Posts tagged ‘Poverty’

April 1, 2014

A Toronto strategy on poverty

Poverty is a desperate, sad thing. It damns us all, but hurts some of us even more.

Single mothers face twice the poverty rate of couples with children. New immigrants, First Nations people and People of Colour find the labour and housing markets exclude them in very similar and harsh ways. Youth now enter a re-shaped labour market with limited prospects for success. People travel further within Toronto for poorer jobs, bad food and scarce housing. These are terrible awful things which we all well know.

So, then…

As the great Torontonian Ursula Franklin reminded us, “After you have finished awfulizing, then what?”

On March 17, the City of Toronto’s Community Development and Recreation Committee considered a motion to develop a strategy to address poverty. The motion passed and is the April agenda at City Council.

Last fall, the Alliance for a Poverty-free Toronto (APT) produced a report, delivered to every City Councillor, which builds a strong case for change and then points the way. This second half of the report, the call for action, offers some possibilities for the conversation which is about to begin. In it, the Alliance put forward some very specific recommendations for many of the ‘wicked’ problems which face low-income people.

The APT report, Towards a Poverty Elimination Strategy for the City of Toronto, calls for actions in the areas of:

1. Employment (e.g. living wage policy, stronger employment equity, paid internships for youth and newcomers, advocacy for a provincial/national jobs strategy)
2. Income support (advocacy for more adequate provincial income support programs and improved access to Employment Insurance)
3. Housing (address provincial wait list, TCHC repairs, inclusionary zoning, upgrade shelter services, enhance Housing Stabilization Fund)
4. Transit (increased operating support for TTC, barring fare hikes, discounting transit passes for low-income residents, advocacy for adequate provincial funding)
5. Community Services (increased access to mental health, addictions, disability supports; better funding for non-profit and community organizations, better access to affordable child care)

APT also offered a few broad recommendations:

► The first is that a coordinated approach to addressing poverty is needed. In poverty, problems are complex and intertwined, so one-off solutions will not work.
► The second is that every decision brought before Council requires a poverty lense to be used – will the recommendation being considered make poverty better or worsen it? How can the decision under discussion improve the lot of those without? This strong core is required to make a change.

It seems now that strategies are sexy, the new way for governments to respond, to demonstrate their commitment to respond. Last month the Director of Poverty at the Rowntree Foundation in the U.K. posted a cynical blog post about a new Child Poverty strategy. A strategy has to be more than priorities, he cautioned, but connect to specific targets and spark action; otherwise it is simply window-dressing.

The time for action is now. Why? Here’s why:

In an anecdote about his childhood, Mayor Naheed Nenshi explains the difference a city can make. He explained, that while he was from a low-income family, they were not poor. The library with any book he wanted was up the street, the City pool was down and around the corner. For him, downtown was an easy transit ride away. At school, he would have enjoyed a daily snack (something particularly poignant in Toronto given the recent testimony by a pediatric nutritionist on how the school snack program saved Jeffrey Baldwin’s sister from starvation).

Poverty is not inevitable, but it is a choice, of our own economic and social priorities. The City has a chance to make a difference.

This is a version of a text delivered earlier as a deputation by APT for a municipal poverty reduction strategy. A version is cross-posted at Opportunity blogs here

February 9, 2014

My neighbour, Jeffrey Baldwin

If I peek through the branches out my son’s bedroom, I can see the room where Jeffrey Baldwin lived, and died, he, the five-year-old who died from neglect, in my backyard.

At that time, when he lived, my children were close to his age, and I knew some of the hardships of this community and of our school. I remember the mother who asked me for $2 so her child could enjoy the school’s hot dog lunch. I remember the girl who carried the last bits of a bag of corn flakes to school for her lunch. I remember the boy who didn’t go to school because he had no winter coat until he got a hand-me-down — how he danced along the block then in that ugly corduroy coat! And I remember the kindergarten child whose mother was always ‘sleeping’ as she wandered our street, joining snack time on our porch.

But I don’t remember Jeffrey Baldwin, who also lived here in my neighbourhood. Instead, I vaguely remember the noisy crowd of adults that sat on his porch (one of them, Jeffrey’s aunt, trained in Early Childhood Education — another shocker).

Later, I learned that Jeffrey’s sisters were at the same grade school my children were, although, in different grades. We would all have gone to the same school concerts or gathered together out in the playground. Each day, Jeffrey’s sisters would have munched on the same daily offering of muffins or yogurt and carrots or apples from the small kitchen on the main floor where volunteers chopped and baked for the snack program.

At the inquest into Jeffrey’s death, a pediatric nutritionist said that this classroom food program probably saved Jeffrey’s sister; she too was targeted, neglected by her grandparents, but, unlike Jeffrey, she was ‘allowed’ to go to school, and so she ate.

I remember the snack program donation envelopes carried home in my son’s backpack each month. And I remember the hunt to fill it with the requested $20 donation each time. Times were lean in our household, but I knew some of my neighbours had it worse than we did so I felt that obligation.

