The bus from Coe Hill to Bancroft runs once every two weeks.

The bus from Coe Hill to Bancroft runs once every two weeks.

Coe Hill is a community of 708 people 35 km south of Bancroft. Twenty people packed into the ‘Mystery Market’ in Coe Hill on Friday to talk to the Put Food in the Budget campaign about poverty in their community.

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The Coe Hill food bank is open three Mondays a month. It serves twelve families. The volunteer who runs the food bank told us that some people who come to the food bank can’t even afford the 25 or 50 cents for clothing that the local thrift shop charges. So she has started to provide free clothing at the food bank. The food bank is also looking at starting a ‘wood share’ program – so people can get free wood to heat their homes.

Pat, a food bank volunteer tells us of a man who walks 10 miles to Coe Hill in order to receive ‘a little bag of food’. This man could also go to the food bank in Bancroft with public transit.

Public transit for people in Coe Hill is one bus to Bancroft every second Friday at 8:00 am. The return trip from Bancroft leaves at noon the same day. It’s about a half hour ride each way – so a person without a car has three hours in Bancroft every two weeks to go to the food bank, or do grocery shopping, keep appointments and maybe visit family or friends. If this same man went to the food bank in Bancroft he would have an additional ten mile walk back to his home after the bus drops him off in Coe Hill.

I was told about people who live ‘in the back lanes’ off the county roads.  “There are lots of people subsisting in shacks in the woods with no running water, and no hydro” says Brad. “These are older people living on their own, some of them, their spouse has died, and they are isolated and often depressed. Some of them don’t know how to take care of themselves anymore. Maybe it was their ‘choice’ to have this lifestyle when they were younger and more capable – but it’s not a choice anymore.” Coe Hill has four units of seniors housing.

Everyone told us they feel the government ignores rural communities. “People in rural communities need resources – maybe more than in the city, but they cut services in smaller towns and force people to move to bigger towns or do without” says Lee. “This creates even more isolation”.  

As I hear these stories I feel like I am being transported back in time. “I know it’s a stereotype but this sounds like the poverty that was reported in the 60’s from the Appalachian communities in the U.S.” “It’s outrageous that people can be left to live in such desperate conditions.”  

I wonder if this is somehow a very ‘local’ problem. As I say this I recall a conversation I had three or four years ago with an outreach worker from St. Vincent de Paul outreach in Essex County. Her job was to drive the back concessions checking in on ‘seniors’, mostly retired farmers, who were living in similar conditions – isolated, depressed, some with dementia – unable to take good care of themselves.

Those two examples help me connect more dots and I am reminded about how a generation ago we ended poverty among seniors by creating adequate pensions and other supports.

Are the politics of austerity returning today’s seniors to lives of poverty and desperation? Do we have to fight this fight again?

One man says to the group “Not enough is being done by the people who have the political wherewithal to do something. It makes me highly agitated and motivated”. (Tomorrow there will be a report on the “highly motivated and agitated” people who marched and rallied in Bancroft on Saturday).

Charity is not enough. It’s time to increase taxes on corporations and their CEO’s (and other members of the 1% ) until seniors are again assured lives of health and dignity, and people in rural communities can afford hydro, have running water, have adequate public transit and be able to put food in the budget.

 

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