision is to ‘eradicate poverty.’   A lofty goal indeed and most would say unattainable, but surely we can do better than we currently are.

On March 8th, we hosted an evening to discuss poverty.  It was a broad-ranging conversation on a variety of poverty-related issues that will help inform the direction that our social justice team will take us in the coming year.

The following is a recap of the major discussion themes:
1) Who lives in poverty?  Poverty cuts across all demographic boundaries –  those with both high and low levels of education; those who are working and those who are not; those living with a disability and those who are able bodied; those who have lived their entire lives in Canada and those who are just arriving.  But we know that the likelihood of living in poverty increases according to race and gender.

2) There are different kinds of poverty.  Those with financial affluence may experience poverty of spirit or life-meaning, while those living in financial poverty may be rich in community and in understanding the ‘true meaning of life’.  We shouldn’t think of sharing the financial wealth that we have as diminishing that wealth or doing with less, but rather a way of enriching our lives in other ways.  Our relationships must be mutual – we have much to learn from each other about what it means to live a ‘good’ life.

3) We live at a time when all three levels of government have expressed a willingness to improve the lives of those living in poverty.  We need to hold them to account.  One way of doing that is to communicate with them.  Call, visit or email expressing your eagerness for government to show creativity in finding solutions and to show leadership in making the difficult decisions that challenge all Canadians to see our collective responsibility in helping those who are struggling.  And let’s not forget to acknowledge the positive things that governments do to address poverty.

4) We talked about charity versus building the capacity to become self-sufficient and the importance of social policy that strives to level the playing field and that offers a life of dignity for those who can’t care for themselves.

5) ‘Basic income’ was raised as one way to improve income supports for those who can’t find work or are unable to work.  The Ontario government has just completed a series of consultations to create the parameters for a Basic Income pilot project.  Start dates to be determined.

6) Those who live in poverty have higher rates of ill-health for many reasons – poor nutrition, sub-standard housing, and the stresses of coping with unemployment, underemployment and precarious work to name a few.  Children who go to school hungry or malnourished have more difficulty learning which reinforces the cycle of poverty.

7)  How do we hear directly from those who live in poverty – to better understand what they need or want?  Many of us have built relationships with them through our charitable and advocacy work, but what about inviting those with lived experience to participate in conversations such as the March 8th event?

8) Start small and get big.  Engage in smaller actions such as involvement in a community garden, working side by side with and getting to know those who live in poverty.  Use that experience to have a larger impact.  Use the knowledge and understanding that comes from that experience to inform our understanding of the issues and our requests for social policy change/enhancements.

The following is a list of quotes about poverty that served as catalysts for the conversations:

