OCAP | Homelessness
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is a direct action anti-poverty organization that fights for more shelter beds, social housing, and a raise in social assistance rates.
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Postponed: Press Conference to Respond to Vilification of Homeless People & Poor People Who Use Drugs

Update – Monday, July 23: Given the shooting on the Danforth last night, the press conference referenced below is being postponed to a later date.

Coalition of anti-poverty organizers, supervised injection and overdose prevention site workers, homeless service providers to respond to increasing vilification of homeless people & other poor people who use drugs

Press conference on Monday, July 23 at 10am at the corner of Dundas & Sherbourne

Speakers include: A.J. Withers (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty), Desmond Cole, Frank Coburn (Street Health), and representatives from the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site

Toronto: There have been a series of lurid stories in the media recently of homeowners and businesses supposedly under attack by what the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy calls “druggies.”

These articles further the position that supervised injection services (SIS) and overdose prevention sites (OPS) must be shut down and call for the return of policing programs that have been proven to be dangerous and racist. Echoing rhetoric of residents and business associations in gentrifying neighbourhoods, particularly in the downtown east end of Toronto, it is argued that SIS and OPS facilities encourage drug use and it is assumed, without any evidence, that the lack of such options would lead people to give up drug use.

“After letting the developers control and profit from the creation of upscale housing, after allowing public housing to crumble, after letting social assistance income decline substantially, and after failing to provide adequate shelter for the homeless for years, refugees have become a convenient target to blame for the problem. Now, the same interests are targeting poor and homeless people who use drugs, in a truly despicable move,” says A.J. Withers, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

Homeless people, whether they use drugs or not, are on the streets because shelters and respite facilities are packed full, and conditions within most of them remain deplorable and stressful.

“The residents and business associations don’t want homeless people on the streets, but they don’t want shelters in their neighbourhoods either. What they want are policing measures that target and remove homeless people from sight, with no regard to where or how people end up. Such a dystopic vision for dealing with serious social issues begs to be challenged,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer with OCAP.

The aforementioned press conference, to be held on Monday, July 23 at 10am at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne, will respond to these arguments, make the case for the continued funding and operation of the SIS and OPS facilities, oppose the reintroduction of programs like the misleadingly named Toronto Anti-Violence Strategy (TAVIS), and finally, call for the creation of adequate shelter and housing.

Media Contact:
A.J. Withers & Yogi Acharya

Stop Vilification of Poor People Who Use Drugs

Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis that expresses itself most sharply in massive and growing homelessness. As the shelters overflow, the disaster that this creates interacts with an overdose crisis that continues to claim lives. This disaster is now poised to get even worse at the hands of the Doug Ford Government, with its readiness to implement social cutbacks and its hostility to life saving safe injection initiatives.

Those in power and their media mouthpieces love to point the finger of blame at those who suffer the effects of austerity and abandonment. After letting the developers control and profit from the creation of upscale housing, after allowing public housing to crumble, after letting social assistance income decline substantially and after failing to provide adequate shelter for the homeless for years, refugees have become a convenient target to blame for the problem. Now, the same interests are targeting poor and homeless people who use drugs, in a truly despicable move.

Many in the media, with the Toronto Sun leading the pack, have been running lurid stories of homeowners and businesses under attack by what the Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy calls “druggies.” Another piece in the Sun went so far as to call for the death penalty for those who sell drugs and the main objective of these hateful articles is to try and shut down supervised injection services and overdose prevention sites. Levy argues that such facilities only encourage drug use and simply assumes, without any evidence, that the lack of safe options would cause people to give up drug use. In fact, the opposite is true – research in countries around the world has consistently shown that providing people who use drugs with compassionate, evidence-based healthcare like supervised injection services improves their health and helps people who want treatment to access it.

