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.
poverty, homelessness, housing, social assistance, ontario works, odsp, anti-poverty. ocap. ontario coalition against poverty, shelters,
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New Video: No Respite

We took a hidden camera into 3 respite sites. Here are the appalling conditions that we found! Come out tomorrow to tell City Council that their plan to ensure that we don’t have enough shelter beds for years longer and places like these remain their primary “solution” is unacceptable. Watch the video:

 

Media Release: Budget Day Action on Feb 12

Mayor John Tory’s “just right” budget will guarantee continued misery for the homeless

Budget day rally and action at City Hall on Monday, February 12, starting at 9am, to demand that council approve 1500 new shelter beds, and add at-least 1000 this year, to alleviate the deadly crisis plaguing homeless people in Toronto.

Toronto: The preliminary budget championed by Mayor John Tory adds a maximum of 361 new shelter beds this year. That’s less than a quarter of the 1500 that are necessary to guarantee a bed for everyone in need. The 361 number also includes 81 transitional housing beds, which won’t be available on an emergency basis, reducing the tally of new shelter beds to 280. With the shelter system packed to capacity, over 700 people are currently forced to stay the back-up system of sub-standard respite centres.

“The Mayor’s plan guarantees that the majority of those without a bed today won’t have one even a year from now. This means that the deadly housing and shelter crisis that claimed 94 lives in 2017 will continue,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

If the preliminary budget is approved, the addition of 1,000 beds to the shelter system will be spread over three years, with a significant caveat. The expansion can only proceed if necessary funds are allocated in the 2019 and 2020 budgets. But even if the money is approved and the total number of homeless people doesn’t grow in that time, shelter occupancy will still be above 90% in 2021. This means hundreds of people will continue to not be able to secure a bed on a given night. But when you consider the reality that homelessness is likely to grow over the next three years, the inadequacy of the current proposal becomes even more jarring. Add to the equation the impeding closure of Seaton House, the largest men’s shelter downtown, and cause for alarm is clear.

The 2018 budget essentially contains the same inadequate plan Tory pushed through at the council meeting in early December, when he lobbied councillors to defeat motions to add 1,000 beds and open the armouries. The move triggered widespread outrage as extreme cold gripped Toronto in late December, further jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of homeless people who had nowhere to go.

Under pressure, the City scrambled to open respite space, demand for which continues to stay dangerously high. Mobilizations by homeless people and their allies resulted in the budget committee agreeing to extend respite service to the end of the year. But the underlying problem of the severe shortage of shelter beds remains unaddressed.

Recognizing the magnitude and urgency of the situation, some councillors have publicly stated their support for the addition of 1,000 beds this year. However, the Mayor has made it clear he won’t be supporting any changes to the proposed budget, calling it “just right.”

“Mayor ‘Goldilocks’ Tory may be prepared to accept continued misery for homeless people as ‘just right,’ but no decent person can. Such callous disregard for the lives of the poorest people in this city must, and will be challenged,” adds Acharya.

Media Spokesperson:

Yogi Acharya, Organizer, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

Where’s The Funds? Add 1500 Beds This Year!

Budget Day Rally and Action
Monday, February 12 | 9 am | City Hall, Bay/Queen
Meet just outside the main doors 
Download
: Poster | Flyer
Facebook Event

On February 12, City council will meet to finalize the budget for 2018. The lives of homeless people depend on the meeting’s outcome. The preliminary budget funds a maximum of 361 new shelter beds this year, less than a quarter of the 1500 that are necessary to deal with their severe shortage. If this preliminary budget passes, then the horror of misery and death homeless people have been subjected to continues. We cannot let that happen.

It is important to remember that poverty in Toronto outgrew its shelter system many years ago. It has been two decades since the city council was forced to confront this reality and make a commitment to never let its shelter occupancy exceed 90 per cent, above which spots cannot be guaranteed to those in need. Not only did they never meet that commitment, they also ignored repeated alarms sounded by homeless people and their allies about the worsening conditions.

The consequences of that neglect are unfolding before us. 94 homeless people died in 2017, a horrifying average of 2 every week. Recurrent outbreaks of infectious diseases in shelters have killed multiple people and made many sick. Even the respite centres, which serve as a sub-standard back-up to the overburdened shelter system are overcapacity, with over 700 people sleeping in dreadful conditions.