  1. “One of the reasons inequality is so deep in this country is that everyone wants to be rich. That’s the American ideal. Poor people don’t like talking about poverty because even though they might live in the projects surrounded by other poor people and have, like, ten dollars in the bank, they don’t like to think of themselves as poor.” Jay Z
  2. “A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.”  W. C. Fields
  3. “Yes, in socialism the rich will be poorer – but the poor will also be poorer. People will lose interest in really working hard and creating jobs.” Thomas Peterffy
  4. “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Henry Ford
  5. “When the human race neglects its weaker members, when the family neglects its weakest one – it’s the first blow in a suicidal movement. I see the neglect in cities around the country, in poor white children in West Virginia and Virginia and Kentucky – in the big cities, too, for that matter.” Maya Angelou
  6. “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” Aristotle
  7. “There’s no way that Michael Jackson or whoever Jackson should have a million thousand droople billion dollars and then there’s people starving. There’s no way! There’s no way that these people should own planes and over there people don’t have houses. Apartments. Shacks. Drawers. Pants! I know you’re rich. I know you got 40 billion dollars, but can you just keep it to one house? You only need ONE house. And if you only got two kids, can you just keep it to two rooms? I mean why have 52 rooms and you know there’s somebody with no room?! It just don’t make sense to me. It don’t.” Tupac Shakur
  8. “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
  9. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
  10. “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.” Herman Melville
  11. “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” Mahatma Gandhi
  12. “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” Charles Darwin
  13. “Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations. They’ll wonder why poverty continued so long in human society – how a few people could live in luxury while billions dwelt in misery, deprivation and despair.” Muhammad Yunus, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism
  14. “Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcast weeps.” Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
  15. “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Plutarch
  16. “It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.” George Orwell, 1984
  17. “The United States spends over $87 billion conducting a war in Iraq while the United Nations estimates that for less than half that amount we could provide clean water, adequate diets, sanitation services and basic education to every person on the planet. And we wonder why terrorists attack us.” John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
  18. “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” Basil the Great – 4th century Christian theologian and monastic
  19. “When people love each other, they are content with very little. When we have light and joy in our hearts, we don’t need material wealth. The most loving communities are often the poorest. If our own life is luxurious and wasteful, we can’t approach poor people. If we love people, we want to identify with them and share with them.” Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
  20. “If you go out into the real world, you cannot miss seeing that the poor are poor not because they are untrained or illiterate but because they cannot retain the returns of their labor. They have no control over capital, and it is the ability to control capital that gives people the power to rise out of poverty.” Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
  21. “A plongeur (manual dishwasher) is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work. He is kept at work, ultimately, because of a vague feeling that he would be dangerous if he had leisure. And educated people, who should be on his side, acquiesce in the process, because they know nothing about him and consequently are afraid of him.” George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
  22. “When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding the solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity only perpetuates poverty by taking the initiative away from the poor. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences.” Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
  23. “Jesus is the starving, the parched, the prisoner, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the dying. Jesus is the oppressed, the poor. To live with Jesus is to live with the poor. To live with the poor is to live with Jesus.” Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
  24. “But the economic meltdown should have undone, once and for all, the idea of poverty as a personal shortcoming or dysfunctional state of mind. The lines at unemployment offices and churches offering free food includes strivers as well as slackers, habitual optimists as well as the chronically depressed. When and if the economy recovers we can never allow ourselves to forget how widespread our vulnerability is, how easy it is to spiral down toward destitution.” Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
  25. “Even today we don’t pay serious attention to the issue of poverty, because the powerful remain relatively untouched by it. Most people distance themselves from the issue by saying that if the poor worked harder, they wouldn’t be poor.” Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
  26. “A community that is growing rich and seeks only to defend its goods and its reputation is dying. It has ceased to grow in love. A community is alive when it is poor and its members feel they have to work together and remain united, if only to ensure that they can all eat tomorrow!” Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
