Followed by poverty, Peterborough man finds hopeful cause in basic income

By Roderick Benns

When he was a young man, just leaving high school, Jason Hartwick always pictured himself in front of a classroom. He saw himself as a high school teacher, helping to inspire young people and to guide them along their lives’ paths.

The thing is, Hartwick didn’t have anyone to guide him.

He grew up in poverty, bounced around from town to town across a wide swath of southern Ontario, dependent on where his single mom could find work and affordable housing.

From Bowmanville, where they lived on Mother's allowance payments, to Grasshill, Pefferlaw, Sutton, Sundridge, Burk's Falls, South River, Beaverton, Peterborough and Argyle, Hartwick figured out they had moved 32 times before he turned 21.

Now 38 and living in Peterborough, he says he knows that “poverty was definitely a barrier” when he was growing up with his six siblings. When he thinks about his early dream of being a high school teacher, Hartwick remembers how he felt as reality set in. 

“I knew there would be no way for me to afford it and OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) always seemed out of reach,” he says.

There is a mindset among those who live in poverty, he says, that college or university is for those who have money already. More importantly, there’s a feeling that if “we're struggling already, the risk of adding more debt is too high,” he explains.

Without the benefit of an education, Hartwick had a checkered job history. He worked on many farms while growing up.

When he was 18 he worked in a factory until he got injured, which ended in a “mess” that ended up with him quitting.

Hartwick became a basement sealer for a year in Peterborough, then a mover in London. He worked at call centres for years and also spent time as a construction framer.

For most of the last nine years, though, he has been a stay-at-home father who has also begun doing advocacy by serving as co-chair of the Basic Income Peterborough Network. He heard about the concept behind Basic Income when he was working to bring a program called Blessings in a Backpack to Peterborough about four years ago. 

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