Submitted by YWCA Muskoka
Six community partners have been successful in securing a three-year regional grant from United Way Simcoe Muskoka to provide a sustainable and transformative approach to poverty reduction that ensures everyone has enough reasons, resources, and relationships in their lives to thrive.
The project will provide annual Bridges out of Poverty trainings for community members and service providers in Muskoka; extend the Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World program to a fourth community in Muskoka; and strengthen the regional delivery of Circles.
It is anticipated that Muskoka will host the Circles Canada conference in the next few years. YWCA Muskoka is the lead agency working in partnership with YMCA Employment Services; The Hub Huntsville (New Vision Unlimited); CAP Debt Reduction; Muskoka Community Church; and Faith Baptist Church.
“Circles is a community-based initiative that creates intentional friendships across economic boundaries to reduce poverty,” said Liz Angell, YWCA Circles Coordinator. “It matches low-income families (Circle Leaders) and individuals with community volunteers (Circle Allies) to form relationships across income groups and build a support system to help individuals and families move forward out of poverty.”
Graduates from Getting Ahead 15-week programs become Leaders, so named because they are at the ‘centre of their story’ in Circles. Those who have completed Bridges training are eligible to volunteer and encouraged to become Allies. The average Circles individual or family participates over a period of 18 months. Volunteers are asked to make a similar commitment. During the COVID pandemic Circles groups have been holding weekly Zooms and connecting individually virtually and via phone.
“My Circles Allies support me through my goals. They helped me get started on working on my financial plans to become free of debt. They have been a greatly appreciated support system that I have never had before,” says a current Circle Leader participant.
Circles first launched in Huntsville in 2015. A second Circles site in South Muskoka was added in 2018 with the generous funding of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Getting Ahead programs have run with annual District of Muskoka funding since 2014. The United Way Simcoe Muskoka funding will enable the partnering organizations to provide these services to Muskoka communities until 2023.
The realities of poverty in Muskoka
(Statistics are from Muskoka Community Foundation’s Vital Signs 2018 and Statistics Canada)
The current wait-time for a one-bedroom social housing unit in Muskoka is approximately eight years.
Thirteen per cent of Muskoka residents are living in poverty, and the median employment income is 21 per cent lower than the rest of Ontario ($26,918 vs. $33,946).
Muskoka has over 2,000 single parent families; 1,645 of those (75 per cent) are headed by women and many survive on an income significantly lower than the poverty line.
In Muskoka, 49.1 per cent of women aged 65-plus living alone live in poverty.
Living in poverty means less of everything. Surviving is a full-time job when you live in poverty. Meeting basic needs for yourself and children (food, shelter, clothing) takes a great deal of energy and time. It’s hard to imagine a different reality when you’re hungry or scared.
Muskoka is losing its workforce, young adults and families are relocating due to lack of affordable housing and full-time work.
Forty-three per cent of all jobs are in tourism, construction, service, and arts and entertainment and half of the jobs are part-time and seasonal.
Women often stay in abusive relationships because they cannot afford to leave a violent situation.
Three to five children in every Canadian classroom witness violence in their homes.
The cycle of poverty is very difficult to break. The impacts of the trauma of poverty and isolation begin in childhood and last a lifetime.
YWCA Muskoka champions positive change for women and girls through education, leadership and advocacy. We envision a future in which all women and girls are thriving. For more information about YWCA Muskoka and Circles® Muskoka please visit the website at www.ywcamuskoka.com
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