By: Sarah Marsh
Jude (not her real name) has experienced some very difficult situations over the past 10 years. Fleeing an abusive relationship six years ago plunged her into a deep depression and she resumed her substance use. Although working daily at fairly low paying jobs she said she just “stopped caring”. Things like paying rent, paying bills and income tax became impossible. Jude found herself homeless and—for a short period of time—in a women’s shelter.
This local woman’s story illustrates how easily and quickly people’s lives can be drastically affected when they are hindered from managing day-to-day personal finances. Even when a person’s financial circumstances stabilize after a low point, it is not easy to navigate the task of repairing damaged financial relationships with a bank, or a creditor, or Canada Revenue Agency. Jude’s story is just one example of the many reasons why thousands of Waterloo Region residents find themselves excluded from mainstream financial services and supports.
Locally, a group of social service agencies, regional government, community members, and financial institutions has started to address this problem. In 2010 they began to hold discussions about ways of increasing financial inclusion for low income individuals in Kitchener-Waterloo and the broader regional community. Since then, this informal network now called the Money Matters Community Collaborative (MMCC) meet to share information and resources, and together, they are defining a framework for financial inclusion that is relevant to our local context.
Two key developments have resulted from this new focus on financial inclusion: 1. a new reference document and 2. a new supportive role in the community.
1. The Financial Inclusion Inventory for Waterloo Region emerged out of MMCC discussions. It will act as a resource for service providers to know about programs designed to meet the needs of those living with little or no income to manage their finances and maintain a high level of community inclusion. It will describe in detail programs available through banks, credit unions and community agencies that are focused specifically on financial management.
2. The MMCC identified a need for more individualized supports to be offered in our region, and out of those discussions, the Money Matters Help Desk was formed. Hosted within The Working Centre, the Money Matters Help Desk is staffed by one full-time staff person who provides individuals with one-on-one supports to navigate various financial management challenges. During the 2011 tax season, this staff person supported the free tax clinics offered at The Working Centre, which resulted in approximately 2000 filed tax returns. Since its start in the fall of 2011, the Money Matters Help Desk has supported over 200 individuals with such things as making arrangements with creditors, completing pre- 2011 tax returns, and opening up a bank account. One individual expressed his appreciation for the support he received from this service: “I feel like a human being. I have a bank account.”
The following diagram outlines the different components of the MMCC and its relationship to region-wide tax clinics. The Working Centre plays a key role as the convener and organizer of Money Matters and the tax clinic work.
The MMCC will continue its aim to increase the level of financial inclusion in Waterloo Region, and its’ role will evolve over time. It will act as a sounding board for the Money Matters Help Desk and other programs that promote financial inclusion. It will seek to find creative ways of addressing new challenges that arise at the community level, within organizations, and for individuals, so that people like Jude receive services that meet their needs.
In the past two years, Jude’s situation has started to improve. She has been able to deal with her depression and started to resolve her financial troubles but it has been difficult on a limited budget. This past spring, Jude learned that through the MMCC and the Money Matters Help Desk someone was available to assist her with gathering information and completing her income tax returns. The refund that Jude received (in excess of $5000.00) allowed her to pay off outstanding bills; she is now looking for a new rental unit in a safer area and has put aside money for her first and last month’s rent. Receiving the tax refund and knowing what monies she will receive in GST and Ontario Trillium Benefits has really improved her quality of life and she is not “forever worried” that the taxman may be coming after her.
For more information about Financial Inclusion in Waterloo Region, look for a link to the Financial Inclusion Inventory for Waterloo Region on the Region of Waterloo website.