This May 1st, International Workers’ Day, Head & Hands will be closing our offices and taking to the streets in two anti-austerity actions. While it’s important to us to remain accessible to our clients by keeping regular office hours whenever possible, we also know that in order to ensure our sustainability as an organization and affirm the rights of our clients to access holistic, non-judgmental social, medical, and legal services, we must join our voices with those taking a stand against austerity.
In a nutshell, austerity refers to the widespread government cuts to education; arts and culture; environmental protection; social assistance; public health; and public sector spending overall. Various studies show that the cumulative effects of these cuts actually cost governments more in the long run, which begs the question, who does austerity really benefit? Cutting spending for public services moves costs to the individual or to the private sphere where profit is the bottom line. For example, cuts to public health burden the individual with costs for necessary items such as bandages, crutches, and medication follow-up while helping the companies who make these items to prosper. This pushes those who are already cash-poor further into poverty and increases the need for Head & Hands’ resources, like the food pantry.
Austerity benefits big corporate growth built on the backs of people with whom Head & Hands shares community and stands in solidarity. Cuts to the public sphere benefit the wealthiest and most privileged people in our society while contributing to the ongoing marginalization of the individuals we serve, affecting their rights, safety, and well-being. This kind of scarcity model creates a culture of fear by promoting the erroneous idea that there aren’t enough resources to go around, which directly feeds racism; already, recent polls show that a quarter of Canadians feel too many non-white immigrants are coming to Canada, which contributes to cycles of systemic and institutional violence against people of colour.
Austerity means cuts to the crucial services that marginalized communities need. However, framing this conversation simply in terms of “need” and “marginalization” alone is patronizing and misses the bigger picture: as people who share the identities of queer, trans*, woman, person of colour, cashpoor, and disabled, we not only need but deserve and are entitled to well-funded public services to help us navigate the multiple oppressions capitalism, colonization, and white supremacy have thrown at us. Our marginalization isn’t accidental, and austerity seeks to further marginalize us for corporate profits.
As a not-for-profit community organization that works with people experiencing the impacts of marginalization, we see the effects of dwindling funding every day. Austerity-minded funding cuts are directly impacting our funders and community partners, leading to rapid growth in the number of youth accessing our services that outpaces the growth of our own limited resources. Last year alone we had over 24,000 youth visits; distributed 2,490 clean needles; provided social counselling services to 392 youth, spent 180 hours giving by-donation legal advice, and had 78 medical clinics. The waiting time for our trans* clients to get an appointment to start hormone therapy is currently over a year. In our neighbourhood of NDG, one quarter of residents live below the poverty line. At Head&Hands, we are uniquely situated in that we offer an incredibly wide range of services that are accessible to Montreal youth regardless of income and without discrimination. We need more organizations like Head & Hands, not fewer. We’re worried about how these numbers will continue to grow amidst a climate of austerity, and how far will we have to stretch our budget and ourselves to be there for our community. In all of this, it is important to remember: behind these numbers are people’s lives.
This is why we’re going to be be joining with our community and taking to the streets this Friday, May 1st! Donations from our community to support Head & Hands as we adapt to austerity agendas are more crucial than ever, so please visit our donation page or contact Malaika, our Fundraising and Development Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 514-481-0277. Together, let’s take a stand against austerity!