  27. “True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands–whether of individuals or entire peoples–need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, through working, transform the world.” Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  28. “The poor will always be among us”. – Matthew 26:11
  29. “If you give me a fish, you feed me for a day. If you teach me to fish, you have fed me until the river is contaminated or the shoreline seized for development. But, if you teach me to organize, then whatever the challenge, I can join together with my peers… And we will fashion our own solution.”  Barefoot Guide to Working with Organizations and Social Change
  30. “You say you care about the poor? Tell me their names.” Craig Greenfield
  31. “The three wealthiest people in the world own more than the GDP of forty-eight countries!” Alice Walker, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness
  32. “No one thought the poor more undeserving than the poor themselves.” Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
  33. “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  34. “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  35. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor “ James Baldwin
  36. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” John F. Kennedy
  37. “These days there is a lot of poverty in the world, and that’s a scandal when we have so many riches and resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer.” Pope Francis
  38. “Jesus tells us what the ‘protocol’ is, on which we will be judged. It is the one we read in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was in prison, I was sick, I was naked and you helped me, clothed me, visited me, took care of me. Whenever we do this to one of our brothers, we do this to Jesus. Caring for our neighbour; for those who are poor, who suffer in body and in soul, for those who are in need. This is the touchstone.” Pope Francis
  39. “Teach us to give and not to count the cost.” Saint Ignatius
  40. “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” – Nelson Mandela
  41. “While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”  Nelson Mandela
  42. Poverty is not a lack of character.  It’s a lack of money. A lack of opportunity. A lack of investment. Its when society turns its back and makes you invisible.
  43. “Once again, we saw the impact that global events can have in our local communities. A violent war in Syria has displaced millions of people, and many are struggling to restart their lives in a new country, including Canada. Yet a lack of income and Toronto’s high cost of living have left many newcomers struggling to afford food and having to get help from their local food banks.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  44. “In this report, we have also seen a massive demographic shift in those accessing food banks in Toronto over the last 10 years: in 2006 one third of clients were 18 and under; in 2016 one third are 45 and over. This is primarily due to an increasingly large group of older adults who have lost their jobs and
are also struggling to live with disabilities on the very low levels of income provided by provincial social assistance. Their job prospects are limited, and in many cases food banks and meal programs are their only source of food.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  45. “People accessing food banks now have much higher levels of education than before – 22 per cent had post-secondary education in 2006, whereas in 2016, 36 per cent do.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  46. “Client visits [to food banks] continue to decrease in the city core, and increase in the former inner suburbs of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough. Since 2008, the inner suburbs have seen a
48 per cent increase, while the city core has seen a 16 per cent decrease during the same period. In the last year alone, Etobicoke saw a 15 per cent increase, while Scarborough saw a 7 per cent increase.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  47. “While large strides have been made in the last 10 years in income support for children, there has been little done for a large cohort of older adults, especially single people, who have lost their jobs after the recession and are having a difficult time re-entering the labour market. Many of these individuals were forced to rely on social assistance after they lost work, and are facing ongoing struggles in keeping up with the cost of living.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  48. “Hunger in Toronto does not exist because there is a lack of food. Hunger in Toronto in 2016 is the result of high costs of housing, rapidly increasing costs of food as well as low and stagnating incomes.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  49. Some statistics: Of those who use food banks in Toronto, $750 is the average monthly income; 65% have social assistance (welfare) as their main source of income; 71% of their income is spent on rent and utilities leaving on average $7.09 left for food and other needs. Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  50. “Povety and hunger cut across all demographic boundaries. More and more in Toronto, they include those with both high and low levels of education. Those who are working and those who are not. Those living with a disability and those who are able bodied. Those who lived their entire lives in Canada and those just arriving here. All struggle with a lack of income and increasingly high costs of housing and food.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017
  51. “The decreasing affordability of housing that accompanies the kind of rapid gentrification many Toronto neighbourhoods have experienced is pushing many who are vulnerable to poverty, especially families with children, 
to the outer reaches of the city where there are slightly more affordable apartments but fewer services, less walkability and longer commuting times.” Who’s Hungry: Toronto Daily Bread Report 2017

