London city councillor hesitant to pay United Way to implement anti-poverty recommendations

Lefty, who is homeless, sits on a sidewalk in downtown Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Lefty, who is homeless, sits on a sidewalk in downtown Thunder Bay, Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

A London city councillor is challenging a pitch to have the local United Way carry out the recommendations from London’s anti-poverty campaign.

The mayor’s advisory panel on poverty suggested creating an implementation group a year ago when council endorsed its recommendations, and now city staff have proposed giving that responsibility to the local United Way.

The panel released 112 recommendations from “London for All: A Roadmap to End Poverty” last March to end poverty in a generation, including 27 they hoped to implemented within a year.

Some have been brought to life, such as free transit for kids 12 and under, but others, like “engaging landlords to keep more people housed” are harder to track and quantify.

READ MORE: Province announces $11.3M funding to combat London homelessness

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Coun. Mo Salih helped initiate one of the panel’s short-term recommendations: offering bus pass subsidies for low-income residents.

He has concerns about a staff recommendation to pay the United Way of London and Middlesex $125,000 a year for the next three years to implement the rest.

“With this proposal, I’m just not supportive of using tax dollars in this approach,” said Salih. “I think we are past the point of having conversations and talking, I think it’s a matter of taking immediate action and doing the things that need to be done. I think we can achieve that, I think that’s something we can do.”

Salih believes the city hasn’t done enough to act on the recommendations, and this proposal could simply add more bureaucracy at a cost to taxpayers.

“We can absolutely be doing a lot more and we can absolutely be doing a lot better, and we should absolutely stop spending where we don’t need to spend and spending where we need most to ensure that no one is left behind in our communities and doing more, because we’re going around in circles, and I’m ready to get off the round-about, and I was ready to get off the round-about a long time ago.”

The United Way was the only group that responded to a request by the city last month for proposals to implement the recommendations. According to the staff recommendation, part of the funding would be spent hiring a project manager to:

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  • Oversee the development of the implementation body.
  • Develop a detailed work plan including timelines and scope of work.
  • Oversee the community-wide implementation of the recommendations put forward in London for All.
  • Report to the community on progress made regularly.

One of the other short-term recommendations from the panel was to have London become a test site for the province’s basic income pilot project, but that didn’t happen.

READ MORE: Ontario basic income pilot project to be tested in Hamilton, Lindsay, Thunder Bay

The issue will be debated during Tuesday’s community and protective services committee meeting, which begins at 4 p.m.