By

Jane and Peggy

“I am just a drop in the bucket here. There are a lot of people who are in worse predicaments than I am. I have seen it. They are afraid to speak up and just make do. But they have nothing, far less than I have. “I am grateful for what I do have and for people like Jane who are striving to make it better for everyone. It’s not just about me.” – Peggy Mills, right, with Jane Kali

 

 


If it takes a village to raise a child, perhaps then it can also be said it takes a community to ensure seniors have adequate income to meet their basic needs.
Jane Kali endorses this concept, and from her perspective, the larger national and provincial communities need to do a better job at addressing poverty in rural areas – a crisis she says that remains largely hidden from public view, and one connected to the larger issue of adequate income to sustain people comfortably in retirement.
Kali works for the North Hastings Community Trust, centred in Bancroft, assisting people in serious and immediate financial need. She spoke with ARIA recently about poverty issues in rural Ontario, a reality brought to light through the story of local artist Peggy Mills, who turned to Kali after her power was cut off.
For Kali, it’s a question of how we treat each other and what type of community we want to live in.
“How do we want to take care of each other, particular in old age? I hear a lot from seniors … and for me the hardest thing to hear is that they cannot afford to eat. People are going hungry.
“There are basic human rights, and in a country like ours, why are we allowing this to happen? If there was a will to be good to each other, we would find the resources to do that. We need that will again to be a kinder society, and how my neighbour is living reflects on me.”
Peggy Mills, 73, is one of those seniors. She approached Kali after her hydro was cut off when she found herself being increasingly buried in hydro bills she couldn’t stay ahead of. She is grateful for the assistance, and points out she isn’t alone.
“I am just a drop in the bucket here. There are a lot of people who are in worse predicaments than I am. I have seen it. They are afraid to speak up and just make do. But they have nothing, far less than I have.
“I am grateful for what I do have and for people like Jane who are striving to make it better for everyone. It’s not just about me.”
North Hastings Community Trust, as described by Kali, is a local anti poverty, social justice non-profit, with a “very tiny, one and a half staff.” The county and the United Way fund it to address the impact of poverty in the region.
The resources are few, “but what we do have we spread out through the community to help with emergency financial assistance, and at the same time we are looking at sustainable, creative community responses to poverty, like community gardens. And we are also doing some work around hydro because that seems to be one of the biggest issues that’s causing people to … go hungry,” she says.
To that end, the Trust is involved in collective efforts to address the issues connected to poverty in rural Ontario, of which the cost of hydro is just one. Lack of employment, isolation and affordable housing are others.
“We have to find a strategy that is fair for rural Ontario … it’s a human rights issue as far as I am concerned.”
Mills has health issues that takes her to out-of-area centres for treatment, necessitating travel to cities as far away as Peterborough, Hamilton and Trenton. None of her expenses are reimbursed, she says. She lives on Old Age Security and a small benefit from workplace compensation.
Her routine includes regular visits to the local Community Cupboard food bank, and although her hydro was still off when we spoke with her, she does have water again thanks to the donation of a generator.
Like many in rural areas, Mills draws her water from a well, driven by a pump. With no power, the pump doesn’t work, resulting in no water supply.
“Now I am able to flush my toilet, and I don’t have to drive into town to do my laundry. And I have water so I can boil a kettle and I am able to do my dishes. It’s like the heavens have opened,” says Mills.
Moving from Toronto has been a learning experience for Kali, who says the hydro delivery charges in rural Ontario consume much of the power bill. It’s not unusual, she says, for a hydro bill to run $300 or more; Mills says her consumption portion of her hydro is around $40. Her home, says Kali, is quite small.
Despite the challenges, Mills likes where she lives, about 40 kilometres from Bancroft. It’s her retirement home where she creates her art, some of which is on display locally.
Resources to address poverty issues aren’t in short supply, and just require the political will to get adequate income to those in desperate need of it, says Kali. She applauds efforts like an increase to Canada Pension Plan benefits and bigger Guaranteed Income Supplements for those in need, but believes much more is needed, including that injection of good will.
“When you talk to policymakers and people in positions of power, there is a reluctance to do what we need and I’m not sure where this comes from. We are told there aren’t adequate resources, but I think there are adequate resources and we need to distribute them fairly so that everyone in our community can live well and have their basic needs met.”
Isolation is a major factor behind the issue of hidden poverty, she adds.
“If you are living in a rural setting and you don’t have any money, you can’t get anywhere. You might not have any money for gas or be able to repair you car, or you might not even have a vehicle. So you are stuck. You can’t access food banks or supports.
“Do we want our seniors to be underfed and sick, or do we want to put in place a system that is going to ensure an adequate income as we age?”

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