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Open Letter to Owen Sound City Hall

October 26, 2010

Here is a letter I sent to the Sun Times a couple of weeks back.  It was not published, so I’ll throw it up here.  It speaks for itself.  We should be in good shape: with the comparatively forward-thinking Deb Haswell as mayor and with Colleen Purdon in council, social issues might not fall entirely off the radar in the new term.

re: “Elections don’t often address the needs of the working poor”, Bob Giuliano, Owen Sound Sun Times, Friday, October 15, 2010

I am relieved to see that someone in the media has put the problem of poverty on the editorial page during this municipal election campaign.  I speak from the perspective of someone who is unemployed and very unlikely to find a job in this community.  Moreover, I have also been homeless—and like many of the rural homeless, not in the street, but “hidden” as a couch-surfer.

Mr. Giuliano’s column is a bracing corrective to those who have a distorted view of local employment bases and income levels.  Admit it.  Owen Sound is essentially a service hub for the rural communities which surround it, and its tax base will always consist inordinately of the working poor and their small-business employers.  We must have the courage to recognize that Owen Sound is, barring some global economic miracle, unlikely to become a hotbed of entrepreneurship, finance, transport, manufacturing or production.  Pinning hopes on building up commercial revenues is fine, yet we already have our hands full maintaining what industry we have, and most start-ups in this economic climate are bound to be—you guessed it—small.  Increased tourism is not a panacea, as it will simply result in expansion of the current service sector, which generates incomes that are seasonal and—you guessed it—small.

But this is only the tip of the poverty iceberg.  What about the non-working poor?  And the issues concerning the homeless in this town?  Such as the practise of southern centres shipping us their transient populations—populations which are then quietly ferried off to other communities (the idiocy of which policy has never, to my mind, been addressed)?  Rural destitution impacts all of our emergency, support and social services: we’re the de facto catchment area for people County-wide who lack resources of any kind, and for those suffering from morbidities and addictions.  We are without a short-term psychiatric crisis management unit.  Emergency shelter facilities in this town are inadequate, reprehensibly so given that we serve the entire County.  And I doubt that the community housing protocols as they stand will result in a sufficient response to our needs.  I won’t accuse the candidates of sweeping these issues under the rug.  But I shall surely call them to task if in the coming term they don’t pull back a corner to peek at the lumps that are already there.

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