Fairlawn Social Justice advocates write to Councillors in support of budget funding for Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

In recent weeks, Fairlawn’s Social Justice Seekers have been busy writing letters to City Councillors in support of budget funding for Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.   Through the Faith Leaders statement and our participation in the Commitment to Community coalition, we have kept poverty on the radar of Council and will continue to press for a city that supports all of its citizens.  Here are a couple of letters from John Cowan and a written deputation to the budget committee from Kathy Salisbury.


The budget vote is imminent.

You have not replied to my several comments and requests for dialogue about taxes, or my desire to live in a humane city. Below is the email I sent re the 2016 budget. I have since sent 4 more regarding the 2017 budget (July 26, Nov 15, Dec 8 and Dec 15) and asked for you to call me after the telephone town hall you held last week. I have heard nothing from you, other than your mention in the town hall that you do not support tax increases until waste is eliminated (if I may liberally paraphrase you as best I recall).

Ostriches bury their heads in the sand, like City Councils that do not vote to meet citizen requirements. Eliminating waste is normal, nothing new, and it is an unending part of normal management. So when would you ever vote to meet citizen needs, if not now?

My emails have tried to focus you on big picture issues relating to the suffering of our weakest citizens, and you have ignored me. Maybe I can focus your attention on the issue better with your own local riding example from the telephone town hall. At that time you mentioned that you are looking into ways that citizens can pay to put up a speed radar sign on Avenue Road at Allenby school. You said the city cannot fund it! Well, if a down home example doesn’t make the case that we need to pay more taxes, what will? Do citizens have to take matters in their own hands and fill pot holes on the road to cut wear on our cars, and repair signs in the neighborhood? This is City work, so fund it, PLEASE!

I hope to see you at the City Council meeting today to hear what you have to say to citizens.

John Cowan

Councillor Carmichael-Greb,

The City has already backed a relevant strategy to reduce poverty, but NEEDS TO FUND IT!  I believe I should pay more to reduce poverty. I already donate a lot of money and time through my Church and other charities to help reduce poverty, but it needs more concerted action from governments such as the City of Toronto.

Throughout my 65 years I have been perplexed by the struggles between the various levels of government over use of my funds. I find the political pressure at all three levels to hold the line or reduce taxes to be so short-sighted that it is sinful. Certainly efforts to seek true efficiency in government service delivery are always appropriate, but such efforts should not distract any government from playing its core role of ensuring that nobody is left behind. Charities cannot do it all.

Since the City’s budget votes are coming up soon, I encourage you to vote for higher taxes (not just inflation adjusted) and/or implementation of other revenue tools at the City’s disposal.

By copy of this note I also want my provincial and federal representatives to note my desire for more government services, especially addressing the least advantaged in our midst, and my willingness to pay for more government services.


John Cowan

My name is Kathy Salisbury and I live at Yonge and Lawrence. I am a member of Fairlawn Avenue United Church.

At Fairlawn we have been privileged to get to know and support a Syrian family as they adjust to their first year in Canada. The head of the household is a single mom who has learned English at an unbelievable rate and has managed to find a couple of part time 3-month contract jobs in her field. But still, trying to find housing that they could afford that is well-maintained and cockroach and bedbug free was impossible, until we found a landlord who was willing to do something special for a Syrian refugee family. But what about all the other families in Toronto who are struggling? Who is helping those families find living arrangements that will enable their children to thrive? Even though our Syrian mom has been successful in finding paid work, without the after-school programmes through parks and rec and the breakfast programme for her kids, she would not be able to make ends meet. She relies heavily on TTC for work and errands. As someone who is forced to count her pennies, rising TTC fares impact her in a very real way. She is doing everything humanly possible to be successful, but we know it takes time. We must do everything we can to help those who are struggling to get on their feet. This is the kind of Toronto I want to call home!

When I read numbers quoted in the Star that the 2 per cent property tax increase proposed in this budget means that the average homeowner (with a house or condo assessed at $580,000) would only pay $55 extra next year! And that the city could actually plug its $91-million budget gap, reverse proposed cuts and pay for all the new initiatives planned if the average homeowner contributed an additional $140 per year, I am incredulous! What is stopping us!

Last evening, my husband and I sat down to review our household budget. We looked at all the usual items – home maintenance, heating and other utilities, transportation, groceries, property taxes etc. We decided to look at our property tax line more carefully. What does it pay for? TTC, roads and infrastructure, police, fire, emergency response, parks and rec, our wonderful library system, services for those in our midst who struggle to make ends meet and children’s services among others.

