The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC) Social Audits have been happening across Ontario since 1986. Until now, York Region has not participated in the Social Audit, but this year was a different story. Members of the Do the Math Working Group and the Poverty Action Coalition for Change (PACC) group were very much interested in York Region being chosen as one of the Ontario communities in which the Social Audit would take place. Discussions to this effect had taken place but the question had not been put to ISARC directly. That is until one December day in Hamilton at a provincial meeting of the Put Food in the Budget Campaign (PFIB) which several of us from York Region attended. Mark Sussman, an active member of PACC, approached Bruce Balmer from ISARC and invited ISARC to hold the first-ever Social Audit in our region. The invitation was accepted and as a result, we began planning for the Social Audit in January 2010.
While other communities, many of whom had done the audits before, were well underway in terms of planning, we were just beginning our process in the early weeks of January. The task seemed enormous (3 months to plan) but not impossible given the amount of enthusiasm that we were about to experience as an energetic, optimistic, and hard working group of people came together from across the region to form the Social Audit Planning Table for York Region. Thanks to PACC as the host for the Audit, and Mark in particular for asking the important question, we moved forward and held a very successful Social Audit on April 20.
A little bit about ISARC…
The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC) is a provincial network of faith groups working together for greater social justice. ISARC was born out of the hope that together a coalition of faith groups could contribute to new public policies based upon greater justice and dignity for Ontarians marginalized by poverty. ISARC brings together representatives and members of faith groups to discuss the root causes of poverty, addressing issues of hunger and homelessness in Ontario. ISARC meets and works with leaders from all political parties to support and develop legislation that will provide help to those most in need. The findings and stories from each local audit is compiled into the provincial audit, a comprehensive publication that reflects the voices of low-income people across Ontario. It is then used as an advocacy and education tool to mobilize communities and influence policy.
We were extremely fortunate to have three very well respected individuals serve as Rapporteurs for the Social Audit Day. The Rapporteurs were present and listened when individuals shared their experiences; their reflections on what they heard that day become an important part of the final report. John Rogers, former mayor of Georgina and member of YR Council, as well as Past Chair of the United Way of YR; Daisy Wai, a successful business woman who is involved in numerous community initiatives and serves on several community boards; and Charles Beer, who spent 23 years serving in the Ontario government in numerous capacities, including as Minister of Community and Social Services, and is a current member of a number of boards related to health and education.
Our goal had been to hear the stories of 24 individuals at two locations in the north and south ends of the region – one in Richmond Hill and one in Newmarket. On the day of the Audit, we heard the stories of 23 individuals and we were limited only by time as more people came out to talk about their experiences in poverty. We also made provision at the Newmarket location for individuals to videotape their statements in private, and 11 people chose that option.
Our focus groups were very well attended. 11 Councillors and one Mayor attended the Politicians Focus Group which was facilitated by Danieli Zanotti, CEO of United Way York Region. We had 24 people express interest in the Focus Group for Front-Line and Agency Workers, so we held 2 focus groups.
Our dinner at the end of the day was an opportunity for organizers of the event, rapporteurs, recorders, facilitators and convenors, along with several participants, to reflect back on the day, how it impacted on them, and what we each learned from the experience. Over 20 people came together to share a meal and express their thoughts and feelings. It was a moving experience for those involved and an important part of the ISARC process of taking collective action and responsibility.
To quote from ISARC: “When anyone is hungry while others have too much to eat, when anyone has no shelter while others live in luxury, or when anyone lives in poverty while others enjoy affluence, justice is not present. Where justice is not present, the quality of all of our lives and communities disappears. ISARC believes that justice is the mutual responsibility of individuals, communities, and government working together for a better future.”
The Report of our Local Social Audit Experience in York Region will be utilized to mobilize and advocate for change at the local and provincial levels for timely, humane and necessary measures that reflect social justice for all.
For more information or to get involved in the Put Food in the Budget Campaign or the ISARC Social Audit in YR, please contact Yvonne at (905)967-0428 ext. 205.