Seniors Inspire Ontario Poverty Reduction's Stroll and Roll to Freedom July 7 2015

Dan Philion, happy with initial meeting with M.P.P.
Yesterday was inspirational. It actually started the night before, when Dan Philion, stricken with Muscular Dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair, with limited physical capabilities, was trying to beg off going to a meeting with his MPP. 

Dan has done a lot for the community, awarded for his efforts, and a single dad at one time raising two alone, then a partner since gone. Hey, she can walk now, a story for another time, leaving Dan with limited access to his daughter.

So he lives alone, often relying on the help of others to assist him with certain tasks that he has a tough time doing, such as shopping, cooking (food), and household maintenance although he does get a cleaner and personal support workers who drop by, including assistance dressing, and getting into and out of bed at night - having an electric hoist-like pulley with velcro straps that is used to position him for bed or chair or...

Rejected shoes or makeshift boots
Of course, if he had it his way, he wouldn't need anyone with anything, but knows that isn't in the cards. Still, he feels the basic necessities in life he should be able to afford as its not his fault he's in this predicament. He had no shoes for the meeting.

" I'm not going to the meeting Tom. It's not that important to me anyway", he lied, trying to soften the blow. I'd known it meant a lot to him, he was just nervous about having to speak about it with someone like this in this forum and I knew it. That and the fact he had no shoes or boots.

" What size are you I asked?" I'll get you shoes, but you're going!"

M.P. Lois Brown once awarded Dan for community service
MP supports charity solutions like free coats

I've gotten to know him pretty well over the past 10 years or so and can get away with talking to him like that because we're friends now. Danny's a pretty straight shooter as well. He'd gotten into the habit of not having his drop-in, personal support workers dress him in the morning, giving him another out for not venturing out of the home. But these are often tell-tale signs of oncoming depression also, and, with winter, he is also affected much worse by cold than " normal" blooded people, with his illness, not to mention cleaning the wheel tracks he can't reach or making sure the driveway is cleared by someone in order to get out. He's a social guy, and shines when he does go out which was sorely needed at that time for him. Lucky for us, on this day after the first snow storm of the year, a Neighbourhood Network volunteer showed up, eliminating yet another barrier to his participation in life.

That night before I had an event and was unable to get out for his boots, but had managed to locate a pair of 12 wide dress shoes, along with strips, that could be worn to simulate boots, which Dan immediately shot down upon seeing for the first time.

"I'm wearing track pants", he said, " I'm not wearing dress shoes with track pants.. And what the F$#@& are these?" he added, laughing at the leather leg pieces.

" You said boots", I meekly offered.. "I've worn them for the Santa suit and for the Grinch..."

" Ha, you wear them then, I'm not".... He wore his usual thick wool socks instead of shoes.

Some community accreditation Dan has received
I visited the canvassing Chris Ballard during the election
Going into the meeting, I wasn't expecting much, knowing the M.P.P. new to the caucus / processes, as a rookie, and the strategy was to give a little background first on Dan - like how he literally fell down one day at work, never able to work / walk again without assistance - and how his disease progressively gets worse, so he's unable to do much physically anymore, about P.A.C.C., and about the issue and inform him about the plan for the spring of a march to his office called Stroll and Roll for freedom, with the hope he could support an increase to what those in Dan's position get in income.  We weren't going to ask that he support the 50% increase that Dan thinks would be fair, but rather if he could agree that he deserved better than having to come asking without shoes. It's a tough one to decline.

Dan is tired of asking of charity for basics and hates food banks
That said, I did hope he could embrace the idea of such an action, and even participate, which he sounds open to doing, and, so, when he's asked now as a rookie member of Ontario parliament what's new in York Region, he'll have something to raise, and a reason too. We did not want to overwhelm him with stats and figures, but reminded him of our past involvement with MPP's and even as participants in their governments poverty reduction hearings, but, more than that, I wanted him to just meet Dan, first hand, asking personally, for a better deal.

It is a reasonable request, and one the Ontario government will tell you they are working on this master plan for - but the one thing they have consistently resisted, despite the Harris era 40% cuts - is raising O.D.S.P. rates to livable rates. While welfare is meant to be temporary and used in parcel with community supports to move people forward in life, those with certain disabilities most often do not have that option, yet are painted with the same brush.

Join Dan July 7 2015 on the Stroll and Roll to Freedom starting at York Region Headquarters on Yonge St. Newmarket at 12 noon and ending at the MPP's office.

" We've listened, and people have said they want to work"  Ontario Government on their Poverty Reduction Strategy

I call that selective hearing. Yes they want to work. But they can't all do so. What they really want is just to be recognized as valuable and useful members of society. That's the issue. "You hear the expression falling through the cracks? Well guys like Dan are the ones who fall through those cracks", I explained, " and the direction of the poverty reduction strategy does nothing to address this..That's where these cracks surface."

That very week alone, Dan had to call the ambulance service to come put him to bed as the March of Dimes provider service had begged off, saying they had no replacement. I wonder how much $ extra that costs everyone instead of having a back-up, on-call person(s)? Last year I had to do this for two weeks over Christmas prior to Dan getting into the M.O.D.'s program. I'm not trained for this.

