Letter by Melissa Flick, to MPPs in Ontario Parliament
October 4, 2018

This message is for the MPPs in Ontario parliament that will be enacting changes to OW and ODSP recipients in November.

I write to you to share lived and professional experience of being a person with a disability who has also lived relying on ODSP for financial supports.

My name is Melissa Flick and I work at CAMH as a Peer Support Worker. I work with people who rely on OW and primarily ODSP daily and see how poverty impacts their lives. Rarely do people who receive ODSP have an increase in their cheque's to cover societies increasing costs of living. It is subsistence living with additional difficulties in dealing with poor housing, poor diets, often poor health and a reduced prospective for improvements or abilities to achieve greater goals. It is a very real struggle and one that I have lived experience with.

I was nearly forty when I was first hospitalized for a mental health issue at CAMH. I was told by my doctor that I would never work again but I got a job on my first pass off hospital grounds. Still it was only a few hours a week at a previous workplace. I was forced to apply for ODSP as my doctor said he wouldn't release me from hospital without my doing so. I was accepted and began living in a poverty that I had not been prepared for. Fifty percent of my tiny salary went off my cheque simply because I worked. I relied on food banks and free meals at drop ins to stretch my money because living in Toronto my rent was so high. I put my name on a wait list for supportive housing in 2011 and have been waiting since. I trained in a free program to be a peer Worker and have been working at CAMH for four years now. I worked prior to ODSP and I worked while receiving ODSP. I dealt with slumlords, frequent hospitalization and an increasing amount of health concerns. I was grateful to not have to pay for my medications. I was given substandard dental care. I am able to advocate for myself and use resources in the community. Many people would consider me a success story. I speak however for those who don't advocate for themselves well because they have been living in such a impoverished state for so many years they have lost hope for a better life. As a peer Worker I see this daily; this loss of hope and purpose. Society has said effectively you can't contribute in the average ways we find acceptable so there's no place for you. Often my job is to hold a space for hope for a clients life until they can occupy that space themselves. Typically when we discuss their wishes, hopes and dreams they have given up on them. Instead they can easily discuss their fears that they can't buy winter boots this year or that they don't feel heard and seen by their care teams. Another way we grind people down is interactions with health care providers who remain objective and distant and therefore unempathetic.

Certainly you don't hear from these constituents much but we know they're there. There are no campaign contributions to be had from these people and only those who are able attend town halls. The voiceless are those whose lives go unnoticed. I ask you to consider how much opportunity is granted to those with greater incomes and not to take away the meager increases promised under the Liberal government for sake of undoing what a political rival has thought to improve just for in essence out of skewed dogma. The changes the Liberals were making would improve lives. Cuts are not what's needed. Hope is. Please extend yourselves in the deliberate act of creating hope for the often hopeless people that I work closely with to improve their lives.

Thank you for listening. Please consider the lives you affect with your choices. I will see the effects of your decision.