Mobilizations of homeless people and their allies amid record breaking cold temperatures this winter triggered widespread public outrage about the City’s handling of the homeless crisis. The Mayor was forced to relent and some key immediate measures, such as the extension of the respite centres until the end of the year, have been won (though the City is yet to release a plan outlining how it intends to do so). However, the underlying problem of the shortage of beds remains unaddressed.

On February 12, the fate of many people in our community rests in the hands of politicians who have shown themselves capable of ruthless disregard of the poor. The addition of 1500 beds this year is crucial to curb the crisis, alleviate suffering and preserve basic human dignity. Join us at City Hall that day to drive that point home and to remind councillors that we intend to fight to win.

Two things you can do before February 12:

  1. Call, write or visit your local councillor and tell them budget enough resources to add 1500 shelter beds this year. If you write to your councillor, cc us (ocap@tao.ca). You can find the councillor for your neighbourhood here.
  2. Help spread the word about the action on the 12th. Distribute this call-out, and the poster and flyer for the action within your networks. If you need printed copies, get in touch with us at 416-925-6939 or email us.

Join us on January 24!

Join us Wednesday at 8:30 am at City Hall to Fight for Beds and Better Conditions.

Eight city councillors released an open letter last week calling on their fellow councillors to keep the respite centres open past April 15 and reconsider the motion to open at least 1000 permanent new shelter beds this year. Both are key demands of our upcoming action on Wednesday, January 24. Remarkably, Mayor John Tory and Councillor Joe Mihevc were among the signatories of the letter, an impressive about face just over a month after both of them colluded to defeat a similar motion back in early December.

This is a significant development, one that would not have been possible without our collective resistance, including the substantial support that Wednesday’s action has garnered. It is important to remember, however, that the fight is far from over. The motions still need to be passed by the majority of council, and necessary resources need to be allocated in the 2018 budget. It is more important now than ever to keep the pressure on the city to build shelter and improve conditions.

On Wednesday, we will also be demanding that the city address the appalling conditions in the sub-standard back-up facilities: warming centres, drop-ins, and volunteer-run overnight programs. These facilities lack adequate washrooms and lockers; additionally, reports of stressful, unsanitary conditions are commonplace. Yet, having nowhere else to go, over 700 people cram in nightly in these centres. Yesterday, reports emerged about a homeless man at the Moss Park Armoury being rushed to hospital after being in medical distress for over a day. Fellow residents at the armoury spoke of their repeated pleas to get him medical assistance being ignored, until his life was put in jeopardy.

Public outrage about the deadly crisis facing Toronto’s homeless may have compelled Mayor Tory to shift his position, but that means little unless it translates to action. In order for that to happen, we must let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that unless the very basic demands we put forward for preserving human life and dignity are met, this struggle will continue to escalate. Join us!

Homelessness Doesn’t End in April: Build Shelters!


Rally & Action
Wednesday, January 24
| 8:30 am | Toronto City Hall (Bay/Queen)
Meet just outside the main entrance

The Mayor meets with his executive committee on the 24th. His preliminary budget puts grossly insufficient funds towards addressing the shelter crisis, meaning the horror will continue for homeless people.
 
We have all been witness to the shameful scramble that characterized the City’s response to homelessness as cold weather gripped the city. Despite being warned about the worsening crisis within Toronto’s homeless shelters innumerable times, Mayor John Tory and the majority of city Councillors voted to defeat motions that would have initiated the addition of 1000 permanent new shelter beds and opened of the federal armouries in early December.
 
Extreme cold and public outrage forced Tory to back-peddle and open the Moss Park armoury in January, but the underlying problem of the severe shortage of shelter beds remains unaddressed. This means, come April 15, when the winter respite centres close down, over 650 people currently crammed into overcrowded warming centres, drop-ins, and volunteer-run overnight programs will simply be dumped back on to the streets.
 
Homeless people in Toronto are in crisis. 8 homeless people are dying every month. Emergency shelters, whether they serve women, men, youth, refugees, or families, are all packed full every single night, winter and summer. Even the sub-standard backup drop-ins are full, despite conditions within most of them being appalling.
 
The current situation demands the addition of at least 1500 permanent new shelter beds to guarantee a spot for everyone in need. The City’s plan, at-best, might add about 400 beds over 2018; an expansion that will soon be undermined by the impending closure of Seaton House. This means the crisis will persist, along with its lethal consequences.
 