There is no real need to spend much time refuting the threadbare and ignorant arguments of people like Levy. We are really dealing with a hate campaign to whip up local vigilantes and encourage the intense criminalization of people who use drugs and the outright abandonment of the homeless. Supervised injection services only enable people in poverty to have some of the supports people who use drugs and have money enjoy, and they are desperately needed in midst of the present lethal crisis. In place of the class war crackdowns and denial of shelter and services the Sun is working for, and that Doug Ford and others in power want to deliver, we call for the following:

  1. Raise social assistance rates in Ontario so that people can afford to stay housed.
  2. Stop boarding up public housing and create real social housing to meet the need that exists.
  3. Open enough homeless shelter space so that the system is not running above 90% capacity.
  4. Open shelters mainly in the central area where they’re most needed with an emphasis on low barrier facilities.
  5. End the criminalization of people who use drugs and address the poisoned drug supply with evidence-based, harm reduction measures
  6. Legalize and regulate all drugs, rapidly develop prescription heroin and hydromorphone programs in Ontario.
  7. Extend the funding of current overdose prevention sites and expand access to SIS and OPS sites.
  8. Politicians must stop providing legitimacy to gentrifying residents and business interests organizing against homeless people and poor drug users
  9. Treat the kind of articles that have appeared in the Sun as incitement to hatred rather than journalism.

OCAP is calling for a press conference on Monday, July 23 at 10am at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne to support the continued operation of supervised injection sites, to oppose the re-introduction of programs like TAVIS, and to demand the creation of adequate shelter and housing.

Fight the Doug Ford Tories

Doug Ford is now Premier of Ontario and a hard right, class war Tory Government is in power. Our message is that their agenda of austerity, war on the poor, attacking workers’ gains, targeting migrants, gutting public services, racism, bigotry, environmental degradation and trampling on Indigenous rights, is inevitable only if we allow it to unfold without mounting the kind of real resistance that can bring it to a halt.

Comparisons are made to the Tory Governments in Ontario from 1995-2003. Let’s be clear that Ford represents something far worse. The international austerity agenda is far more advanced than during those years. We have also gone through fifteen years of ‘progressive’ Liberal cutbacks that have left their mark on public services like healthcare, ensured that people on social assistance are poorer than when the Tories left office and produced a housing and homeless crisis of terrible proportions. Frankly, there is very little flesh for Ford’s knife to cut into. It will be going into the bone.

When the Tories last held power, there was a powerful mobilization against them but it failed to stop them because it was held back by disunity and a failure to take things to the level necessary to win. A creature like Ford will not be stopped by moral arguments or token protest. A movement that creates serious economic disruption and a political crisis is what is needed. The Tory agenda must be blocked by a struggle that makes the Province ungovernable.

On June 16, Fight for $15 and Fairness will be rallying at the Ministry of Labour in Toronto. We should all work to build this action and use it as a springboard for Ontario wide resistance. OCAP is talking to allies about convening an Assembly to bring together those who want to fight back decisively. The most vital thing is that we must not let the Tories gain the initiative by remaining passive as they start their attacks.

Ontario is about to became a key site of struggle. We have the chance to demonstrate to the world that a vicious hard right austerity regime can be defeated by creating a model of resistance of enormous importance. Unless we want to go down in defeat at the hands of a gang of Tories headed up by a scandal ridden buffoon, we must be ready to fight to win and bring together a movement that can empty the workplaces and fill the streets.

Three Reasons to Join Us at the Defeat Ford Rally

Placards to be used at the rally.

As you know, today we take the fight against austerity to Doug Ford’s doorstep, with a rally at his campaign headquarters. Here are three reasons why you should join us there:

1. Challenging Ford is important because he represents the most extreme form of the austerity agenda. We are equally convinced, however, that the day after the election, whatever its result and whoever forms the government, that the struggle against that agenda will have to continue.

2. If that struggle is against Ford, we will be fighting a hard right regime. If the NDP wins, from day one, big business will be working to push them to the right, and only a serious social mobilization will be able to counter this.

3. The argument that we should not take to the streets during the election for fear of “helping Ford,” will go over to insisting that we not act to pressure an NDP Government because that might hurt their chances of re-election. We can’t accept this and make clear that our fight is against austerity and the war on the poor in whatever form they are delivered.

There is still some room on the buses, so even if you haven’t registered, feel free to come to one of our bus pick up spots (at Sherbourne & Carlton or at St.George Station, Bedford exit) at 12:30pm. Buses leave at 1pm. We’ll have shwarma and falafel wraps available for people. The rally location is also accessible by TTC. See you there!

