Faith Leaders issue call-to-action to Toronto City Council on poverty
Prominent members of Toronto’s religious communities, organized under the coalition ‘Faith in the City’ marked the one-year anniversary of the passage of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy by urging City Council to fund the plan they unanimously passed in 2015.
Speaking to the media from City Hall, Faith in the City spokesperson Rev. Christopher White said the City must take action on poverty: “Children going to school hungry concerns members of all faith communities and all Toronto residents. Now we have a chance with the City’s Budget to take action and ensure all Torontonians can live with dignity and security.”
The City is currently proposing an across-the-board 2.6% cut to services in its 2017 budget, affecting transit, housing and support services, recreation programming and student nutrition. “Our faith communities represent a diverse cross-section of Toronto residents”, said Imam Habeeb Alli, “Today, we’re coming together to oppose cuts to services that are essential for fighting poverty in our communities.”
Rabbi Michael Satz said City Council has the power to make an impact on poverty: “It’s concerning that Council would support reducing poverty, endorse a credible plan to do so, but not put enough funding behind it to make it a reality. Our Council must do better and keep to their promises.”
So far over 100 faith leaders from across Toronto have signed-on to the Faith Leaders’ Statement on the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and the group is asking all members of Toronto’s faith communities to visit faithinthecity.ca and sign-on.
—- STATEMENT ——–
“Together, we will address the neglect and isolation faced by residents in too many of our neighbourhoods. We will continue to tackle our unacceptable youth jobless rate. And we will build a strong, inclusive city of opportunity from Etobicoke to Scarborough and from North York to the waterfront.”
Those words are drawn from TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy which was passed unanimously by City Council on this day last year November 3rd, 2015.
We the undersigned, as leaders and members of the many faith traditions and communities that live and work in the City of Toronto, call upon City Council to fund the promises made in the 2015 Poverty Reduction Strategy in the 2017 City of Toronto budget.
Our faith communities see and minister to the needs of people living with poverty in our city on a daily basis. From food banks to meal programs, housing, drop-in centres, before and after school programs, refugee and immigrant settlement, counselling and other forms of assistance, the real face of poverty comes to our doors each and every day. It is from that experience that we make the urgent plea contained in this letter.
We note that, even as each faith tradition is different and unique, there are many religious principles and ethical values that we share in common. Specifically here, each of our traditions has at its heart care for those affected most directly by poverty. All of our traditions are clear and unambiguous on the centrality of building societies where poverty is solidly addressed.
As people of faith, our traditions move us to advocate to City Council to work with boldness and determination towards a poverty-free Toronto. We support the vision of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy not as some unreachable utopian ideal never to be realized, but as a fulfillment of our religious and ethical requirements, as a necessity for social harmony and as an achievable goal of a city where all can live in dignity.
Faith communities participated in developing the strategy and support its vision. Now it is time for solid action. If additional resources through new revenue tools or taxes are required, then we implore Council to make the public case and take the right course of action. These new revenue tools must be applied with fairness and equity, so that each of us contributes our fair share, and ensuring we do not unjustly burden those of us who struggle to make ends meet.
Faith communities know the difficult terrain of raising additional funds as we regularly implore our congregants to respond to social causes. But act we must, as good intentions without strong, solid, measurable city resources are simply words on a page. Other orders of government certainly need to do their part; but the city cannot shrink from our civic responsibility to our people.
We ask the Council and the Mayor to fulfill its commitment to eliminating the growing gaps in our city. We ourselves commit to continue the partnership with you in this endeavour. It is time to move beyond simply caring about poverty, and into a time of properly funded, innovative and creative solutions to the scourge of poverty in our city.
So, let us build that city, on a hill of which we can all be proud. Respectfully submitted, by the signatories of the Faith Leaders’ Statement on the Poverty Reduction Strategy.