We had to ask ourselves what would our city be like without these services? How much are they worth to us? The answer is ‘everything.’ So many of our services are eroding as we are told year after year that we can afford less and less. And why is that? It seems to me that it’s because we are increasingly unwilling to pay what it costs to have a world-class city that looks after its most vulnerable. I suggest the following: Instead of looking at how much we are willing to spend and then figuring out what we can afford, let’s look at what it would take to create the kind of city we can all be proud of and work together to make that happen. If our elected officials framed the problem in this way, I don’t believe for a moment that most of us couldn’t be challenged to step up and pay what it costs – to do what is right for our city. Mayor Nenshi of Calgary challenges his citizens to do 3 acts of kindness for Calgary. Please – I’m asking you today – show some leadership! Challenge us to step up and show kindness for our neighbours and our City!

Embracing Action

Image – Lifetime activist Shirley Bush inpires us all

As we eagerly anticipate spring we can reflect on the contributions many  of you have made in our journey to make  Toronto a city where opportunity and participation are there for all. Two examples were City Council’s decision to move forward on a low transit fare for those on Ontario assistance and disability support. Transit fares have grown above inflation for years now. The new plan will start implementation in 2018.  Secondly, the City has taken steps to resolve a decade of uncertainty and shortfalls in operating. It is impossible to move ahead on implementing the strategies of the TO prosperity plan without the capacity for investment.

At Fairlawn, we encourage and advise on how you can have your voice heard. We ran a second workshop for sponsors of newcomer refugees. Many have just not had enough time to get their English and job training fully up to speed in their first year. Yet, half of the sponsored newcomers now have jobs.  Our voice and that of our families  has informed government. Siham and her family volunteer in helping fellow newcomers to give back and had her voice heard with the Prime Minister  on Metro Morning.

Key to having a strong voice is to bring more voices to the table. Fairlawn’s Minister , Christopher White was a founding member of Faith in the City, an interfaith network of faith leaders concerned about the impact of poverty on people’s lives. Faith communities are on the front line with agencies in providing services to mitigate the consequences of poverty. Last November we participated in organizing a faith leaders  letter and press conference at city hall asking Council to implement it’s poverty reduction plan. Last December at our Dickens Reading of a Christmas Carol we raised over $4,000 for our monthly drop in program for 60 persons.


Faith Leaders Speak Out at Toronto City Hall, November 3, 2016

On November 3rd, faith leaders from diverse backgrounds, including Fairlawn ministers Christopher White and Daniel Reed, came together at City Hall to demand that the City live up to it’s promise to make a difference in the lives of Torontonians who are living in poverty.  One year ago, after much consultation, the Poverty Reduction Strategy was passed by City Hall.  This is an important blueprint that addressed housing, food security, jobs, transit, child care and services needed by those who struggle to make ends meet.  But to date, The Strategy has been inadequately funded, and little has changed.  With the 2017 city budget about to be debated by Council, all departments have been asked to cut their budgets by 2.6%.  All this because the City refuses to consider using important revenue tools at their disposal to make our city livable for all who call Toronto home.

To read more about this and to sign the Faith Leader’s statement, please go to:



Bring Rooming Houses Out Of the Shadows, NOW

NOTE: On November 8th, 2016, Toronto City Council will be discussing a proposed consultation plan for a regulatory and licensing strategy for rooming houses.  Rooming houses are a viable affordable housing option for low income single adults.

Dear Councillor Carmichael Greb,

My Church, Fairlawn Avenue United Church, has alerted me to the fact that City Council will soon be considering a proposal for further consultations on a pilot attempt to start new rooming houses. I find the proposal a very timid and tentative step for five small areas, so need you to hear how I feel about rooming houses.

There has already been much consultation that has given direction to what needs to be done. We don’t need more consultation, and we don’t need to wait to implement what the consultations taught us in the whole city. We need to immediately:
·         bring existing rooming houses out of the shadows, into all neighborhoods (even on my street),
·         make rooming houses desirable places to live, and
·         enable conscientious landlords to invest in them and/or bring them up to acceptable standards for health, safety and the neighbours.