As the meeting progressed, Dan's comfort level rose in voicing concerns about how he's having to live, and even mentioned the worry of falling into a mental health crisis, to which the M.P.P. offered up about the tremendous costs for that too. Turns out M.P.P. Ballard also had a hand some time ago within the schools in Aurora as a fundraiser for school trips and such, always ensuring all kids could go and without embarrassing stigmas attached. It was good to know he'd had at least some ground level experience and understanding to the roots of the issue. The M.P.P. mentioned one of the things they planned to do first was tie the rates to the cost of living so it would not have to be addressed continually.

To this I queried, "Why would you do that first Chris when the rates are still far too low? They've never really addressed it since those Harris cuts, to bring rates more in line with reality, so why would you do that first? He needs more $ first. Then you can tie it to inflation."

I also stressed to Ballard that since Dan already has subsidized housing, and special diet, he is already getting the best deal we offer guys like him, and it isn't near enough. I pointed out the 1% raise his government gave those on O.D.S.P. amounted to 3 bus rides in expensive York Region - $12 a month. The visit to his office would take up $8 of that, $16 for two both ways.

We both got the feeling Chris Ballard was receptive, and he even said he would possibly even march himself, leaving Dan feeling pretty good about the whole thing, and me satisfied, but not surprised, as we'd soft-stanced our ask, only looking for endorsement in principle, that Dan deserved a better deal. But still, all things considered, it was positive - but about to get even better!

Part 2 - The Trans-ride home pulled up, and, having been booked on as an escort, I got to ride along. As we entered, I immediately noticed it chock fullish of seniors ladies, one in her 90's and another 80's, it would turn out, as still another spoke not one word the entire ride.

Dan wants a 50% increase in his income rates rates in order to buy his own groceries, clothes, and to socialize
Having spent some time recently around seniors, as a close relative went through a home and then death as I stayed bedside, I had some experience around seniors and knew they could be engaging if you made them welcome too, so we bounded in, Dan and I laughing up a storm a bit, bringing life to a previously serene-like setting..

"This is where your M.P.P. is ladies should you ever need him!" I announced.

"Who's your M.P.P.?" asked one... "Is it Chris Ballard? another.

"Yes, and we were just in seeing him about getting Dan a better deal."

" Oh yes, and the amount of people using food banks is awful", offered a lady, " Some don't even need it who use it" she added, "and that's bad too"....."and seniors are hard hit often", another said, " and now expected to retrieve mail in this weather" And on it was ...inspirational actually.

We reached a pick-up stop wherein a lady, who ended being 82 years old, was expected to walk through a 2 foot snowbank for about 10 feet to get to the bus / van's door entry, a task you could hear her almost muttering about as she studied an entry point, having made her way already down a front stoop of stairs. The frail looking woman stood, looking unsure, as I instinctively stood up, Mom's lessons ringing in my ears.

Seniors issues also raised on bus ride
" That's ridiculous", some started to mumble, but my mom was kicking in at that point.  It was expected, where I come from, to help someone, and anyone - male or female - and able bodied would have gone out and offered her an arm such as I then did, and lead her through my footsteps to her to get back. I know Dan would have loved to! It's not anything special as far as I'm concerned, it's just manners, but the ladies were impressed it seemed.

As I returned, I could vaguely hear one of the  ladies, 91 years old who looked 70, and lived alone, recite a poem as Dan laughed excitedly,

' Tom, do you hear this? She's rapping about what just was happening. Unbelievable! I thought she was reading a poem at first, but she's actually making it up, and it sounds great!"

And sure enough, the woman quietly finished her ' rap" about a poverty fighting man helping an old woman through the snowbank and we wish we'd recorded it.

Who knew rap was actually invented by older ladies!?

PACC dropped these in Y.R. during the election
We rode the entire route as the ladies were dropped one at a time, each, save but one who I wondered about - perhaps deaf or mentally ill - thanking us profusely for an inspiring ride, having enjoyed the conversations, even Dan's corny jokes and wishing us luck on the quest for a better deal. I welcomed them to ride along in scooters if they could, and to watch for Stroll & Roll in the future..It was a 15 minute trip to the M.P.P.'s office with York Region Wheel-trans on the way there, but took an hour and a half to get back with all the ladies' stops, the driver carefully walking each to the door.

But the socializing was therapeutic somehow for everyone this day it seemed, and it all was driven by the infectious personality and disposition of Dan Philion. Had he chosen to not get dressed this day he'd have missed out, and so would they! I believe Dan  and society  deserves more than hopeful moments. He deserves to participate in life in dignity and be made to feel good about who he is, like on that ride.

 " You guys made my day", the elderly but spry rapper-lady smiled on the way off, ' And you stay out of trouble!" she jokingly offered Dan

I got news for you Ma'am, you made ours! Happy Holidays and Merry Xmas everyone!

PACCman out! Follow our Stroll and Roll for Freedom on Twitter...or Facebook.

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