Milton’s Working Poor

By: Laura Steiner/Local Journalism Initiative
Drive into Milton from any direction and you’re greeted with the sight of streets lined with single-family homes stretching out into the distance.  It’s no wonder when the population sits at 139,400, and is projected to be 230,000 by 2031.
The prosperous neighbourhoods often mask a hidden poverty; called that because it’s something that isn’t out the open. “From the outside everything appears normal, but the family isn’t making enough to cover all expenses,” Chuck Charlton said  Charlton, a local real estate agent has seen some of it first-hand, and been moved to help.  He has been running food drives benefitting Food4Kids and the Salvation Army for the last 10 years.  Charlton, estimates that 1-2% of people in Milton fall into this category.  A 2018 report from the United Way of Hamilton-Halton puts the figure at 5.7%, the highest of all Halton municipalities.
“The term working poor are people who work in precarious jobs, and are remunerated at minimum wage. In Halton we do not see poverty on our streets like other areas, thus our poverty is hidden,” Halton Food4Kids Executive Director Gayle Kabbash said.  Food4Kids is an agency that helps families unable to meet food budget requirements due to the cost of living.
COVID-19 has meant the need for their services has increased by 30%.  As of October, they have helped over 800 children.   “As a result, we have had to increase outreach to generating funding to meet the growing need.” Food drives, such as the one held by Charlton play a role as they secure food that suppliers don’t carry.  “I am happy to share our incredible community, including many businesses have expanded their support allowing us not to turn any child or family away,” Kabbash said.
“In this climate of high living cost many families are struggling to make ends meet.  It’s not unusual for us to encounter folks who are working multiple part-time or casual minimum wage positions just to cover the cost of rent,” Ruth Hickman, Director/Pastor with the Salvation Army said.  COVID-19 has increased need for the for the food bank by 30%.  They offer a Hydro Assistance program, and have recently added an extra two days in order to keep up with demand.  “Whether folks are in arrears or needing a discount in order to keep up with payments we are doing what we can to help them navigate the system,” Hickman said.
The Salvation Army  started its annual Christmas assistance program November 22.  They’re still looking for donations of toys, gifts for teens and $25 gift cards for children.  “Large drives and events organized by groups like Charlton Advantage and Miracle on Main go a long way in stocking our neighbours’ shelves and putting smiles on their children’s faces,” she added.
Housing prices have increased by 47% over the last 2 years.  A single family home sells for approximately $1.2 million.  Buyers are eligible for a mortgage of up to 5 times their income.  In Milton, where the average income is $104,000 it could mean a mortgage as high as $520,000.  Numerous studies indicate parents are helping with the down payment, but even then the dream of home ownership is out of reach.  “The solution in most cases is to move further and further away until can afford what you want,” Charlton said.
Milton Transitional Housing (MTH) feels the impact of housing prices first-hand.  Their program has room for 10  is facing an increased need due to COVID-19. Executive Director Donna Danielli would like to expand but is finding it challenging  “It is becoming more difficult to connect with landlords and rent new accommodations which are affordable for our clients,” she said in an email.  The agency also faces a hurdle of finding affordable housing for clients who have completed the two year program.  In spite of all the problems, the agency has successfully graduated 5 clients in the last six months.
For Danielli, the term “working poor” refers to the clients she sees on a daily basis.  “So many people, making minimum wage or receiving shelter support through Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are simply not able to make ends meet in this world of increasing housing costs.  They are being forced to make choices between safe housing, food, transportation and so much more,” she said.
Charlton thinks  the problem with housing prices come down to the supply issue; too many buyers, and too few homes.  He suggests shortening approval processes, as well as ending blind bidding- part of an election promise from the federal Liberals.   He admits higher market prices are a problem.  “Whenever regular people with good, stable jobs can’t afford regular homes, there’s huge cause for concern,” he said.