Listen Live

On-air now: Radio State 10:00pm–11:00pm

Up next: Maximum Rocknroll Radio 11:00pm–12:00am

Program Directory

Talking Radical Radio

Sandee Lovas and Silke Force are mem­bers of the Alliance Against Pover­ty, a grass­roots anti-pover­ty group in Kitch­en­er-Water­loo, which is an hour south­west of Toron­to in south­ern Ontario. Scott Neigh inter­views them about the impact of pover­ty on their lives and their com­mu­ni­ty, and about the group’s cam­paigns around pub­lic tran­sit, hous­ing and home­less­ness, and oth­er issues.

These days, pover­ty seems to be get­ting broad­er and deep­er all the time. Peo­ple around the world are fac­ing ram­pant infla­tion and a cost of liv­ing cri­sis. Many juris­dic­tions across Cana­da are expe­ri­enc­ing a hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis, linked to the increas­ing finan­cial­iza­tion of the hous­ing mar­ket. For decades, gov­ern­ments of all stripes have been refus­ing to set wel­fare and dis­abil­i­ty rates at a lev­el even close to high enough to allow peo­ple to live with dig­ni­ty, and increas­es to the min­i­mum wage have been slow, grudg­ing, and won only through exten­sive strug­gle. And accord­ing to today’s guests, peo­ple in Water­loo Region, as in a num­ber of areas in south­ern Ontario, have seen hous­ing costs spi­ral upwards even faster than many oth­er places in the coun­try, as peo­ple flee­ing the intense unaf­ford­abil­i­ty of Toron­to move in and dri­ve prices up.

Lovas is a queer and non­bi­na­ry per­son with mul­ti­ple dis­abil­i­ties who lives with pover­ty. Force is a chap­lain who does on-call work in hos­pi­tals, and who has also had plen­ty of expe­ri­ence of liv­ing with pover­ty. Nei­ther of today’s inter­view par­tic­i­pants were involved back then, but they say that the Alliance Against Pover­ty was found­ed about 15 years ago as a way to bring togeth­er peo­ple who them­selves were liv­ing in pover­ty and also peo­ple in com­mu­ni­ty and faith-based orga­ni­za­tions con­cerned with the issue, in order to work for change. Their pri­ma­ry focus and their go-to tac­tics have var­ied over time, as cir­cum­stance and people’s capac­i­ties have shifted.

Accord­ing to Lovas, for instance, just before she got involved in the group five or six years ago, they had a major cam­paign demand­ing free pub­lic tran­sit – an idea imple­ment­ed in a num­ber of places around the world which has been a focus of orga­niz­ing in a few cities in Cana­da in the last decade, but that still faces a steep uphill bat­tle in this coun­try. Force lament­ed, The idea of free tran­sit, for some strange rea­son, just won’t go over here.” Along with its many envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, a high qual­i­ty, free, pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem would sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce bar­ri­ers faced by peo­ple liv­ing in pover­ty to access­ing ser­vices, find­ing employ­ment, and main­tain­ing social connections.

More recent­ly, though, the group has turned its atten­tion large­ly to issues of hous­ing and home­less­ness – because, Lovas said, of how dire the sit­u­a­tion has been get­ting in this area.” She con­tin­ued, It’s becom­ing more and more dif­fi­cult to main­tain an apart­ment here if you’re liv­ing on dis­abil­i­ty or [wel­fare], because our entire cheques do not cov­er the aver­age month’s rent for a one bed­room apart­ment in this area.” This results in lots of peo­ple being home­less, and many more being pre­car­i­ous­ly housed. So the peo­ple who have apart­ments that they can afford to live in, even if it’s tak­ing up almost their entire dis­abil­i­ty pay­ment, are try­ing any­thing they can to stay in that apart­ment, because they know there is nowhere else to go in this province, should they lose that apart­ment. Which makes them vul­ner­a­ble to abuse from their land­lords, from neigh­bours, from part­ners. Because there’s nowhere else that they can escape to. The shel­ter sys­tem is not ade­quate for the num­ber of peo­ple that we have in this area, and shel­ters aren’t the answer.”

