When Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his wife visited the Shepherds of Good Hope to spoon out Thanksgiving dinner last weekend they also lent a brief visibility to some of Ottawa’s invisible.
Poverty in Ottawa doesn’t, as a rule, make front page news. There are few shocking new developments. It’s just a dismal daily grind, quietly getting a little worse.
Food bank use here, for example, is rising while donations fall.
Ottawa as a whole has ridden out the recession better than most places. Government employment has acted as a cushion, but that’s scant comfort to one-fifth of Ottawa families living below the poverty line.
As times have tightened, many middle class Canadians have become so preoccupied with worry about their own jobs and retirement savings that there isn’t much thought left for the truly poor.
They’re there behind the headlines. Ottawa’s public housing agency is trying to figure out how to avoid annual repair bills of up to $250,000 caused by water pipes freezing and bursting when their tenants’ power gets cut off in winter.
That’s the problem as Ottawa Community Housing sees it: Expensive broken plumbing, water damage and mould, rather than the inconvenient fact that people in subsidized housing who can’t pay their hydro bills are being left to freeze in the dark.
Hydro Ottawa contributes to the Winter Warmth Fund, which has helped some families avoid disconnection, but the utility’s announcement that it will now accept credit card payments is likely to provoke hoots of bitter laughter in these low-income households.
There’s not much obvious benefit for the poorest, by the way, in stimulus funding for hockey arenas. Imagine what could be done for people who really, really need help with the money the government has blown on just the advertising campaign to hype the spending spree.
But our priorities lie elsewhere.