We cannot allow the City Council to feign surprise about the predictable consequences of their actions. We cannot allow the City’s callous neglect to keep jeopardizing the lives and safety of homeless people.
 
We demand that the City Council:
 
1. Add at least 650 permanent new beds to the shelter system by April 15 to create space for those currently forced to stay in the respite centres. These centres must not be closed until every single person staying there is guaranteed a shelter bed. Furthermore, conditions within the respite centres must afford basic human dignity to its occupants.
2. Add at least 1500 permanent new shelter beds this year, primarily within the downtown core, close to TTC and other services, and in facilities that accommodate the needs of homeless people, particularly women and non-binary people.
 
3. Stop the closure of the hundreds of social housing units that still remain on track to be boarded up.
4. Budget enough resources to accomplish the above within the 2018 city budget.
 
5. Stop racist and disablist scapegoating of shelter users. The shelter crisis wasn’t created by refugees or mental health issues. This crisis is a direct result of the failure of all three levels of government to address the housing and income crisis facing poor people.

Yet Another Homeless Death


A homeless man died at the Salvation Army Maxwell Meighen shelter yesterday. We watched in the early afternoon, along with others, as he was brought out in a black body bag, placed in the back of a van, and driven away.

Who was he? What was his name? When did he die? Was he young or old? Did he have serious health issues? Was he depressed? Was he born in Toronto or was he from another city? Does he have a family? Will be be buried in a pauper’s grave?

The city is scrambling to address to address a serious homeless crisis. A man enters a shelter and leaves in a body bag. What happened to him? When did he arrive at the shelter? How long was he there? How long had he been homeless? Does anyone at the City care enough to answer these questions? The Coroner? The Police? The shelter management?

Will those who have answers to these questions break their silence? Should we not all know that a homeless man died there yesterday in these extraordinary times? Should we not ask what happened?

All of us should be troubled by the images of a dead man being carried out of a homeless shelter. All three levels of government must act to address this crisis. We cannot allow this to go on.

Media Release About Opening of Moss Park Armoury

Opening of Moss Park Armouries Necessary But Temporary Measure
More Permanent Shelter Beds Needed

Toronto – January 5, 2018 – Almost a month after officially refusing to request the opening of the armouries as emergency shelter, Mayor John Tory has caved under mounting pressure and requested the use of the Moss Park armoury. Communication from the federal government today indicates that the armoury will open tonight as a 24/7 winter respite center for two weeks.

“The immediate opening of the armoury and involvement of all three levels of government is a good step and an important victory for homeless people in this city,” says Gaetan Heroux, a longtime OCAP organizer. “Despite the opening of the armouries, it’s clear that the city continues to scramble. We still have questions about what the Provinces role will be and want to make sure the new space is adequate. Also, all winter respite programs end on April 15th but, homelessness doesn’t end on April 15th,” Heroux adds.

There were 630 people staying in the Out Of The Colds, 24/7 drop-ins and warming centres last night. “In order to meet the demand, at least 630 new permanent beds must added to the shelter system by April 15th to ensure that people currently forced to stay in winter respite sites and drop-ins have a safe place to go,” says OCAP organizer A.J. Withers. “While warming centres will save lives this winter, conditions within most are appalling and these facilities don’t necessarily meet the City’s own shelter or public health standards. The city is relying on these substandard survival spaces but we need permanent beds in the downtown core and we need them now.”

We are also calling on Mayor Tory to stop his racist and disablist scapegoating of refugees and people with mental health issues. He consistently names these groups as part of the cause of the crisis. The shelter crisis has been ongoing for over 2 decades and has intensified in recent years as a result of Council’s neglect, and the housing and income crisis. Social housing units are being boarded up, there isn’t enough low income rental housing, and social assistance rates are too low. Refugees and people with mental health issues are the casualties of policies enacted by all three levels of government.

The way to resolve the shelter crisis is to ensure the shelter system’s capacity levels are maintained at 90% – a City Council mandate that has never been met. Occupancy rates are consistently 95% or higher which means that it is often impossible to get a shelter bed and the shelters are overcrowded, unsafe and prone to disease outbreak and bedbugs. The city needs to ensure that the budget includes sufficient funds to make that happen. Like many improvements to the shelter system over the past decades, OCAP and our allies fought for and won the opening of the Moss Park Armoury. OCAP will continue to fight for sufficient beds and better conditions within the shelter system, and for social housing – and we fight to win.