We need more well-managed rooming houses, across the city, now. They will not be neighborhood blights, rather assets. Hear my story: 45 years ago I, as a young engineer, met my future wife, a young nurse who was living in a rooming house. Even back then rooming houses provided low-cost housing solutions in a high-rent city. It was a respectable place, in Forest Hill, but has since reverted to single family. Government policies and regulations seem to have made them bad places to live in, invest in, and for neighbours. So Governments can return rooming houses to their necessary role in addressing the urgent housing shortage in the community. We have far too much real estate that is largely unoccupied, while park benches and ventilation grilles provide homes. In my mind there is an extreme urgency to solve this housing problem and City Council has a duty to ensure its policies and rules do not trap people on the street while ringing Council’s hands about needing senior level government funding for new affordable housing. Available space is sitting right there, under Council’s nose, in under-utilized houses.

I see the proposed tentative pilot for 5 narrow areas as an act to defer badly needed action. I expect the proposed pilot will be a failure because it will only grant temporary licenses for new rooming houses. What landlord would invest to establish a licensed house, and pay inappropriate development fees, if the license may not be renewed regardless of how well he/she runs the house? The tentative nature of the proposal coming to Council reflects excessive anxiety about neighbour concerns that rooming houses attract drugs and petty crime. Yet the report identifies a number of strategies to avoid such problems, both in the existing stock and any new stock.

So I encourage Council to press forward to implement new rooming-house-friendly policies, regulations and supports across the city, NOW, so we can bring rooming houses out of the shadows. City staff has been through the consultations, and its report shows what is needed. So please:
1.      reject staff’s proposal to study and then conduct a 3-6 year pilot, and instead,
2.      direct staff to present within 2 months a detailed plan to implement the ideas they have already harvested. That detailed plan with all its legalities might be the subject of one last two-month consultation before launch.

Thank you

John Cowan

The following are worth checking out:

Opening the Window Blog:

Toronto Star article:

From Rooming Houses to Rooming Homes – 20 minute video by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:

A letter to the Hon. Minister John McCallum, Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

The Honourable John McCallum, P.C., M.P.
365 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1

Feb 15, 2016

Dear Hon. Minister McCallum

I am writing to share what was learned from a meeting of 50 persons representing refugee sponsors held Feb 3rd at Fairlawn Avenue United Church in Toronto.  The meeting was hosted by Voices for a Just Society, a group of churches in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding, working for social justice..  We divided into three groups – those just starting out on their journey, those waiting for arrival and those whose family has just arrived.  Feelings encompassed excitement, panic, frustration and passion. Here is what we heard that we think would help sponsorship groups be even more effective, ensuring the success of the important work you and your colleagues are undertaking.
Housing is the top issue – finding it, the cost and whether to go ahead and find permanent housing in advance of their arrival or set them up in  temporary housing so that they can be part of the decision-making when they arrive..  The integration of government, private sector and community efforts opens many more possibilities and we encourage these efforts. CIC could share stories of creative solutions to housing like in Guelph with the acquisition of a building or Daniels Corporation in Toronto. We also hope all governments will heed the lessons learned on collaboration not only for refugees but for all those in need of housing.
Tax Receipting
There is much confusion about issuing tax receipts – who to partner with to enable tax receipts for financial donations and whether or not to issue receipts for non-monetary ‘in-kind’ donations. In our experience keeping it simple seems best i.e. issue receipts for cash but not for ‘in-kind’ donations to minimize workload and complexity. We recommend that CRA and CIC issue specific advice to refugee sponsors as they are often not used to this kind of project.
Importance of Networks
Encourage sponsors to network. Beyond the sharing of information on mandatory requirements like health cards and school registration, every family is different. In other words teams need more than a checklist, they need a forum for discussing the more complex relationship issues that arise.  CIC could encourage sponsors to form or to get connected to local network groups e.g. on Facebook as some have already done, or attend meetings like the one we just hosted. Many who attended our February 3rd meeting want to meet again, indicating the strong need for continuing to support each other.
Selecting your Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH)
Sponsorship groups not connected to a faith community had many questions that reflected a lack of depth of volunteers and inability to provide tax receipts to donors..  Finding the right SAH fit is essential. CIC could provide more than a listing of SAH. A paragraph explaining their focus and experience written by the SAH would be a start in helping find the right SAH for your group.
Advance communications
Making a connection with the refugee family before they arrive is hugely helpful in managing expectations and understanding housing needs.  In one case our church had six months of contact and in the most recent arrival on Feb 6th we only knew of the arrival because our first sponsored family used her network to locate him a few days before he arrived. As a sponsor we were not notified of his arrival and reciprocally, he didn’t even know where in Canada he was going.  We encourage CIC to advise sponsors to make contact in advance if at all possible and to  be more effective in notifying sponsors and co sponsors of impending arrivals.
For those of us blessed with a family that has arrived it has been transformational for everyone. Many as you likely know are recommitting to sponsor more families.
Thank you for your efforts.