Now, years later, having heard how the snack program had sustained Jeffrey’s sister, I sobbed aloud. I hadn’t understood the role of those scrounged pennies. “One doesn’t know,” I said to myself, “what makes a difference.”

I think Jeffrey’s awful death has stuck with me, not only because of the revulsion we all feel, but also, more personally, as a neighbour who failed him.

I remember a part of the murder trial for Jeffery’s grandparents, the testimony from another neighbour, who described how one day, Jeffrey’s grandmother asked her if she would take Jeffrey, then still a baby. She considered, but refused, having no way to know the atrocity to come.

‘We didn’t know’ seems an awful, sorry excuse. Bitter lessons.

In the closing days of the inquest into Jeffrey long neglect and death, Irwin Elman, the provincial children’s advocate said  “We expect and demand more. More from the child welfare system, more from the educational system, more from the neighbours, and more from the family who stood by and watched Jeffrey starve and die…We can do better.”

Elman’s right.

What neighbourhood-based solutions would have helped?  Better snacks? Better registration and attendance records at school? The parent-child drop-in where I found solace? Neighbourliness (what sociologists describe as stronger social connections and reciprocity)? More ‘eyes on the street’? Even, just more old-fashioned nosiness? Those questions continue to gnaw at me.

Some of the answers lie in the formal and informal networks of a neighbourhood. Perhaps, the inquest’s results will tell us more.

For now, a new family, full of kids, lives in Jeffrey’s house. They know the sad history of it, but, as another neighbour explained to me, they are re-writing it, making it better this time.

We all must.

read more »

November 1, 2013

Advocacy lessons from American race politics for Canada

“It is eerie and unsettling to hear the same issues in country after country. It lifts our common challenges in ways that are sobering,”

Angela Glover Blackwell said, after listening to each person’s introduction.

Squeezed into an early morning session, the walls at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) were lined with people from the non-profit sector and advocacy groups, funders and even a former Cabinet Minister, all concerned with racial equity. The Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change had invited us to hear Blackwell, Founder and CEO at PolicyLink, and Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity, University of Southern California, both speaking at a recent conference in Toronto, and here to share lessons on how to advance the equity policy agenda.

“We need to continue to look for ways to capture the weary, to inspire those with goodness in their heart,” Blackwell explained.

“There is an immediate need to think long-term”

To do this, advocacy efforts must be attached to the issues which are the currency of the times, Blackwell explained. She drew examples from the 60s, 70s through to the present economic crunch. As an example, PolicyLink has shifted its most recent advocacy efforts from the Promise Neighbourhoods of Obama’s early days to an economic inclusion “All-In Nation” economic plan.

“Early on we framed what we’re doing as equity, allowing people to reach their full potential. Equity is the essential thing to do. In the U.S., your address is literally a proxy for your life opportunity:  what kind of schools you will attend, the job you will have, even your life expectancy,” Blackwell continued. “So, for instance, we attached equity to transportation – it is responsible for access to education, health, and jobs. Neighbourhood environments determine obesity. All of this is  connected to equity.”

“So be clear about the goals, but attach that to whichever issue is in currency,” Blackwell said, giving the example of how Policy Link attached the equity agenda to ideas of job preparation and entrepreneurialism after the 2008 crash. “That became the nation’s agenda,” she explained, so we developed America’s Tomorrow.”

In short, Policy Link is successful in pushing for racial equity by working in three steps, Blackwell said. First they begin by talk to People of Colour and advocacy groups about a strong narrative with People of Colour at the centre. Second they look for ways to attach these things to a national agenda. Lastly, they find ways to change the conversation.

Policy Link also works with allies, Blackwell explained, such The Center for American Progress which is “inside the beltway” to set a national agenda. “We’re showing if you just get rid of inequity, a lot of things will move forward,” Blackwell concluded.

Professor Pastor waded in next, offering his advice to those in the room.

“Race matters,” Pastor continued, “so it is important to put it into the conversation. There is a lot of talk about inequality, yes, but we have to answer the lasting legacies of racism.

To get race behind, we have to put race up front.

Pastor cautioned about concentrating only in the past, though. “Frame forward. Focus on 2042 when the majority of the population and the majority of the workforce [in the U.S.A.] will be people of colour. In 2019, the majority of youth will be. In 2012, the majority of births were.”

“Inequity has a dampening economic effect,” Pastor continued, explaining this was being said by many outside ‘the usual suspects,’ pointing to the IMF and the Cleveland Reserve. Both, he said, have stated that the single most dampening effect on the economy is inequality.

“The process of conversation is important,” Pastor continued. “The real problem is disconnection. So we need empathy.

A neighbourhood can be angry enough to burn itself down without being able to channel that.”

A good model of how to do this is the young, undocumented American residents who organized as the DREAMers. They have a forward focus, using others’ successful narrative of “coming out”. They have captured the narrative, the moment and the imagination,” Pastor explained. They are able, he said, to bridge different issues, be forward-looking, use moral & economic arguments, and have a values-driven narrative which successfully shifted the discussion to how Americans were related to each other.

‘Rock the naturalized vote’ is another successful example of visioning forward, Pastor said. 71% of Latinos and 73% of Asian vote went to Obama because wanted to “punish ‘stupid shit’. Immigration was central.