Defeat Ford: Taking the Fight To Doug’s Doorstep

Rally at Doug Ford’s Campaign Headquarters
Sat, June 2 | 2pm | Kipling Plaza, 2141 Kipling Avenue
Facebook Event | Reserve a seat on the bus
Flyer | Poster

Bus information: The rally location is accessible by the TTC, but it’s nice to get there together. We have two buses and two pick up locations – one outside St. George station (Bedford exit) and another at Allan Gardens (Sherbourne/Carlton). If these are on-route for you, then please sign up here and come with us. If not, we’ll see you there.

Doug Ford is a corrupt multi-millionaire whose party’s record is one of destroying Ontario’s public services, increasing poverty, and intensifying racism and bigotry. A Ford government promises corporate welfare and tax-breaks for the rich, and service cuts for the rest of us who depend on public hospitals, education, roads, transit, income support and decent jobs.

We believe the only way for the struggling people of this province to win is to build determined social movements capable of taking on whoever gets in power. Ford would take the ongoing attack on poor and working class people to a new level, and so a resistance movement powerful enough to confront and defeat him must be built.

Support for Ford is slipping but a hard-right government led by the Conservatives remains a serious possibility. So join us on June 2 to demonstrate opposition to Ford’s agenda and to give him a preview of the resistance that awaits him should he become Premiere of Ontario. #FightToWin.

 

Stop Scapegoating Refugees & Build Social Housing and Shelters

Faced with a rise in refugee claimants fleeing harrowing conditions of war in their countries of origin, and racism in the United States, politicians from all three levels of government are blaming the decades-old shelter crisis on people in desperate need of refuge. Erasing over 20 years of their own complicity in creating and entrenching homelessness, politicians  are playing political dodgeball over who should pay to shelter refugees. The fact that their political rhetoric is increasing bigotry and the potential for racist violence towards an already traumatized people seems to matter little.

Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis that is a product of over two decades of municipal, provincial and federal refusal to build new public housing and co-ops, and to adequately maintain existing housing. All three levels of government permitted the unrestrained expansion of the private housing market – run by landlords, developers and property speculators – that uses homes as cash cows to be milked for profit. A whole generation of people has been priced out of homes, and almost half the renters in this city struggle to pay rent. Average rents in the city far exceed the entire income of those on social assistance.

Homelessness became a serious problem in the 1990s, and has worsened dramatically. The city’s emergency shelter system never kept pace with the rising demands and has faced a bed-shortage since the late 1990s. In 1998 City Council made a commitment to fix the bed shortage, but in the 20 years that have since passed, they refused to dedicate the resources to  make that happen. Meanwhile, the homeless death toll keeps rising, with at least 100 succumbing to the harshness of life on the streets in 2017. The informal tally maintained by volunteers at the Homeless Memorial since 1985 now exceeds a thousand dead.

For over two decades homeless people and housing advocates have fought tooth and nail for the expansion of shelters and public housing. These fights have forced a few life-saving victories: the creation of 24 hour women and trans drop-ins, respite centres, and the addition of a few new shelter beds. But with successive Mayors, Premiers and Prime Ministers relentlessly pushing service cuts and refusing to clamp down on the private housing market profiteers, the fights have largely prevented existing services from being lost entirely. They have not resulted in the sufficient expansion of shelters or the creation of housing that is affordable for poor and working class people.

Those in power rule by dividing and conquering. Poor and homeless people who were born in Canada, and those who have lived here a long time, should remember that our well-being has never mattered to such politicians. Mayor John Tory pushed through a 2.6% cut to shelters in the 2017 budget and actively sabotaged attempts to add 1000 beds to the system. When he campaigned to become Mayor in 2003, one of his campaign promises was to ban poor people from panhandling in the downtown core. Provincially,  first the Conservative government gutted social assistance, and then the Liberals ended the need-based cost-sharing agreements for shelters and homelessness services with municipalities. Federally, funding for building new social housing and coops was eliminated in the mid-nineties, in many ways initiating the crisis we see today. The “National Housing Strategy,” announced last year, doesn’t commit any major funding until after the next election, and will not lead to an expansion of rent-geared-to-income housing.

