By Kristina Roic
Centretown’s economic justice group, the Somerset West Action Network (SWAN), has aligned forces with three other anti-poverty and social justice organizations in Ottawa to apply for funding and a joint office space.
Their key allies include the Latino Action Group, SHORT Ottawa (an acronym for shelters, hostels and other residential tenancies), and the Ticket Defense Program (TDP), a system set up to help street people and the homeless defend themselves from police harassment.
“There is natural overlap between the groups,” says Clayton Dignard, co-ordinator for SWAN and TDP. “They all have their own agenda, but ultimately work towards a common goal of fighting poverty so joining forces was a natural decision.”
Sherrie Tingley, SWAN’s other co-ordinator, says the small size of the groups and the fact they share some members also contributed to the decision.
Dignard says although there are other anti-poverty groups in the city, these four are particularly unique grassroots organizations because all the members are financially poor, homeless or recipients of either Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.
So far, the groups have managed to stay organized by working out of their homes, cars and bedrooms, and by storing files, pamphlets and printed information wherever they can. SWAN has been able to use St. Luke’s Church on Somerset Street to hold monthly meetings, and SHORT Ottawa normally meets at one of the drop-in centres used by shelter residents, however, the other two haven’t been as fortunate.
Dignard says the groups have matured and developed so much over the years it has become difficult to organize within those capacities.
Since its formation in 2003 the TDP has made nearly 123 court appearances, with most of its cases withdrawn, dropped, or acquitted.
SWAN has also gained recognition in the community for organizing nation-wide projects such as “Feed The Kids AND Pay The Rent,” a campaign that called on the Ontario government to raise the shelter allowance for people in Ontario receiving social assistance.
Bob Busby, co-founder and member of SWAN, says that having an office space and funding has now become pertinent in order to allow the groups to keep growing.
“To have a space to work in would make the groups much stronger,” he says. “It would provide a meeting space which is hard to get these days, and give people who need our support and services somewhere to reach us, and a place to go.”
Dignard says the recent alliances and partnerships between the groups are a combination of city budget cuts and the impact of the new provincial government on low-income people.
This weekend, the four allies are getting together with their group co-ordinators and a potential funder to discuss a possible space and/or financial support. The main focus will be to obtain an office — a space with phones and a computer with internet access the groups could share.