The late-February death of a Barrie man staying in an uninsulated trailer in a backyard has once again heightened the need for policy change at all government levels.
Jason (Bear) Marche died in a trailer he was paying to stay in at the backyard of 306 Innisfil St.
Marche, a 43-year-old father of one, was found dead on Feb. 26 at the location with temperatures that night having been minus-18 degrees Celsius.
The exact cause of death is yet unknown. The Office of the Chief Coroner (OCC) for Ontario could not be reached for comment.
Jenniver van Gennip, the chair of the Barrie Chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCATEH), told BarrieToday that Marche’s family was “not interested in getting into the cause of death, but they are interested in drawing attention to the terrible conditions Jason was living in.”
She said a single person that qualifies for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), like Marche, receives just $1,169 a month to cover rent, food, and other basic needs while the rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Barrie averages $1,600.
“The social assistance amounts from the provincial government are completely inadequate and many recipients are left in poverty, forced to choose between dangerous housing conditions and homelessness," said van Gennip.
"Ontario Works and ODSP have the potential to lift people out of poverty but instead, these programs currently trap people in poverty. Rates have not kept up with the costs of living," she added.
Van Gennip said she sees people living in substandard conditions, “like a camper in Barrie in February,” often judged for their choices and asks people to remember that their options are extremely limited by decisions made by policymakers.
“Poverty and homelessness at the scale we are seeing right now are the direct results of policy choices to keep social assistance rates and minimum wage low and let housing prices soar," she explained.
"If everyone in our community has a safe, affordable place to call home, our entire community will benefit, but this will require different policy choices,” said van Gennip. “The good news is, we get to elect our policymakers, so if poverty and homelessness in your community bother you, you can make them election issues.”
While many regulations that could help end homelessness are made at the provincial level, van Gennip said there are bold choices that could be made at the municipal level as well. Particularly in an election year.
“At the municipal level, we find the bylaws that criminalize homelessness and poverty as well as planning decisions that approve or deny applications that include what kind of housing gets built and where,” said van Gennip.
“The SCATEH Barrie chapter is planning to hold accountability assemblies for both the provincial and municipal elections, where candidates will be asked to make specific commitments to address these and other issues. We can then hold them accountable, as a community, to their answers if elected," she added.
A petition to bring justice in the case of Marche has been started, which can be seen here.