Kindest regards

John Ryerson
On behalf of Voices for a Just Society

Toronto Municipal Poverty Strategy – Time for Action


CIVIC ENGAGEMENT CAFÉ: Residents play a vital role in the budget process. Meet animators/leaders who have advocated for a strong poverty reduction plan and learn advocacy tools to support investment in housing, public transit, community services, childcare and more. Organized by Social Planning Toronto and Toronto Women’s City Alliance.
WHEN: Wednesday, February 3, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, 30 Isabella Street, 7th floor auditorium

APT Meeting: The Alliance for Poverty Free Toronto will meet next week. Join us!
WHEN: Wednesday, February 3, 2:00-4:00 p.m.
WHERE: Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, 30 Isabella Street, room 5-3

SIGN MAKING PARTY: Join us for a sign making party for the Rally and Bake Sale for anti-poverty action.
WHEN: Saturday, February 6, 1:00-4:00 p.m.
WHERE: St. Stephen-In-The-Fields Church, 103 Bellevue Ave

PRE-BUDGET RALLY AND “BAKE SALE” FOR ANTI-POVERTY ACTION: Last fall Council unanimously adopted a poverty reduction strategy. But the city’s proposed 2016 budget fails to include needed investments in affordable transit, childcare and housing. And Council is refusing to implement revenue tools – or find savings in areas such as policing – to fund anti-poverty action. So we’re taking matters into our own hands – with a bake sale! Join us and send a strong message to Council to fulfill their promise to tackle poverty!
WHEN: Tuesday, February 9, 9:00-9:30 a.m.
WHERE: Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West
Read C2C’s response to the budget here.
Find this event on Facebook here.

Visit your Councillors to advocate for a $75 M investment in TO Prosperity as called for by over 50 community leaders.  Contact Israt Ahmed at to be part of the teams visiting specific Councillors
Send a message to your Councillor now at Sign and share this e-petition on social media using #topoli #budget2016 #payingforstuff #toprosperity
Get updates about future actions
For updates on budget-related activities please visit or , or email

Social Justice Seekers Christmas Update

Seasons’s Greetings to Fairlawn’s Social Justice Seekers

It’s that time of year when we gather with friends and loved ones to celebrate Christmas.  It’s also a time to reflect on the year gone by and make plans for the year to come.  We have been very busy at Fairlawn and I can’t think of a place where I’d rather spend time!  I hope you will bear with me and read this email to the end!

Two years ago almost to the day, I spoke with Matt Galloway on CBC’s Metro Morning about the social justice work we are doing at Fairlawn – specifically our advocacy for social policy that would make poverty a thing of the past.  Yet, 2 years later, food bank use continues to rise.
For those of us in the trenches of anti-poverty work, this could be demoralizing.  But we have made some gains along the way which wouldn’t have happened had we not organized with others to speak out.  For example, we have seen increases to the minimum wage (which still keeps people working full time below the poverty line), but a raise, nonetheless, that is now indexed to inflation.  The City of Toronto, last month, unanimously passed its Poverty Reduction Strategy.  We are now at a critical point in that process, as Council is about to go through the budget process that would see dollars put teeth to the recommendations.  There is always work to be done and we must be relentless in keeping poverty issues in the hearts and minds of our fellow Canadians and all levels of government.

