odsp protest toronto

Woman shuts down major Toronto street by driving wheelchair into traffic

An advocate for Toronto residents who are struggling to survive on monthly Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments put herself in harm's way this weekend to demand a "liveable amount" of financial assistance from the provincial government.

Isabella Gamk is the founder of POOF (Protecting ODSP OW Funding), a nonprofit organization that "wants people living on ODSP and OW [Ontario Works] benefits to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion."

The group argues that current benefits to people with disabilities who can't work and people on social assistance are insufficient to make ends meet, particularly in a city like Toronto, where market rent prices are exorbitantly high.

The Ontario Disability Support Program's maximum individual rate is merely $1,169 per month as of 2020. The "maximum shelter allowance" for someone on the program is set at $497.

Even with average rental rates falling and modest COVID-19 emergency provisions available, it's nearly impossible for someone on ODSP or OW to afford a place of their own in Toronto for such a low amount.

Many are forced to dip into funds meant for food and other essential needs. Others have been rendered homeless.

This is the message that Gamk was trying to convey on Saturday when she went out to "anti-protest" against a group of people in Midtown Toronto who are upset with the existence of three new homeless shelters in the area.

Gamk arrived to an intersection of Mt Pleasant Road near Eglinton Avenue around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning with a microphone and a speaker to, as one group member later put it, "support our most vulnerable and to speak out against the discrimination against those in need happening on the other side of the street."

"Today I shut down Mt. Pleasant Rd on my own by driving my wheelchair into traffic while traffic was flowing," she later wrote on Facebook.

"It took the police about 5 light changes before they decided to block the road so traffic couldn't get through. There was no mention of how the street came to be closed or any mention of POOF Protecting ODSP OW Funding or me."

Gamk says that while she was originally on the sidewalk, someone from another group "parked their SUV in front of me," prompting her to block the intersection.

"After others saw that the police were not going to remove me they joined me in the street," she stated. "Another group who was also protesting the 'No Shelters in My Neighborhood' group marched down Mt Pleasant Rd and joined us for a while before they continued marching south."

The dramatic protest (photos of which can be viewed on Facebook) may have held up traffic, but fortunately nobody was hurt.

POOF has scheduled a more formal protest rally in front of Toronto City Hall on August 19 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

"We will be demanding Mayor John Tory use his influence as the mayor of Ontario's largest city to demand Premier Doug Ford step up and raise Disability and Social Services up to a livable amount," reads the event's description on Facebook.

"We demand that the ODSP and OW Shelter and Basic Needs get doubled when in actuality the Shelter Allowance of both ODSP and OW real should be tripled to afford average market rent at today's prices. Fair Funding is needed."

Lead photo by

Ian Hood

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