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Civic Impact

Fife House challenge prompts Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam to reconsider poverty in Ward 27 and beyond

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam of Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) felt the results of living on a restricted food budget immediately. As one of seven prominent Torontonians to participate in Fife House's one-week challenge to thrive on $6.65--the average daily amount leftover after basic housing allowance--she quickly realized the daily struggles of those living on social assistance and fixed income.
Ward 27 has an ample supply of "well-stocked high-end grocery stores" and restaurants, but Councillor Wong-Tam struggled to find affordable food and had to travel to Chinatown and Kensington Market instead. 
"That was something I didn't think about," she says. "The limited budget we had to work with was only covering food and beverages, but for most people who are living under poverty, that $6.65 doesn't even cover transportation, their clothing allowance or basic toiletries. We had a modified challenge and I still found it difficult."

Councillor Wong-Tam has been vocal against the city's current administration and has been fighting for adequate housing and shelter. She says budget cuts to social services directly hurt the people who need them the most. "What we've done is we've made life harder for them and that's become very clear to me," she says. 

"There's a saying in Chinese that I was reminded of as I was going through the experience. It translates quite literally to 'no money no courage.' But what it really means is you're alone. You're isolated. You're not able to have daily regular contact with people in a different way. The opportunities to thrive and succeed are reduced for those living in poverty."
Fife House provides housing and support services for Toronto residents living with HIV/AIDS. Many face poverty in addition to life-threatening illness. The challenge anticipates the organization's annual A Taste for Life fundraiser on April 24, a one-night event where more than 50 restaurants will donate 25 per cent of their dinner revenue to Fife House meal programs. Fife House hopes to raise $90,000. 
The challenge hit Councillor Wong-Tam close to home.
"As a member of the LGBT community, I've lost friends to this disease--as I'm sure we all have--but within Toronto it's the gay community that was originally hit the hardest. I've had friends die and friends' lovers die. Whatever I can do as an elected official now in my new position to continue to raise awareness, to make sure the funding that is provided is adequate, it could be an actual game changer." 
Councillor Wong-Tam will ride her bike from Toronto to Montreal this summer to raise money for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation.  
Writer: Sheena Lyonnais
Source: Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale)
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