Statement on the Dec 6 Council Vote on Responding to the Shelter Crisis

In a show of callous disregard towards the lives of homeless people, city council voted yesterday to reject the proposals made by the Community Development and Recreation Committee (CDRC) on November 20 that included the immediate opening of the federal armouries and the addition of at least 1000 new shelter beds. With a few notable exceptions, most councillors cast their support behind the counter-proposal announced by Mayor John Tory this past Sunday. In doing so, they made decisions that will leave most homeless people in crisis, do little to alleviate overcrowding in shelters, and, in all likelihood, continue the horrifying trend of 8 homeless people dying every month.

The proposals championed by Tory are the result of a series of compromises brokered by Councillor Joe Mihevc with an administration that is opposed to dedicating the level of resources the situation demands. However, in his sorry attempts to gain favour with a conservative Mayor, Mihevc not only voted against his own prior motion to add a thousand beds but also sabotaged an attempt by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam to open the armouries. This last move was particularly troubling because it came following an announcement by the federal government that it is prepared to negotiate the use of the armouries as a temporary homeless shelter, should the City request it. Wong-Tam’s motion to get the City to put in that request gained support, but ultimately failed 17-25, with Mihevc and the Mayor voting against.

The motions that passed closely echoed the announcement made by the Mayor over the weekend. They call on City staff to assess the possibility of opening up to 400 spaces across existing shelters, motel rooms and a drop-in centre. Furthermore, they asks City staff to attempt to open 3 shelters, originally scheduled to open in 2019, sometime next year.

There are two fundamental problems with these proposals:

1. They do not provide immediate respite for the majority of homeless people

Unlike the armouries, which have the infrastructure to provide shelter beds to hundreds of people, and could be opened within a matter of days, the proposals that passed do not guarantee the expansion of beds in the coming weeks, or even months. The City is relying on cramming beds in already overcrowded existing shelters. Most shelters have already been through this process before and are already packed. Further crowding, if even possible, will dramatically increase the risk of infectious diseases, infestations and violence. The City also plans to rely on more motel beds which may benefit homeless families but won’t help single people – who form the largest section of the homeless population. Lastly, the City’s proposed new drop-in space, even if opened relatively quickly, would not provide beds or adequate washroom facilities.

This means the majority of the homeless will remain in a situation very similar to the one they are in now – forced to either sleep rough or crowd into survival spaces like the drop-ins which are not equipped to serve as shelters. These proposals will not prevent harm this winter or make a substantive impact on the current shelter crisis.

2. A year from now, we still won’t have sufficient beds

While any addition of permanent beds in the current situation marks an improvement, unless a certain threshold is crossed, the crisis will persist. That threshold today is the addition of at least 1000 beds which will bring the system closer to guaranteeing a spot for everyone in need. The proposal that passed yesterday promises to add an estimated 300 new beds over the next year. That would be better than nothing, but it will not satisfy the need, and still leave hundreds with nowhere to go.

Another point worth addressing is the careless scapegoating of refugees that characterized debate at Council yesterday. The Mayor and a number of councillors blamed refugees’ use of shelters for the pressures on the system. They cited the fact that refugee shelter use has gone up 15% over the past year. While the increase in shelter use is undeniable, the conclusion is utterly unjustified. The current shelter crisis is a product of the worsening housing crisis, low social assistance rates, declining incomes, and the ongoing failure of council to address the shortage of shelter spaces. Shelter use has increased dramatically across all sectors since 2015. The percentage of refugees in the shelter system is comparable to years past. Their numbers were simply artificially low under the Harper regime because of its regressive immigration policies. Blaming refugees for a crisis that all three levels of government are responsible for creating is reprehensible, can only increase xenophobic violence, and must be viscerally opposed.

Yesterday was also the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Homeless women and trans people in Toronto continue to deal with a situation where shelters serving them are full every single night, jeopardizing the lives and safety of the many who are left without a bed. Decisions council made yesterday will not result in any immediate change in that situation.

What transpired at council yesterday was perhaps not unexpected, but made a few things clear. No longer can the City claim that the shelter system is not in trouble. The Mayor and Council are clearly willing to tolerate high levels of human suffering, but the ongoing resistance by homeless people and allies has forced a response. The problem is that the response is a grossly inadequate one and people’s lives are on the line. So let it be clear to the Mayor and his lackeys that this fight will escalate and that we intend to win the measures that are necessary, including the rapid opening of the armouries.