It’s just a week before the deadline for submissions from Ontario communities that want to be chosen for the Ontario Basic Income Pilot. Mike Perry is at Queen’s Park, meeting with a senior adviser to the premier.
In his hand is a carefully researched, spiral-bound booklet pitching our community to decision-makers. At his side — as at previous meetings — is Dana Bowman.
It was a final push in what had been a year’s worth of efforts. We know the outcome: Lindsay was selected and 2,000 of our community members — roughly 10 per cent of the population — will have their lives transformed for the next three years.
Thanks are owed to many. Mike Perry spearheaded the efforts, and his is a familiar name. He’s executive director of the Family Health Team, president of the Lindsay & District Chamber of Commerce, chair of the Bobcaygeon Food Bank, and leading the push for rural transportation. (More than that, but you get the idea). In 2017 he was named Lindsay’s Citizen of the Year.
But who is Dana Bowman?
Mike — who uses words like courageous, compassionate, smart, and authentic to describe Dana — will tell you that she’s someone whose willingness to movingly share her lived experience of poverty and whose passionate commitment to our community played a big part in getting Lindsay selected.
Time to get to know her a little better.
The Lived Experience
Dana was born in Port Perry. Her father was widowed. He was a seasonal worker, and had to struggle to support his three children. They moved a lot — Dana estimates she attended 15 different schools scattered around Lake Simcoe. She was never in one spot long enough to feel part of a community.
At 16 she dropped out of school and waitressed in Pefferlaw and a few years later bought a one-way-ticket for Edmonton where she would live for 14 years.
A year later her daughter, Samantha, was born. Dana was living in a rough part of town, raising a child with no child support on a waitress’s tips.
To add to the stress — maybe partly due to the stress — her health wasn’t good. There were bouts of pneumonia and double pneumonia. Then, one day, a call at work. She’d been diagnosed with cancer.
Two years later she was cancer free. But ever since she’s been dogged by medical problems: osteomyelitis, fibromyalgia, melanomas, and just last year a minor heart attack.
When she returned to Ontario, 20 years ago, she was immediately put on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). In today’s dollars, roughly $805 a month.
She started in Coboconk, living with family, found a rental in Fenelon but couldn’t afford the hydro, then 17 years ago she and her daughter (15 by then) came to Lindsay, landing a subsidized housing unit.
Supported . . .
“Along my journey a lot of people have helped me,” Dana tells me, and she’s grateful for supports offered by government at various levels.
The most productive example of government support came in Edmonton. Dana participated in the first Canada Unemployment program designed specifically for women. It offered life skills and computer training, and allowed her to to complete her GED. That program also sensitized her to a variety of issues, including domestic abuse and other women’s issues.
There was also valuable on-the-job training with Reference Canada (now O Canada) where she handled a switchboard. She loved being in the frontlines, particular in work at a youth centre in Alberta.
The other government agency she’s quick to acknowledge is social housing here in City of Kawartha Lakes. She appreciates having the City as landlord and the professional management of the apartment complex.
Lots of the support she’s received over the years has come from individuals — landladies, friends, networks that have evolved.
. . . and Supporting
“Everything I do centres on poverty reduction,” is almost the first thing Dana tells me. For decades now she’s worked tirelessly to assist and be a voice for those in poverty, marginalized and who are facing challenges. Often she’s done this operating as a volunteer within social agencies.
Back in Alberta she’d rescued a friend who’d been bound and beaten by a partner. After another woman, a Muslim, was murdered, Dana participated in a march to the legislature and made an impromptu speech.
But it’s here in Lindsay, the home she never had as a child, that she has made the greatest contributions.
The advocacy for victims of violence has continued. For Women’s Resources she served on a domestic violence coordinating committee and advocated for victims. She also works to promote and develop social housing: for almost two full terms now she’s been on the board of Kawartha Lakes-Haliburton Housing Corporation.
Being on the Board has led to other volunteer work. When she was asked by the Housing CEO to attend a Poverty Education Roundtable in Haliburton, she made a connection with Penny Barton Dyke of United Way.
Barton Dyke, when asked about Dana, says “She was dependable, energized and always willing to roll up her sleeves to try new jobs or tasks.”
One of those tasks was taking responsibility for a $600,000 donation of clothing from a manufacturer — stacks of boxes containing a variety of items in a range of sizes. Dana had to inventory, organize, and develop a system for distribution. It all involved lots of coordinating with other agencies. For this work Women’s Resources forwarded her name for a “Woman of Determination” award.
She’s the kind of volunteer any organization would want and her efforts have been acknowledged. In 2012 United Way awarded her its inaugural RASK award for “many acts of safety and kindness through volunteer work.” Later she would, by the same organization, bestowed a “Community Spirit Award.”
All of her work on Basic Income has been a continuation of her efforts to address poverty in the community.
The Basic Income Difference
In October Dana herself applied for Basic Income, and began receiving it in December. It put her in a good position to encourage others to do the same, and the roughly $1,000 a month extra has made a big difference in her life.
It allows her to perform more of those “acts of kindness”– buying favourite plants for a neighbour who has created colourful flower beds at their apartment building or Easter treats for her four grandkids in Minden (grandkids she’s now in a position to visit more often).
It also means more self-care. She can eat fresh foods and doesn’t have to buy bulk to last for a month or resort to the food bank. She can buy sunscreens.
Above all, it means dignity: she’s empowered to make her own financial decisions. For almost the first time, she’s in a position to build some savings.
What’s happening here is, of course, a pilot project. Poverty and the constellation of social ills that accompany it, aren’t going away. Dana will be active advancing her causes in provincial and municipal elections. Then, in winter 2019 she’s hoping to register for full-time studies at Fleming’s Sutherland campus. Completing the social work program will, she feels, give her credibility as she continues to advocate.