Service Providers and Advocates Call for Free Access to Menstrual Products

Councillor Wong-Tam joined menstrual equity advocates at City Hall, on Friday morning, to call for increased access to menstrual hygiene supplies, for low-income menstruators. Represented at the event were staff from Kennedy House Youth Shelter, Sistering, Toronto Drop-In Network, Street Haven, The Period Purse, Windermere United Church, as well as program participants with lived experience.

City administered shelters, drop-in, and respite centres are required to provide menstrual supplies on demand. Service providers, and their program participants made it clear, that the funding they receive for program supplies is simply not enough to cover basic hygiene supplies. Service providers are often forced to fundraise, seek donations, or limit client access to menstrual products

Leviana Coccia for the Period Purse, a non-profit organization that collects and distributes menstrual hygiene supplies to several City-funded facilities stated that, "In 2018, the Period Purse conducted our own survey, which proved that 91% of service providers do not have the resources in place to go out and make purchases for period products to serve the people in need, and within their communities. This contradicts the City's policy that requires services providers to ensure program clients have access to toiletries and hygiene products including menstrual products."

Michelle Cutts from Kennedy House Youth Shelter a 40-bed co-ed facility, in East York, expressed the frustration shared by many providers, struggling to meet the City's shelter standards. "We receive blanket funding to cover all basic needs of our clients. That would include clothing, soap, deodorant, towels, facecloths, as well as food. We are obviously seeing an increase in living expenses in Toronto, and yet our funding is not increasing. So service providers have to make these decisions of what is more important, food or menstrual products."

The City's Budget Committee voted, on February 20, to fund the purchase and installation of washroom dispensers in shelters, drop-in and respite centres, as well as free community centres. However, without adequate products to fill the dispensers, service providers will still face the same concerns.

Priyanka Sheth from Sistering described the problem eloquently, "Dispensaries are not going to solve the issue.  The issue comes down to funding. We have many washrooms within every centre, and if we were to supply every washroom with adequate supplies, I don't believe there would be enough funding."

Councillor Wong-Tam is working to address menstrual equity through the 2019 City budget process. "Today we are asking City Council provide each of the 76 service providers an additional $1,350 or $102,600 collectively in 2019, to close the service gap. This quantum represents the additional money raised through fundraising efforts by providers to ensure menstruators using their services are not going to be turned away empty handed. We will still have to find a sustainable solution for next year but for now, it is an acceptable interim resolution."

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