Memorial marks suffering of the homeless

If the cold doesn’t kill Bruce Matinat, loneliness will. The 33-year-old has lived on the streets for over 20 years but now he feels the community around him crumbling.

“I’m dying because I’m running out of brothers. They’re not looking after me,” he said.

Matinat spoke about the lack of social security at a homeless memorial and Federal Town Hall meeting on Tuesday. The Recession Relief Coalition (RRC) hosted the gathering at Church of the Holy Trinity on Bloor Street West.

The Toronto-based organization works to publicize how hard economic times increase the demand for social services while at the same time reducing governments’ ability to fund poverty reduction programs, which eventually break down under the strain and leave the poor defenceless.

Bay Street businessman and RRC founder, John Andras, organized the event to unite people of all walks of life in the fight poverty.

“Governments and people need to ensure a certain standard for everyone. No one’s allowed to fall through the cracks.”

The meeting also brought together representatives from different political parties. Federal Liberal MP Derek Lee, NDP MP Tony Martin and Rebecca Harrison of the Green Party attended the event.

A federal Conservative representative did not attend. Instead, a photo of Stephen Harper giving two-thumbs-up filled the seat.

With no one to speak for the governing Conservatives, the two opposition MPs hammered the Harper government on its lack of action in addressing homeless issues, pointing out the prorogation of Parliament as a case in point of the government wasting time.

Lee talked about the need for a dedicated approach: “You can’t throw Jell-O at the wall, hoping it will stick,” he said. “You need a commitment.”

The RRC has faced that brick wall since December 2008 when it made proposals similar to the ones it made Tuesday, such as doubling the funding for the Homeless Partnerships Initiatives program.

“The proposals we made in 2008… would’ve done a lot of good. Unfortunately at the federal level, you hit a brick wall,” Andras said.

Andras and Matinat have that in common.  Matinat talked to the panel of politicians about the bureaucratic brick wall he encounters when he tries to get social assistance.

“My social worker went on vacation… The backup worker gave me 75 bucks at the end of last month. How am I supposed to live off that?”

Drawing on Matinat’s plight, Martin emphasized the importance of hope for the future.

Once Parliament returns, he said he would table a Private Member’s bill called the Poverty Elimination Act.

“That bill will empower the federal government to take its place at the table to give leadership… so that we can all together come up with an answer,” Martin said.