This article was originally featured in the 2020 Fall Issue of Invest In Style Magazine
In a region where the word “cottage” implies a second home, the waiting list for a one-bedroom affordable housing unit in Muskoka is… eight years.
Known for its beautiful waterfront homes and lakeside docks, Muskoka is cottage country. Residents and visitors enjoy water sports in summer, cozy fireside dinners in winter, and art galleries, boutique shops and fine dining year-round. Muskoka also records some of the highest levels of poverty in the province.
According to Muskoka Community Foundation’s Vital Signs 2018 report, 13% of Muskoka residents live in poverty and many of those people live significantly below the poverty line (defined as living below $25,000/year for one person). Many also work full- time. The median income in this region is 21% lower than in the rest of Ontario. And almost half of all women over 65 who live alone in Muskoka, live in poverty.
In 2019, a small group of Muskoka citizens, including permanent and seasonal residents, started RAMP, Residents Against Muskoka Poverty. Their mission is to raise awareness of the existence and extent of poverty in Muskoka and to support local initiatives that build self-sufficiency. The RAMP website acts as an information hub and RAMP members (some of whom have experienced living in poverty themselves) act as facilitators of information, taking advantage of opportunities where they can to help shine a light on the issue of poverty in Muskoka.
YWCA Muskoka facilitators deliver Bridges out of Poverty training to community members at West Muskoka Food Bank – July 2019.
Many of those living in poverty in the region rely on seasonal employment. A huge barrier to employment is the fact that many cannot afford the car (and insurance) necessary to get to a job, or to get a better job. And since Covid-19, many have lost their jobs, including professionals and business owners. The West Muskoka Food Bank now provides for a wide variety of residents. Those living in poverty say the biggest barrier that looms every day is affordable housing. The waiting list for a one-bedroom affordable housing unit in Muskoka is eight years.
Another issue affecting access to work and education, and one that most people in large urban centres take for granted, is the lack of adequate access to broadband internet in the region. RAMP understands how this impedes the search for jobs and access to information in general and contends that broadband needs to be deemed an essential service. This is crucial now that Covid-related restrictions mean that many learning opportunities and job requirements, such as certifications and registrations, are only accessible online.
For more information on local organizations that support residents in financial need, or to see where you might lend a hand, visit the RAMP website: www.rampupmuskoka.ca
Written By Lesley Kenny
Photography by Taylor Nullmeyer & RAMP Muskoka