“The Economic Bureau has said that the debt would be reduced $1 trillion over 20 years if immigration was reformed. Does it make sense to pay $36-40 billion ( = one agent every 100 yards) to protect another border while we only spent $150 million on settlement?” Pastor continued.

Successful advocacy efforts must make a two-pronged argument, Pastor explained.

“To make the case for equity, both moral and material arguments are required,” Pastor continued. “Organize your work by addressing both areas, that is

  • Economic – episodic, interest-based
  • Moral – values, sustained, deeply held

“So first, to build the material case, consider framing and data issues. For instance, a California report looked at the number of undocumented Californians. Re-frame it. They are Californians. Half have been here for 10 years+. Immigration reforms help the next generation of Americans.

Pastor offered some other concrete examples of how framing works, such as the idea of developing regional equity profiles for municipal areas highlighting how rental tenancy is higher by people of colour in Fair Housing & Equity Assessment – HUD’s new frame used disaggregated data. Pastor also pointed to the access provided through San Francisco’s place-based initiative Communities of Opportunity.

At the most technical level, data disaggregation is important, Pastor said, because it reveals race neutrality is not real.

Similarly, “Nerd to Nerd” relations are key to laying an evidence base.

Those technical discussions that identify the right geographic focus, or compare the outcomes for various populations, or which match database variables, can open whole new perspectives on complex social problems, to understanding the layers of poverty.

Finally, Pastor said, the moral frame is vital too. Understand the moment, he advised, and consider the strategic target within the universal good, that is targeted universalism. Appeal to the larger value because

As Van Jones reminds us, Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have an issue.”

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December 14, 2012

Research fatigue and other lessons from Toronto’s Regent Park.

“Research Park – er, I mean Regent Park…”

It was a telling slip in one resident’s lament about the degree of academic surveillance taking place in Regent Park, the low-income Toronto neighbourhood where public housing has been torn down and is being rebuilt as a mixed income community. Thousands of new condo and townhouse owners will be living alongside the original low-income tenants in the next decade.

It is a living lab, a natural social experiment that is too tempting for a city with three universities and several more within driving distance of it.

Professors, grad students and undergrad class projects have taken their toll on Regent Park residents, creating a research fatigue, just as the second and largest phase of the redevelopment at Regent Park is underway.

(See More below to see a short list of the research projects I know.)

“If another researcher knocks on my door again, I won’t be very polite when I answer it,” declared one resident.

Another long-time resident was puzzled by the attention, saying

Our neighbourhood is just like every other one. There are all kinds of people. It’s not related to income or our location. It’s just that we’re living in a fish bowl.”

However, a recent panel at University Toronto drew a packed house of academics, residents, community service providers and advocates. The interest in undeniable. Even the residents in attendance at Regent Park Research Panel: New Findings from the Field were active in the debate afterwards. The speakers, all graduate students, have spent long stretches in the community and so spoke with an authenticity generally welcomed by the audience.

Each spoke in turn on their area of study.

Ryan James, York University

Youth, Stigma, and Security in 1970s Regent Park

James, an Anthropology doctoral student with ties to the community, described a history of Childhood in Regent Park. One of the powerful points in his narrative was the vulnerability of local children and youth.

One young women explained, “Being poor almost meant that you have a target on your back for sexual predators.”

Gordon Stuckless of Maple Leaf Gardens notoriety was remembered in the community.

When the community rose up in defence of its children, a vein of  “virulent homophobia” also erupted. This died down though, James explained, when gay rights activists held counter-demonstrations protesting that homosexuality did not equal pedophilia.

Sharon Kelly, University of Toronto

Navigating the road back home: The return of Regent Park Phase I residents

The next speaker, Sharon Kelly, also a doctoral student in Anthropology, embedded herself within the project unit which managed the moves required by residents as the redevelopment occurred.

“It was a place of hope,” she explained, decorated in bright colours and with fresh flowers, where residents, assigned by random draw, pored over floor plans to choose their new units. Higher floor or lower? North, south, east or west? Early project phase or later? In Regent Park or nearby? They lingered, ranking their first, second and third choices.

However, Kelly explained the site office was also a place of distrust, where residents worried about favouritism or grew weary of delays or frustrated their choices were not available. Some of the tensions were very real. Long-time residents were upset that a random draw meant that their length of tenure was not recognized. Or families and seniors, who were not able to meet shorter moving times, sometimes lost out to others who were more nimble.

Staff were sympathetic, but argued that the lottery system ensured impartiality, especially given the difficulty of evaluating and comparing competing needs. It was emotionally draining work, Kelly explained, and staff were forced to make decisions fast in order to keep up with the construction schedule.

A swap board was created so that tenants could negotiate changes among themselves. While well-intentioned but, Kelly did not hear of any viable trades made this way. What it did offer however was a sense of control that tenants welcomed.

When asked what some of the challenges, Kelly explained the biggest issue regarding complex work of resident relocation was the deceptively simple issue of communication.  Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) was cognizant of this, she said, and, for instance, when they needed to contact residents, they knocked on doors instead of mailing letters.