I am extremely proud of the work that Faith communities do in this city to look after the vulnerable.  We are on the verge of welcoming and supporting hundreds of Syrian refugees.  We open our doors to the homeless through Out of the Cold and meal programs.  We open food banks.  All commendable work.

But I want to challenge Faith communities to do more.  We’re reaching a point where we can’t keep up with the demand for this heart-wrenching downstream work.   Some of us must brave the upstream journey to challenge those things in our society that are creating the struggles we see downstream – the crisis in affordable housing, inadequate social assistance for those who are unable to work or are struggling to find work, the increase in precarious work with low wages and no benefits.

Faith communities have a role to play in this upstream work and we must step up.  Many of us are working hard to organize the voices of faith communities and to join ours with the voices of those with lived experience of poverty and other anti-poverty organizations who are speaking out for change.  Examples of how faith communities are coming together include Voices for a Just Society, Multi-Faith Alliance to End Homelessness and Faith in the City  But we need more voices – voices from all faiths.

We have a tremendous opportunity to make some real change NOW!  All of our governments are listening.  Ontario has a poverty reduction strategy and is putting real effort into tackling poverty.  Our new PM has promised infrastructure funding to cities that could have a real impact on affordable housing.  Toronto has just passed its own poverty reduction strategy.  Now we need to make sure that real dollars are assigned to that plan.

Here’s something to think about:

Many of us are about to welcome Syrian newcomer families.  Our ultimate goal is for them to become fully participating members of society, self-sufficient, with a solid roof over their heads and children who are thriving.   How do we ensure that this is the case for all refugee families……and for everyone else in our city, especially those who are living in poverty?  It is by ensuring that housing is affordable, that jobs pay wages that keep people above the poverty line, and that those who are disabled or struggling to find work are adequately supported through our social assistance programs.   Helping one person or one family at a time will see people fall through the cracks.  We need systemic change that ensures that each and every person in this wonderful country has a fighting chance to live with dignity.

Please take the time to contact your City Councillor to say that we need adequate funding for the poverty reduction strategy that they have approved.  That we are in desperate need of affordable housing, better food security, jobs with living wages, effective and affordable public transit, after-school and day care services and services to better integrate our newcomers.

You can find the contact information for your city councillor at the following link:

A very joyous Christmas season to you and yours,
From your Fairlawn Social Justice Team


Last week, the City of Toronto released a new Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The strategy includes 24 recommendations and 74 actions focused on improving access to jobs, income, housing, transit, food, child care and other services.

City Executive will vote on the strategy tomorrow (June 30).

Please email Executive Committee members TODAY at and urge them to a) approve the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy and b) to move ahead with a FINAL poverty reduction strategy that includes bold targets, new funding and strong community oversight. Send a copy to

ALSO – please come to City Hall TOMORROW (Tuesday, June 30) at 9:30 am to watch the debate!

Let’s pack the room and send a strong message that reducing poverty is a priority!

Find out more or get updates on community action to support a strong Toronto poverty reduction strategy at or

Together, we can build a prosperous city for all!

Note: This occasional email notice on poverty-related actions in Toronto is from Commitment to Community. If you would rather not receive future emails, please email ‘unsubscribe’

Thank you,
Rebecca Phinnemore, Commitment 2 Community
Community Outreach and Planning Assistant
Social Planning Toronto
2 Carlton Street, Suite 1001
Toronto, Ontario M5B 1J3
Tel: (416) 351-0095 x216
Fax: (416) 351-0107