Looking for Rainbows in Turbulent Times

I intend to write about things that are not beneficial, harmful, and need to be changed. However, there are also many good services, programs and people that I intend to highlight because too often, those who could benefit do not have the information to access and benefit, even though they or a family member is entitled.

For example, an accountant living in the suburbs of Toronto, who worked full time, was taking care of her elderly mother who lived nearby but could not grocery shop, do laundry, go to medical appointments or prepare anything other than coffee or microwavable items for herself. She was lonely and isolated but could not take public transit and could not afford taxis. Before her health problems, she worked for a few years, but now, she sat all day with only the phone, television and her daughter’s visits. This woman was eligible for the Federal Disability Tax credit. I encouraged the family to get the forms from CRA, have their doctor fill them in and apply retroactively to the onset of the health problems. The daughter was skeptical at first, saying her mother’s income was so low, it would be a lot of fuss for no benefit. However, the credit can be transferred to the caregiver. Eventually, this family received a significant amount of money, which they used to improve the elderly woman’s quality of life. Inspired, they applied and were approved for Wheel Trans ($2.00 per trip), and with a part time support worker, the woman was able to go to community seniors programs, where she even got lunch and snacks. This family moved to Canada from another country years ago and English was still a second language.

Another example I would like to highlight includes a university professor and her husband, also a professor, who have a similar story. The husband had a stroke a few years ago and could no longer work. He was eligible for the Disability Tax credit from that time, but no one had ever told them about it. As the caregiver, the credit was transferred to the wife. His wife continued to work part time. They also dipped into retirement funds. They were astonished to be successful, got retroactive payments from CRA and can benefit going forward every year.

I am a social worker/community advocate, not an accountant, but I urge everyone to contact your accountant if you have one and CRA to see if there are benefits you may be entitled to. Please check Canadabenefits.gc.ca or call 1-800-622-6232 and see if there are benefits you may not have known about.

I value any feedback on successes or failures that you would like to share that may help others in a similar situation. Feel free to contact me and reach out.

“Social” housing in Toronto

When we care about someone and see that they are doing things that are not in their best interests, we try to find constructive and supportive ways to communicate that to them.When we care about a city, province. and country, it becomes much harder to find a way to make a difference.

Politicians vary in interests, life experience, values and goals. Some bureaucrats are impressive in their commitment to doing the best for the area they oversee. The Ontario Ombudsman, Andre Morin, and the Children’s Advocate Irwin Elman are two examples. However, there is a side of bureaucracy that can be narrow, cold, impersonal, indifferent, and forgetful of the fact that they are public servants.

I love Toronto, Ontario, and Canada! An architect with a vision can do a set of drawings and people will see exactly what he/she hopes to achieve. An engineer could estimate the time required to complete the project, and the cost. After several decades of helping people solve problems, I can see where certain systems are not as helpful nor as cost efficient as they could be. For more than ten years I have approached various mayors, bureaucrats and politicians from time to time. I have a file of letters that could provide material for a sitcom. The response has always been a variation on the same theme…basically, ”get lost”. There are programs and services that we have on the federal, provincial and municipal levels that are world class and my plan is to share these ideas internationally. However there are programs and services which are not OK and I plan to describe them.

Here is my 2015 challenge to everyone reading this. Please share the content and if any of it is important to you, speak out, say something, do something!

Our city, Toronto, has a few thousand people in shelters at any given time at an enormous cost. Despite this investment, after all these years we still have people living and dying on the streets. Read my book, available on Amazon, “Urban Exiles: An overview of Homelessness.” Then, check on Google for the costs to our city of perpetuating a system that is not working. Our social housing is not working either. The last I heard, there were seventy-seven thousand people on the waiting list.