The work goes on, as three more phases have to be completed.

Martine August, Planning, University of Toronto

From isolation to inclusion? Tenant experiences in Regent Park’s Phase II

The final speaker was Martine August, a doctoral student in Planning, working with Alan Walks to take a critical look at gentrification and mixed income neighbourhoods.

August began with a brief description of the development plans for Regent Park. Begun in 2002, the revitalization of the neighbourhood was set to happen in five phases through a Public Private partnership. Capital would be raised through the sale of private market, newly-built housing stock.

The first phase is now completed, and residents have returned to new homes. Once complete, only 19-20% of the housing will be Rent Geared to Income (RGI), down significantly from the original neighbourhood. While the overall number of low-income residents will stay approximately the same, as higher income people move in, their density will be decreased.

Arguments for why this is good, August explained, is that there is “presumed need to deconcentrate poor people” because they are isolated from good role models. The concentration of need, the argument goes, leads to negative outcomes; Cause and effect are being mixed, she argues. (Professor Jim Dunn’s work, see below, is also finding that the “role model” argument is based on weak evidence.)

In the public’s mind, mixed income neighbourhoods have emerged as an ideal without the supporting evidence.

At best, these arguments are offensive, August explains. At worst, it is used to justify gentrification, leading to the removal of homeless and other marginalized people. This framing re-stigmatizes poor people (in a similar way to how public housing was originally and purposefully built to be unattractive).

Discussions of renewal and mixed neighbourhoods “use the language of balance in service of exclusion,” August argues. It is an academic argument she wants to test.

To explore this further, August interviewed 32 households before they moved out (pre-phase 2) and 50 households who have moved back from phase 1.

Residents were enthusiastic about several things in Regent Park: central location, availability of services, walkablility, easy access to public transit, number of local ethnic grocery stores, parks, and places of worship.  Residents described the benefits of living downtown and the vibrancy of the neighbourhood (all themes which are part of the marketing campaign for the new condos).

Residents also described the strong social ties and community connections they had with other tenants. “This doesn’t match the story of social isolation which is told about poor neighbourhoods,” August explained. Newcomers found each other, people borrowed from each other,  kept care of each other’s children, celebrated together, were there for crisis support. Community members also were proud of their political activism, describing Regent Park as a place which hit above its weight because of the concentration of people together.

So, contrary to stereotypes, Regent Park is well-located, well-connected, well-served.

“Not that weren’t real problems,” August said. “First, being the state of repairs and maintenance of the buildings, pests, broken appliances, plaster crumbling, and poor common areas. And it’s not clear that redevelopment will improve this. Already residents are telling of problems in their units, falling glass, broken shelves, buckling floor boards. TCHC has a $6m cut to their repair budget”.

Drug activity is still reported, according to August, but the tenants tend to take the attitude that “but if you don’t bother them, then they won’t bother you.” Tenants also recognize that solving this issue is not simply a matter of getting “the bad guys out.”  Brothers and sons are swept up in the crackdown, and the problem usually just shifts to a new location.

New design and new condos haven’t stopped these old problems.

Residents also report that stigma still an issue. although many resist the stereotypes. Something as simple as clothing reinforces class divisions within the new community.

Each new condo tower has achieved higher prices than one before.

August argues that if the purpose is to solve social problems, a market driven approach may not be the best way to address the issues.

English: As part of the redevelopment of Regen...

As part of the redevelopment of Regent Park from a social housing development to mixed-income neighbourhood, four of the five apartment towers designed by Peter Dickinson are being demolished (one will be preserved for historical reasons). Constructed in 1958, the collection of Regent Park towers won a Silver Medal by the Massey Medals for Architecture in 1961. This is an image of the second tower being demolished. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However the market forces are pressing forward. The number of condos have now gone from around 3000 to 5400 without much discussion.

This will have impact on many levels, including the political presence of tenants as gentrification shifts to the local demographics to more middle-class concerns. At this point, residents associations, like RPNI (see below), represent tenants. Condo associations are also emerging. There may be opportunities to bridge among these associations.When asked, August recounted a telling story from the Don Mount (now Rivertowne) re-development across the river from Regent Park. That smaller community has also undergone a “renewal” that mixes income groups into a single housing project. Low-income tenants there report that people in market-rent housing have been really dominating community meetings, focusing on issues such as safety and policing, noise and garbage collection. Tenants feel targeted in their own neighbourhood.

When Regent Park condo owners heard about local youth being targeted by police, they organized an information session for youth, to learn their rights. This “rights-based” approach, in contrast to “keep-your-head-down” approach, highlights the very different frame of experience that middle-income and low-income people use.

The evening ended with the promise to continue the discussion, finding opportunities to bring these findings to the people of Regent Park.

“Good people live there,” one tenant said in conclusion.

read more »

November 27, 2012

Why are poor people poor?

This week I am guest blogging for United Way Toronto’s Imagine a City campaign. I wanted, in my post The answer to poverty isn’t simple, to challenge some of the stereotypes we have about poor people. The solution to poverty is not, I argue, as easy as the catcall, “Get a job!” implies.

