Having lived experience of poverty herself, Pat Capponi now works tirelessly and urgently to restore dignity and opportunity for those trapped in poverty and homelessness, and living with mental illness. She has written numerous works of non-fiction about poverty, mental illness, and policing, as well as two mysteries set in a rooming house in Parkdale. Currently, she is a part time member of the Consent and Capacity Board and co-chairs the Toronto Police Services Board sub-committee on mental health. She is also lead facilitator with Voices from the Street, a program that offers a twelve-week course on leadership to the poor, the homeless, those with mental health or addiction issues, and those with physical challenges, as well as newcomers. Pat has served as a board member of CAMH and was a member of the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council. She has received numerous honours for her community work; she is a recipient of the Order of Ontario and the C.M. Hincks award from the Canadian Mental Health Association. Pat has been awarded the Queens Jubilee and the Diamond Jubilee medals.
“CivicAction breaks down some of the artificial divisions that are plaguing us and knits the city together where it’s unraveling to make sure no one is left out.”
Demonstrating the importance of including voices of people with lived experience as she leads the fight for the causes she involves herself with, Pat has also been an active member of CivicAction. She sits on CivicAction’s Steering Committee, and was an active member of CivicAction’s working group on Income Security, leading up to the 2011 Greater Toronto Summit. She admits that when she first heard about the organization she thought it was “artsy fartsy and had little to do with people like me” and that it was just another way in which the city wasn’t focusing on the poorest of the poor. But she now says that she appreciates the way the organization is an open platform: “The poor want to contribute and invest their energy and hope and talents, and those in a position to elevate, support and profile them are eager to do so.” She points to the issue of funding an efficient and affordable transportation system as being something that goes beyond class lines and is in the interest of all of us.
As a member of CivicAction’s Steering Committee, Pat has continually challenged the organization to focus more attention on issues such as class inclusion. “Our goal is to ensure that we are at the table and allow people who have lived the experience to represent themselves. Not by charities or housing providers. And that’s who was heard.”
Pat was among many who urged CivicAction to play an active role in the review of social assistance in Ontario. Following these recommendations, CivicAction convened a panel of senior business executives to inform the province wide review and provide input on proposed employment initiatives that could create opportunities and assist those on social assistance to find meaningful employment. As she says, “Everyone I know wants to get off the system, but that means finding work that they’re passionate about and some appreciation of the barriers that they face.
Pat believes that CivicAction provides citizens with a platform where leaders can meet and put ideas together to form solutions: “My community – refugees, people with physical disabilities, people with mental illness, etc. – want to be invested and know the contribution they can make. The poor are individuals and the poor have talents and abilities.”