About ten years ago, determined to solve this problem, I went to the then head of the housing organization with some ideas. I explained that in the course of my work I had met a number of people who were living in social housing who could be living in the private sector. Some worked for cash which they did not declare while others brought in friends or relatives who worked full time but were not officially on the lease. Others lived in the so-called “market rent units” of our social housing program. I suggested that we offer an amnesty and an incentive so that people would move out and either rent in the regular market or buy a place of their own. Prices were affordable at the time. Under this plan, no one would be pursued for misrepresenting their financial situation. Rather than heeding my advice (or returning my call), the then top man instead instituted a policy demanding full disclosure of tenants income annually ”or else”…

A few years later once leadership had changed, I tried again by meeting with a staff member at the housing office on Yonge St. I shared my ideas for helping those with the ability to move out of social housing thus freeing up units for people from the shelters and those living at, or below, the poverty line. Again, she said she was not really interested in my idea. I will never forget this one comment she made: ”We are landlords, not social workers… we collect rent and maintain the properties.. we don’t get involved with the people otherwise”. She walked me to the elevator. ”You call this social housing,” I asked, “what’s the social mean?” She turned and walked away.

When I read in the paper that a new director had been hired, I arranged another appointment. Hope dies hard. He listened politely, and then walked me right to the front door and I never heard from him again. He’s since been replaced and I’m glad.

It is possible to restructure social housing, empty units, help people move on and reduce the need for anything but short term transitional shelters. Shelters should be a hub for all restorative services not just ”three hots and a cot” for the amount of money they get per person (read the book, and read my lips)!

Last for today, why would a person with a job and a paycheck be in ”market rent housing” owned by social housing when they could be out here like the rest of us in the private sector and free up those units for people who do not have a choice other than shelters or streets?

The next few posts will be about improving healthcare for all of us in Ontario and, on a federal level, stopping the huge underground economy which does not pay tax.

As always, I welcome comments, suggestions and donations.

Not Small Potatoes

I am a writer and community advocate with a lot of joie de vivre but very limited budget partly because of doing so much pro bono work on behalf of people who needed my help but had no way to pay for it.

I am determined to make the world a better place. Therefore, these blogs will sometimes have a short anecdote/memoir; a tale of something that I hope will be changed if enough good people step up, and stories of inspiring acts of kindness on individual and community levels.

So, what’s with the potatoes?

When I was a child, to make sure we didn’t go hungry, my mother always managed to buy a large sack of potatoes that would last all winter. My brothers and I would help peel them. As the youngest, I got the small potatoes because they were easier and faster to peel with less chance of cutting a finger, as the blood would require throwing the potato away, and bandaids were expensive.

I realize that the things I would like to change will take time and patience, and that’s OK. So, I will start with the ”small potatoes”.

I have not had a car for the last two years and have adjusted to the so-called (not) “better way” of public transit. However, I will treat myself to taxis when the weather is bad or I go shopping when hungry and the bags are too heavy. Yesterday was a day like that.

Sitting in the back of a cab I had ordered to pick me up from a friend’s house, I heard the dispatcher give out information to various drivers. More than once he mentioned ‘‘senior’s discount’’. I had never heard that before and the social worker part of me asked if that meant the “Wheel Tran’s service”. The driver got uncomfortable and said no, there was a ten percent discount for seniors but he didn’t tell me and doesn’t routinely tell passengers because that would cut into his profits.

He went into a tirade about why it isn’t fair that the driver and not the company owners should have to absorb the seniors discount, and urged me to call the head office and complain on behalf of drivers. When we got to my destination, the meter read $15. I gave him $20. He looked conflicted and said that he would give me five dollars back and since he was sure I wanted to give him a tip he would not enter the discount on the meter and that could be his tip.

If this conversation hadn’t happened he would have the discount and the tip I usually give for himself.

I plan to contact the company and other taxi companies and find out why the seniors discount is not public information. Once I know more, I will share and ask you to share with seniors who do use cabs and may be trusting and unaware of benefits as well as predatory/deceptive tactics.

Small potatoes can add up. Messing with grannies can backfire.