To do this, I draw on Philosophy professor Charles Karelis who has written about the cumulative impacts of poverty and who illustrates why what appears to be an irrational choice can be quite appropriate given the number of challenges those in poverty face. Other, more “scientific” research has emerged to support Karelis’ argument.

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist. — Dom Helder Camara

Behavioural psychologists and economists are now finding that simply the stress of deprivation leads to poor decision-making — that the condition of poverty creates psychological barriers. The evidence is showing how almost any of us react within the same straitened circumstances.

Compounding these individual, psychological reasons are the wider sociological barriers,  from racism to simple access to opportunity, which get in the way of moving out of poverty easily. (Much of this blog has tried to describe those barriers.)

Finally, people in poverty have to contend with the same economic, political and ecological tides that we all do and which are re-shaping our world. As Hurricane Katrina or global capital markers show, people who are poor are just more vulnerable among wider societal forces which buffet us all. Their resources for resiliency are already depleted by the daily demands they face.

It’s too simple to say poor people are poor because of individual (de)merit, character flaws, or moral decrepitude. As always, it’s much more complicated than that.

Get a job? If only it were so easy.

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June 25, 2012

Student graduation rates in the TDSB showing improvement across the board

Research staff at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are producing a series of fact sheets to give an early peek at some of their drop-out data, and, as elsewhere, it’s good news: Student graduation rates are up.

Of the more than sixteen thousand students who started grade nine five years ago, 79% had graduated, up 10% from a comparator group seven years earlier. Those doing a “victory lap” held pretty well steady at 7%, so the decrease was in the number of students dropping out, down to 14% of the group in this study from a high of 23% in the earlier cohort.

However, while the groups examined are all showing an increase, not all groups of students are performing as well as each other. These research snapshots show some the differences among student performance within the system.

Board staff were also, for the first time, able to link these students profiles to the student census data.

Further analysis and more reports will be produced over the coming months, looking at issues like special education, race and ethnicity, and sex. This first brush looked at a wide range of variables: academic level, gender, age in grade nine, sexual orientation, racial background, language, and region of birth.

The numbers are more confirming than surprising. Eighty-eight percent of academic stream students graduated on time, compared to 59% of applied-level students. Girls had higher graduation rates than boys (83% vs. 75%).

Straight students had an on-time graduation rate of 82% compared to self-identified LGBTQ2S students of 69%.

Students who spoke English as a first language had a below-average graduation rate. Students who speak Chinese, Hindi, Serbian, and Bengali had the highest on-time graduation rates. Those who speak Spanish or Somali had the lowest rates.

The racial categories showed similar variation, but are less reliable because factors such as poverty or parental level of education were not controlled for. However, the numbers confirm that schools are not graduating Black or Latin American students in the same proportion as other racial groups.

The third fact sheet shows similar patterns when looking at the students choices around post-secondary education. 2005 and 2006 were the first years that a majority of TDSB students applied to post-secondary education on-time (the researchers measured rates of application from 17-year-olds).

The most interesting findings in this third fact sheet confirm how parental occupation and education levels seem to be major drivers in students going to university. 65% of students with parents in professional occupations confirmed an Ontario university after graduation, while only 46% of those with parents in “skilled clerical” occupations and 38% of those in unskilled occupations. These numbers are almost mirrored when looking at parental levels of education.

English: Missouri S&T Students at Fall'08 conv...

Students at Fall’08 convocation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, while one out of eight (14%) of students from professional families chose not to apply to university, one-third of students from unskilled/clerical families chose not to.The pattern for college applications did not show such stark contrasts.

TDSB staff plan to continue to release these early glimpses into the student and parent census over the course of the next school year.

Next up for release is a report on Special Education and how socio-economic demographics interplay with those identifications. Subsequent reports will look at student engagement; LGBTQ students; Aboriginal students; the Black student diaspora (with York’s Professor Carl James); and at continuing education (52% of the current cohort have taken at least one summer school or night school class).

April 7, 2011

Saunders: The important functions of receiver communities (and how we get in the way)

Doug Saunders ARRIVAL CITY

Image by Jenn Farr via Flickr

Doug Saunders, author of Arrival City, spoke last week to the School of Public Policy and Governance at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre. His presentation flowed over description of the functions of communities which act as the first landing zones for urban migrants, describing the ambitions.

Arrival city neighbourhoods, or what are sometimes called receiver communities, are often found at the end of a transit line or in some other inaccessible corner of a city.  There, often a cluster of people from a similar place or the same village will have settled. In whichever urban area they are found, these are places of social mobility and change or they are places of failed dreams.

Having just returned from the Libya-Tunisian border for the lecture and book tour, Saunders began with “the Arrival City at the centre of the Arab Revolutions,” the neighbourhood of Bulaq in Cairo. It’s a place, he said, most people from Cairo would avoid. This was, though, the first neighbourhood into Tahrir Square for the rebellion against Mubarek. It had a history of such movements. Bulaq was a neighbourhood which, cut off from opportunities in the main parts of the city, had developed its own middle class, one which collided with the established Cairo middle class. It was, Saunders explained, a place of thwarted ambitions.

