This piece was originally published in The Toronto Star. To read the full piece, click here.
I’m ready to leave resilience behind this year.
In the charity sector, I have seen the resilience narrative permeate every area of our work. Resilience has become a convenient political mechanism, used to applaud the efforts of front-line workers and abdicate government responsibility for maintaining critical social services. Stories of newcomers overcoming structural barriers or individuals breaking out of the cycle of poverty are heralded as evidence of an exemplary, welcoming society, rather than an anomaly.
I am the lead fundraiser at The Stop Community Food Centre. We deliver emergency food access services in Toronto’s West End, reaching over 30,000 individuals annually. Our community members experience intersecting issues like poverty, generational trauma, discrimination, social isolation and health barriers. Their income level often falls far below what the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy recognizes to be deep poverty.
The Stop is also seeing an influx of refugees accessing our services. These families had to flee unspeakable conditions, only to be confronted with circumstances that make living a dignified life unattainable.
People are handed inadequate pay for long hours, have access to minimal social supports, and face high costs for food, housing and essentials.
Overcoming these barriers is determined by luck, exceptionalism, or some combination of both. It should not be this way.
I have fallen into the resilience trap myself when communicating The Stop’s impact to donors. The narrative goes: “We’re doing so much more with so much less. More demand, higher costs, fewer donations — but look at us go! We continue to achieve the impossible, getting through each fiscal year by the skin of our teeth!”
What underpins this sentiment is the expectation that charities will continue to shoulder the burden of systemic failures that lead Torontonians to turn to us for food. No matter how unjust the circumstance, regardless of the impossible problems we are handed, The Stop cannot, and will not, leave our community to suffer the consequences.
On the surface resilience is an aspirational quality, but it has been used as a thinly veiled tool to further squeeze people into giving more of themselves for less, and to accept systemic issues as personal failures.
I want to see a constructive reckoning with the conditions that led 1-in-5 Torontonians to experience food insecurity last year. Or the 1-in-4 who report that their income is inadequate. Is greater “resilience” the answer when nurses leave their field in droves, individuals receiving ODSP turn to medical assistance in dying, or when there is a 42 per cent increase in newly registered households accessing our food bank?
We need to stop romanticizing ascension from poverty and merely clapping for our front-line workers and social service organizations. It is time to confront what makes these circumstances a reality, and the political failings that have led our city to this state of unaffordability.
Written by our Development Manager, Marie-France Roche.
The support of our donors is exclusively what keeps our programs running. Help us to provide our neighbours with healthy food and to run our vital community-building programs throughout the year: