Zechariah Martin 158

The Faith Communities’ Charter and Action Plan on Poverty Reduction

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We the undersigned, from diverse faith communities, speak with one voice on our commitment to the reduction of poverty in our City. We support the position that all governments must commit to comprehensive, measurable poverty reduction goals achieved in a timely schedule and open to public evaluation and monitoring.

Faith communities are powerful agents in our city. Our work is inspired by the values of our tradition. This work includes: providing concrete services for those in need, filling gaps between poverty and service delivery, from food banks to arts programs, shelters and housing, to services for newcomers, children, youth and seniors, and more. Our actions uplift communities, including Indigenous Peoples, and are vital to reducing unjust burdens. This work to transform endemic systems that contribute to poverty arises from the core values of thousands of people represented by our faith communities.

We know the nature and costs of poverty. A person with inadequate income, shelter and food also lacks dignity, power, and freedom. This not only inhibits individuals, but the well-being of entire communities. We must not only empathize with the less fortunate, but work so each human being is empowered to shape dignified lives.

When a child grows up in poverty, social isolation becomes normal and their vulnerable, developing spirit can be stunted. If governments are measured by how they treat the most vulnerable, then child poverty is Toronto's greatest indictment.

We are united and steadfast in our efforts; drawing strength and wisdom from our faith traditions:

❖ The Qur'an places the responsibility for an equitable society on both individuals and the community; this is indispensable to Islam.

❖ Torah scholar and Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides emphasized that, "The best way of giving is to help a person help themselves so that they may become self-supporting."

❖ One of the three main pillars of Sikhism taught by the founder Guru Nanak Dev is the concept of selfless service and generosity; we must share everything in charity with the less fortunate.

Ahimsa, or nonviolence; the first of Jainism's five major vows, is to minimize harm, intentional or not, to living creatures, and must apply to public policy. Poverty is systemic, physical and spiritual violence.

❖ The Hindu scripture commits us to the common good. ”One may amass wealth with hundreds of hands but one should also distribute it with thousands of hands.”

❖ Jesus spoke to poverty more than any issue, calling us to help those suffering injustice. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” His followers understood, “If someone is lacking,…and yet you do nothing to help them, what good is that? So faith, without works, is dead.”

❖ Buddha emphasizes our similarity, instructing us to "have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering.”

❖ Zarathustra said the good life is achieved through actions guided by wisdom, truth, righteous and help to those in need. “May the wise God grant radiant happiness to him who radiates happiness to others”.

We believe Toronto can do better to work with our disadvantaged and vulnerable residents. We propose the following action plan, and urge City Council to adopt it.

As people of faith, we offer our prayers and moral support. For our part, we commit to strengthen our own work through new programs, partnerships, and advocacy. Let this inspire the City to do likewise. We will review the City's progress annually and report to our communities.

As we pursue our common goal to eliminate poverty in Toronto, we urge City Council to endorse and implement the following Faith Communities Action Plan on Poverty Reduction:

1. Employment and Income

• Create a mandatory Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) for new city infrastructure projects which will ensure employment opportunities for racialized youth and adults.

• The City must increase the Fair Wage Benchmark for contracts and tenders to a living wage level.

• Access to affordable, high quality child care significantly limits families seeking employment and the means to climb out of poverty. We call on the City of Toronto to invest $5 million in new funding to create additional subsidized child care spaces, while seeking 4:1 matching funding from the province ($20 million).

2. Affordable Housing

• Working with the Provincial and Federal governments to build new affordable housing units each year and eliminate the building repair backlog in public housing within 10 years.

• Harmonize the zoning bylaws to legalize rooming houses across the city and implement inclusionary zoning. Petition the province to ensure these requirements cannot be overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

• We must also develop a public education campaign to promote private room rentals for those in need.

3. Affordable Transit

• We have had a reduction in children’s fares. This is the right approach. Transit must become more affordable by reducing fares for youth, seniors and low-income adults.

4. Access to Services

• We must improve children's access to public services and recreational activities by reducing child and youth Parks & Recreation fees by 10% each year, with the goal of eliminating fees in 10 years.

• Expand and promote After-School Recreation Care (ARC) programs and youth lounges, so they are accessible to youth across the city.

5. Food Security

• Build a vigorous urban food strategy that supports low income residents, addressing issues of access and affordability across the city, especially in areas with low access to healthy, affordable food.

• We must complete the implementation of the Student Nutrition Program within 3 years.

6. Fair and Sustainable Taxation

• Form a panel of experts which includes people with lived experience, to review the impact of all new policies and budget changes concerning low-income and marginalized groups, and to review current municipal taxation policies from a social equity perspective, to make recommendations for fair and adequate tax policy.

• This year, the City of Toronto will pilot a Participatory Budget Project in three wards: 33, 35, and 12. This specific engagement process sees city residents propose and vote on community investment projects, funded through a pre-determined portion of the municipal budget, providing an opportunity for City Hall and the people to work directly together on common priorities. We call on the City to expand this Participatory Budget Project.

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