These receiver communities are found in the west, and the east, and the south, Saunder explained, like the French banlieux today at the edge of the capital; South Central Los Angeles, where the Hispanic residents have settled and invested in their new neighbourhoods; and Dhaka”s “place of the fallen” where the city’s “housecleaners, servants and prostitutes,” who serve the middle class, live. There are more, he said, like the “arrived overnight” neighbourhoods of Turkey, Brazilian favelas, and the neighbourhoods in Iran which fomented the 1979 rebellion. Saunders even described the historical neighbourhoods of 1789 Paris, where French villagers had settled, pushed there from the subsistence farming they had left behind, tipped quickly into early support of the French Revolution.

Receiver communities vary in their stability, but the trend of migration to urban areas is international.

Citing Professor Ronald Skeldon‘s work, Saunders explained how migration from rural to urban areas evolves from a rural family with an urban income source inevitably, although not always linearly, towards an urban family with rural roots. Education, he explained, is a key to this transformation.

It’s a mistake to see these places as static, as places which support a vital settlement function, Saunders said.

The state, Saunders explains, began to invest in these neighbourhoods after 1848 and into the 20th century. However, their role as places of transition is misunderstood, governments may interrupt or even damage their core functions.

We must think of these places as sets of functions rather than simply as locations, as places which, if they work well

  • foster networks, and act
  • as rural development support systems
  • as integration mechanisms,
  • as urban entry platforms,
  • as a social mobility channels, for the creation and distribution of social capital.

Within Toronto, Saunders has profiled Thorncliffe Park, but Parkdale, Crescent Town, Rexdale, or Scarborough Village could also all stand in. At one point, Kensington Market, or the Danforth, or Little Italy all served these functions, providing a landing place for city newcomers and now where social mobility has transformed them into desirable neighbourhoods. They are places where newcomers are able to get a foothold, and if it function correctly, connect to the rest of our city.

The drive for success is something North Americans, as the children of immigrants understand.

Saunders cited an example of how people from the same Turkish villages settled in Berlin and London and Istanbul with very different outcomes, because each of these areas offered different possibilities for integration. Understanding these complex dynamics can be challenging. Unlike the simplicity offered in a Millennial Village, it is harder to track the educational outcomes or the impact of remittances.

If an arrival city fails, isolation occurs.Rebellion bubbles up, informal economies thrive, and, as things worsen, crime, gangs and poverty emerge out of the “impediments to the natural ambitions” of these places. Protective conservatism can emerge, explaining how some immigrant communities are more conservative than the source villages from which residents emigrated. In another example, Saunders showed the audience pictures of a Dutch neighbourhood. Immigrants had settled here away from the city core, in low-rise apartments, where “it was easier to communicate with North Africa than with other Amsterdam residents.”

“It was a bottom rung, without the next two rungs,” Saunders said. So the grassy verges were converted, and the bottom floors of apartment buildings became retail and industrial working spaces. Densities were increased. It looked a lot like Spadina Avenue or New York’s Lower East Side, he explained. Regulations were pushed aside, and now they have become places where the rungs are visible, places which are succeeding. This Dutch neighbourhood has even created its own community police force, which includes a truancy patrol, unheard-of in laxer parts of the city.

Saunders warns that we are doing arrival cities wrong around the world. We need to do a few things to make sure these places work, he said:

  1. Start with the physical structures. As Jane Jacobs said, get planners and government out of the way of residents. Link these centres to other places. Transit is key to accesing the main city’s labour market, customers, and educational opportunities. Street lighting and home addresses raise property values (something residents monitor, he said, as closely as your average Torontonian obsesses over house values).
  2. Removing “bureaucratic” barriers is also key. Requirements for licensing hinder the emergence of small businesses. (The recent GTA Summit Alliance heard that 19 separate licenses and permits are required in Toronto to open a bakery.) Bureaucratic racism also hurts these communities. Black American settlements in northern states, for instance, had highways landed in the middle of their arrival cities.
  3. Citizenship barriers must also be lowered, not simply at the national level, but within the city. Postal code racism by employers is well-documented. If a large population of people sees no pathway to full citizenship, than they will see no reason to buy a house, to pay taxes, to send their children to higher education, because they see no future. Instead, newcomers will find a way to survive outside these structures, and sometimes outside the law. Countries, like Canada, have to be “very, very careful,” with reliance on temporary, foreign workers who cannot access full citizenship, Saunders warned.

Saunders concluded saying each of these have to be done in concert. No matter if it seems costly, Saunders said. Building the infrastructure to support them, including such basics as childcare, will save greater expenses later.

Arrival cities have the potential to be the next middle class or to be a continual source of problems.

His analysis and solutions, Saunders acknowledged, would be unsatisfactory to those people seeking a market solution and, also, to those looking to state actors to solve societal problems. It is, probably, why his solutions will work.

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January 14, 2011

Federalizing school fundraising

There’s a secret the Toronto District School Board doesn’t want us to know:

In some schools, chocolate-chip cookies cost a quarter and, in others, they cost a Toonie. So, if I bake 5 dozen cookies for a child in one school, we will raise $15 for the school’s coffers. In the second school, we would raise $120.

