The people at the Weston King Neighbourhood Centre don’t have much in common. Some have jobs. Some have addictions. Some have kids. When I spoke to them last weekend, I couldn’t get them to agree on anything. I couldn’t even get them to agree that they don’t have enough money—and really, who has enough money? Ted, an older guy who obviously had made an art of survival, stubbornly told me though that he actually gets enough social assistance.
But if the people at the WKNC were to have one shared request to the provincial government this election, it would probably be this: give us a break. Just let something go our way.
The drop-in offers a shared safe place, with showers, food and laundry, and it serves the poorest riding in the GTA. It is one of many local organizations that tries to ease some of the pain caused by poverty. And though it can offer little breaks and little opportunities, only the bigger players, like the provincial government, can make big changes. When I put the question to them, the people there had a lot to say about what the province could do to help them.
Take Teresa, for instance. She works at the drop-in casually but hasn’t been able to find a full-time job because, while she earned her diploma in social work, she doesn’t actually have her diploma in her hands yet. She owes George Brown College $2000, and, until they get their money, they won’t release her diploma. That leaves her in a real bind: she can’t get a job without a diploma, and she can’t get her diploma without a job.
Teresa seems to have done almost everything right—she is a single mom who saved up and put herself through school. She’s worked hard and played by the rules. And now, she needs one break. She needs something to go her way. “It’s just the grace of God that I’m surviving”, she says.
Crystal is in the same kind of bind. She has a 17-month-old boy, who she brought to the centre. She doesn’t have a lot of money and she too needs a job. Welfare gives her about $1000 a month, and rent is $990. She survives by dropping in to the WKNC and food banks, but it can’t be enough. “I pay half my rent,” she says, “and then I wait for baby bonus to pay the rest…. All of these other people are looking down on us, but not all of us choose to be where we are.”
For Crystal, one trouble is daycare. Daycare is expensive, so going to work will cost her. Crystal knows this: “When we need experience, you guys don’t give us a chance. My son is only 17 months old. I’m trying to figure out, once I get a job, what I’m going to do. I’ve got to put him in daycare. Support would be wonderful.”
A number of the people at the Weston King Neighbourhood Centre liked Conservative talking points, though most leaned NDP. A displaced Newfoundlander named Stan said that the NDP “tried to help poor people out more. The other parties, they’re more for the rich crowd.”
My guess? They’d vote for whatever party would give them a chance.