The only way for poor and homeless people in Toronto to win is by refusing to fall for the divisive traps politicians are setting for us. Most people in Canada today are immigrants, or are descendants of immigrants, and we must unite with the refugees who have been pushed out of their nations by politicians who share a lot in common with those who run ours. Let’s welcome refugees and build a united front powerful enough to win decent shelter and housing for us all. Fight To Win.

Partial Victory: Fred Victor Drop-In Update – Sign Revised Petition to Ensure Full Victory

Shortly following the launch of the petition and the open letter, we received a response from Fred Victor management indicating that the drop-in closure won’t proceed indefinitely as was previously indicated. The drop-in closure will be limited to four days, and it will reopen on Monday, May 28. We’re glad public pressure has ensured the critical drop-in does not shut down. Thanks to all those who shared and signed the petition.

However, management did not address the persistent problems of under-funding and under-staffing that have plagued the drop-in for quite some time. This means the drop-in will continue operating at half its original service duration and place continued strain on workers. So we are demanding that Fred Victor commit to reinstating the drop-in to its original four hour service duration and addressing the staff shortage by guaranteeing at least four full-time staff with relief worker support. The petition has been updated and available below. Please keep signing and sharing it. We also continue to call on the City and the Province to fund drop-in services adequately. We’ll keep you updated about additional actions, as necessary. #FightToWin

Open Letter to Fred Victor Management: Stop the Closure of the Open House Drop-In!

 

The following is an open letter to Mark Aston, CEO of Fred Victor, about the abrupt closure of the Open House Drop-in program on Tuesday, May 22. Instead of addressing the long-standing issues of under-staffing at the drop-in, management at Fred Victor decided to just end the program, cutting off a critical service to dozens of people in the neighbourhood. Such callous disregard for the lives of poor people in the neighbourhood and the needs of agency workers cannot be tolerated. Please sign the petition demanding that Fred Victor reinstate the drop-in and provide adequate staffing.

Dear Mark Aston,

We’ve learned that the Fred Victor Centre will be closing its Open House Drop-In program, located at 145 Queen Street East, indefinitely starting Tuesday, May 22. The sudden shutdown of this decades-old program was announced on Monday, May 14, just a week prior to the closing date. It’s shocking that you would choose such a course of action at a time when the shelter and opioid crisis are claiming the lives of at least 2 homeless people weekly.

The move appears to be a response to the on-going issue of understaffing at the drop-in. But Fred Victor management has been aware of these staffing shortages for quite some time. Around this time last year Fred Victor received multiple letters identifying significant concerns about deteriorating service and staffing levels at the drop-in.

Instead of responding to these concerns with demonstrable efforts to secure funding for adequate staffing, you chose first, to cut the drop-in hours in half, and, now, are eliminating the service completely. These actions demonstrate management’s disregard for the needs of both: the agency workers and service users.

The loss of the Open House Drop-In program will jeopardize the lives of people in an area that has been identified as a “priority neighbourhood” by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network. Faced with such cuts and escalating homelessness, OCAP has been fighting to defend and expand homeless services in this city. We will not allow this key service in the neighbourhood to be lost. A petition addressed to you and the Fred Victor board of directors has been initiated, and we are prepared to mobilize further, if necessary.

We expect an urgent response from Fred Victor that will facilitate the continued operation of the drop-in and the reinstatement of its original four-hour service duration, with food provided, and operated with four full-time staff with relief worker support. The drop-in is an essential resource and every day that it remains closed and without resolution to staffing issues, people are at increased risk in the neighbourhood.

A copy of this letter is being sent to Wangari Muriuki, board chair at Fred Victor, Councillor Wong-Tam, Paul Raftis and Mary-Anne Bedard at SSHA, and Susan Fitzpatrick at the Toronto Central LHIN.

Sincerely,

Yogi Acharya, on behalf of the
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
157 Carlton St., Unit 201
Toronto, ON M5a 2K3