What the school board doesn’t want to tell us is just exactly how much money schools are able to raise from their parents and just how little others are able to raise. They don’t want this public because it’s part of the agreement that was made when school council bank accounts were closed and fundraising was brought, properly, under the authority of the school board’s finances; the commitment was that  individual school totals would not be revealed.

But that doesn’t mean the questions should be verboten.

  • How much money is raised by the richest group of schools compared to how much is raised by the poorest? How big is the gap?
  • How many schools have set up private foundations?

The Inner City Advisory Committee, as part of the provincial consultations on fundraising and fees, was able to pry some information out of the school board administration at their December meeting, but it was not provided in writing and was not minuted.

People for Education has been tracking school fundraising for more than a decade. In their 2009 report, they said

Fundraising is a reality in schools across the country, and fundraising activities can be an effective method for engaging parents and school communities, but high levels of fundraising lead to inequities among schools.

So, the Ontario Ministry of Education has heard the call and is conducting consultations on the topic of school fundraising this spring. They should hear some good ideas.

Max Wallace, a self-described rabble rouser, has an idea – federalism: the have-not should receive transfer payments from the haves to ensure a common standard. He has started up a Facebook group, the Coalition against Public School Inequality (CAPSI), to advocate for the idea, and he is making the rounds, talking to administrators, trustees, and journalists. Another parent, Nadia Heyd, has pointed out that the TDSB already has a way to do this. When the TDSB fundraising policy was put together, ten years ago, that idea was enshrined in it:

In its policy documents on fundraising, it also says “To ensure equity, a central equity fund shall be maintained that will hold funds voluntarily donated through a system-wide, curriculum-based fundraising criteria”

But who has heard of it since?

It’s time we talk about this fundamental inequality.

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July 31, 2010

Cradle and all: Comprehensive supports for lone parent families and other poor people

Investing in Families seems like basic common sense, but it took academics like Gina Browne and her colleagues at McMaster University to build a solid case for supporting lone parents on social assistance.

When The Bough Breaks, their longitudinal 2001 study of single parents, showed that families move off social assistance more quickly when they are guided through the service maze than if they are left on their own.

Seven hundred and sixty-five families in the Hamilton and Halton region were randomly assigned to a different levels of support services:

  1. Home visits with a public health nurse to do health promotion,
  2. Employment (re-)training,
  3. Recreational & skills development programs for children, with parental involvement, or child care as appropriate
  4. Comprehensive services (all the above three), or
  5. No additional supports.

Families who had never accessed these services were now connected.

The families which did the best were the ones who received the whole suite of services (#4). The families who did the next best were the ones where the children had received the additional supports and programs (#3).

The ones who did the worse, the control group which mimics the current social assistance system, were the ones who were left on their own to negotiate their own move to independence (#5). It’s a learning which underscores recommendation is the current call for a review of social assistance in the province.

Ontario Works should be turned upside down. Today it is a program that provides financial assistance with some employment supports. The new program should be primarily focused on human capacity development, with financial assistance as just one of the tools available to assist low income Ontarians. – The Social Assistance Review Advisory Council (SARAC)

The City of Toronto took notice of these learnings, too. Its program, Investing in Families, was piloted in 2007 in the Jane Finch area has now been expanded to each of the city’s remaining Priority Neighbourhood Areas. Led by Toronto Employment and Social Services, the program brings together the services and resources from three other City divisions; Public Health, Children’s Services and Parks, Forestry and Recreation have each made commitments.

While burdensome for service-providers, working across silos, the model works for at least two good reasons.

First off, Browne noticed that their children were receiving direct program supports, parents were less likely to drop out of the study and more likely, in the end, to do better. Simply, parents with were motivated by active support for their children’s well-being.

Second is a lesson about the weight of poverty. In his book, The Persistence of Poverty, author Charles Karelis describes the “rational” reaction of a person stung by a bee. Salve would be found and applied. The metaphor describes how the middle class work to solve a problem when they meet one.

However, Karelis explained, poverty is more like being stung by a swarm of bees. Coming at you from all sides, this same “rational” person, with the same salve, would not even bother to make the attempt. Faced with more hurt than salve, the reasonable choice is to choose not to act. Why spend the energy on something that won’t stop the hurt? (Cf. The buzz about bee stings and the poor – thestar.com). The only solution is to ensure that all the bee stings are medicated.

So the anti-poverty programs that have been the most effective are the ones that wrap-around a vulnerable person, that give them a chance to catch their breath, and to take steps out of poverty.

And, win-win, Browne et. al. showed this saves the system money, too.

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May 11, 2010

Stealing our lunch money from poor kids

I write this cautiously because it is not my preference to call people out on their actions or the values they hold. Still this is an election year, and candidates must be prepared stand on their record.

But I hope to find common ground here, as well.

This week, the Toronto public school board trustees on the Program and School Services Committee had a chance to do the right thing. They didn’t.

Asked by the Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) to commit more resources to the poorest students, they balked.

