Guelph Disability Advocates Say Council Can Do More Than Advocate for Higher ODSP Rates

By Graeme McNaughtonGuelph Mercury Tribune
Mon., July 4, 2022

Lorelei Root, vice-chair of the City of Guelph’s accessibility advisory committee, says while Mayor Cam Guthrie’s motion calling on council to advocate to the province for higher ODSP and Ontario Works rates, the city needs to do more to make an accessible city.

One of the things that keeps Lorelei Root up at night is the fear of what her life will be like when her multiple sclerosis gets worse, perhaps necessitating a return to needing to once again use the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Root speaks from experience, having had to use ODSP in 2017 and 2018 after she had a stroke in 2014 and her workplace disability benefits had run out. Unable to work, she had to use the program, which, at the time, had a maximum monthly payment of $1,128 per month, or just over $14,000 annually. The poverty line in Ontario for a single adult is just under $20,000 per year.

“It’s not at all enough to live on or get by. It’s basically condemning people to an endless cycle of poverty and homelessness, essentially, unless there are some really big external social supports available to you,” Root, chair of the city’s accessibility advisory committee, told the Mercury Tribune.

Since Root first went on ODSP, the maximum rate a recipient can get each month has increased by $41, or 3.6 per cent. Meanwhile, according to the Bank of Canada, inflation has gone up 16.4 per cent.

At council’s July 4 committee of the whole meeting, Mayor Cam Guthrie is due to bring forward a bevy of motions regarding issues related to homelessness, mental health and addictions in Guelph. Among the motions council will be voting on Monday calls for city council to advocate to the province to immediately raise ODSP and Ontario Works rates to above the poverty line.

Last week, Premier Doug Ford said his government would include a five per cent increase to ODSP rates in the upcoming provincial budget, as well as legislation to increase rates every year after.

Guthrie said the increase Ford is proposing is not nearly enough, pointing to inflation rates being well above that. According to Statistics Canada, the consumer price index rose 7.7 per cent between May 2021 and May 2022.

“What is compounding this issue as well is that I have been seeing many people that were already on programs and they were already housed, but over COVID and amid the housing crisis, many have found themselves in a position of renovictions,” he said, referring to a landlord evicting a tenant by claiming major renovations need to be done.

“Now they’re being forced out of the homes they were in, and now they’re in this new high-inflation housing crisis market, being forced to find shelter.”

‘First step on a path many steps to follow’

Erin Caton, also a member of the city’s accessibility advisory committee and a council candidate in October’s municipal election, agrees the rate increase Ford has proposed “is going to do very little to help lift anybody out of poverty,” and wants to see council use its position to help influence change.

However, she added Guthrie’s motion “could really be more substantial if we were doing things within the city as well,” such as encouraging more affordable and accessible housing options.

“The city really needs to do more than just ask the province to double the rates – we need to be incentivizing landlords to have rent-geared-to-income properties through tax rebates, we need to require more rent-geared-to-come options in new builds,” they said.

“Unless we’re approving designs that allow currently disabled people with all types of disabilities to access these spaces and allow others to age in place, then we’re not really doing enough.”

Root agrees, saying Guthrie’s motion, if successful, “is definitely a wonderful first step, but only if that’s what it is – the first step on a path with many more steps to follow.”

“In order to make sure that it doesn’t seem like just an empty gesture or virtue signalling, we need to make sure that we’re actually backing it up with doing better ourselves at the municipal level as well,” she said.

She pointed to a number of examples, including the powers that be at city hall taking the accessibility advisory committee’s advice more seriously, and ensuring there are more accessible playgrounds, housing and voting options in Guelph.

“I guess writing a letter to the province to ask them to make change in areas where we don’t have the power that make that change ourselves is definitely a good move, but an even better move in my opinion would be leveraging the power that we do have to make change in the areas that we can control as a municipality.”

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