Lovas said that the group thinks there is no one fix” for this cri­sis, but a need for many dif­fer­ent kinds of inter­ven­tions at many dif­fer­ent lev­els – tiny homes, improved zon­ing and prop­er­ty devel­op­ment deci­sions, an end to home­less encamp­ment evic­tions, hous­ing sub­si­dies that fol­low the ten­ant, an improved shel­ter sys­tem, greater gov­ern­ment invest­ment in co-oper­a­tives and oth­er social hous­ing, and lots of oth­er things. She said, They’re all just parts of the over­all solu­tion…. There’s mul­ti­ple rea­sons why the hous­ing cri­sis has got­ten so bad and why pover­ty has got­ten so bad. It’s going to take more than one thing to fix it.”

An addi­tion­al facet of the issue in Kitch­en­er-Water­loo is relat­ed to the city’s recent con­struc­tion of a light-rail tran­sit sys­tem (LRT). To make room for the con­struc­tion, some build­ings along the route were demol­ished, includ­ing numer­ous rental units at the more afford­able end of the mar­ket. This was accom­pa­nied by promis­es that they would be replaced by new afford­able units along the route but, Lovas said, None of those afford­able apart­ments have been replaced,” and new devel­op­ments are a mix of con­dos and high-end rentals.

Force added, It irri­tates me and many oth­ers that the City Hall is absolute­ly not help­ing with this sit­u­a­tion at all. They bow to the mon­ey of the devel­op­ers time and time again.” Despite the promis­es that afford­able units would be replaced, there is absolute­ly no stick­ing to their word. I have, frankly, nev­er been so dis­gust­ed in my life with devel­op­ers. It match­es my dis­dain for the way banks take advan­tage of peo­ple as well.”

One major com­po­nent of how the group tries to push anti-pover­ty con­cerns for­ward is through pub­lic edu­ca­tion. Lovas said, I feel a lot of peo­ple don’t know how bad it’s got­ten. And I tru­ly believe that if more peo­ple knew how bad it was, they would care.” This includes main­tain­ing a pres­ence at fes­ti­vals and oth­er pub­lic events, speak­ing to com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, and lots of media work. They also del­e­gate and lob­by reg­u­lar­ly at city hall, engage with local politi­cians from oth­er lev­els of gov­ern­ment, and inter­vene in issue-based ways in elections.

They will also, when the occa­sion demands, orga­nize a demon­stra­tion, and they par­tic­i­pate in those orga­nized by oth­ers. And in ear­li­er years they even did things like sit-ins, though many core mem­bers of the group are get­ting old­er and many oth­ers are dis­abled, and in our ableist world, that places addi­tion­al bar­ri­ers in the way of such actions.

In addi­tion, COVID-19 has been a major imped­i­ment. Lovas explained, A lot of what we want to do had run into a bar­ri­er with COVID, because many peo­ple in the [group] who live with dis­abil­i­ties also have health issues and are immuno­com­pro­mised, and have become even more iso­lat­ed since COVID start­ed. So it’s hard to get out there and orga­nize in the com­mu­ni­ty when there’s a pan­dem­ic going on, which has just exac­er­bat­ed the whole sit­u­a­tion. And some peo­ple not want­i­ng to go into the shel­ters avail­able because there could be COVID there and they can’t risk get­ting it. Or oth­er peo­ple who can’t get out to the soup kitchens, can’t get out to the food banks because they can’t go on tran­sit any­more, because there’s no more mask require­ments. So COVID has def­i­nite­ly slowed down any momen­tum we were building.”

In addi­tion to their focus on hous­ing issues, they are cur­rent­ly work­ing to fur­ther devel­op their online pres­ence, and to build stronger con­nec­tions with younger activists.