The motion from ICAC, a formal body of the Board, calls for a higher proportion of the provincial Learning Opportunity Grant (LOG) to be committed to the poorest students and the poorest schools in the Board.

The ask was small, compared to what is transferred from the province through the LOG. ICAC’s motion sought a commitment that 22% of the LOG (just over one out of every $5 of the grant) actually be spent on our most vulnerable students. The range of targeted programs extends for several paragraphs in the motion.

Among two of the lead objectors, Trustees Josh Matlow and Micheal Coteau asked, what would happen to all the other students, those who weren’t poor if these funds were so committed? Indeed, Trustee Chris Bolton had made similar seemingly petty objections when the Learning Opportunity Index was revised, after it turned out that schools within his own ward would not receive as many additional resources because they were no longer identified as among the neediest. It reminds me of the old snackfood ad where one hunter asks another for a potato chip. The happy muncher huffs, “If I give one to you I will have to give one to everyone,”  waving his hand over the tundra. It’s a liberal logic I struggle to understand.

To be fair, Trustee Campbell also chose to vote against the ICAC/LOG motion, citing, instead, worries about the three-year financial commitment, and even Trustee Dandy questioned how the needs of poor students in middle class schools would be addressed (but she voted for the motion after all).

And the motion failed. (While a few friends gave me a long list of reasons for the political nuances among the trustees, it’s hard not to notice that the issue split along gender lines: Cathy and Maria (and Sheila who couldn’t vote) ranged against Michael, Josh, John and Chris (who also couldn’t vote). )

But if I work it through, Trustees Matlow, Coteau, and Bolton were reacting eminently reasonably, within a ward-based election system. And, it is too easy an answer to dismiss their views as the short-sighted or parochial actions of small-time politicians.

For, in at least two previous years (2007, 2009), the full Board has voted to protect funding to students in its poorest schools. This is a fight that parents and activists have fought in every budget round since the early 1990s, alongside their trustees.

The ICAC motion was felled because, in its current state, the LOG has a terrible shortcoming. (See More below for a description of the LOG.) The LOG is “unsweatered,” that is it may be spent as the Board chooses. So, in actuality, only a small undetermined percentage of the funds reach the students for whom it is targeted. It is an exact parallel to the situation Social Planning Toronto found in its 2005 report when it looked at how ESL funds were spent (or not) on English as a second language learners. Instead, the Board uses these funding streams to cover other financial gaps, such as the rising costs of heating and teachers’ salaries.

In sum, school trustees across the province are left with the narrow choice of funding the vulnerable or balancing the budget – something they are required to do by law. Another set of TDSB trustees will face this same hard dilemma again this week when the ICAC motion is likely to be raised at the Board’s budget and AFA committee meetings.

So, agreed, there is no malfeasance in the actions of Trustees Matlow, Coteau and the others. They are striving valiantly to meet their legal obligations.

But the school board’s trustees have gotten snookered by the provincial Ministry.

The Ontario government gets a lot of mileage out of saying that is has dedicated increasing millions of dollars to poor and marginalized kids through the LOG and other poverty reduction strategies. The funds are handed over to other orders of government (municipal and schools boards) to be used for this great good. Fabulous P.R.

The Ontario government wants every student to have a quality education. Some students need additional help from their school in order to do their best.

The Learning Opportunities Grant provides funding to school boards to help students who may be at greater risk of not achieving their educational goals.

And so, then, school board and trustees are left to do the dirty work, to pinch the money from wherever they can, to make up for provincial funding shortfalls.

As Mel Hurtig’s book described the dilemma of poverty, should the Board “pay the rent or feed the children?” Should the Board run programs for poor kids or keep the lights on in the building?

But this is a discussion about some who have and some who don’t. It’s time we stopped stealing our lunch money from poor kids.

The evidence, the economics and the politics all line up behind the value of investing in poor kids. As I argued in earlier posts on the Learning Opportunity Index, doing so brings greater returns even than in students from middle or high-income families. And where there is concentrated poverty, a greater investment is required and greater learnings emerge.

A large body of research supports this. At the local level, TDSB’s recent evaluation of its own Inner City Model Schools show students’ being streamed out of special education classes and academic grades rising a full grade point, at even the worst school. The additional funds TDSB trustees provided proved the power of investing in kids.

So, yes, spending the LOG on the use for which it is given may well hurt other kids and the broader school system. Salaries do have to be paid, buildings heated. And, yes, higher income parents may pick up and move out their children of a divested public school system. These are real dangers that the trustees must consider.

But that is a vision with little faith in the Canadian ideal of fair play. I believe we are better than that, that we will agree to share the pain, to instead make other hard choices, to agree to do the right thing.

I believe we can demand a school system that doesn’t require we poach off the poorest among us. In this, our values must trump our accounting.

Declaration of conflicts of interest:

1) I am a former co-chair of the Inner City Advisory Committee from which the motion came.

2) I have agreed to act as Chief Finance Officer for the incumbent trustee in my ward, Cathy Dandy.

I based this post partly on my remarks to the Program and School Services Committee on the evening of Wednesday May, 2010.

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