OCAP | Shelter Crisis
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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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

Petition: Stop the Closure of the Fred Victor’s Open House Drop-In Program

This sign was posted at the entrance to the Fred Victor Open House drop-in on May 14, just a week before the decades-old drop was suddenly scheduled to close.

Update: 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, 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

To: Wangari Muriuki, Board Chair, and Mark Aston, CEO, of Fred Victor, Toronto. Aston is also the frequent spokesperson for the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness.

Starting Tuesday, May 22, the Fred Victor Open House drop-in program at 145 Queen Street East is scheduled to close “until further notice.” The announcement was made on Monday, May 14, just a week prior to the sudden shut down of a decades-old drop in program. This service cut is happening in the midst of a deadly shelter and opioid crisis in the city that claimed at least 100 lives last year.  The drop-in provides a vital service in the neighbourhood and the community cannot afford to lose it.

We, the undersigned demand that the Fred Victor Centre stop the drop-in closure and find resources to reinstate the 4-hour drop-in, with food and adequate staffing to support the service.

Stop The Loss of Respite Sites: Urgent Action

Stop The Loss of Respite Sites: Emergency Action
Thursday, April 12 | 1pm | South-east corner of Dundas & Sherbourne

On April 15, the All Saints church respite site at Dundas and Sherbourne will shut down. The site is officially considered to be part of the Margaret’s respite centre, which is located in the same building. The closure will result in Margaret’s losing at least half of its 110 person capacity. This means, come April 15, at least 55 people presently staying at Margaret’s will be evicted.

Respite sites take in homeless people who cannot get into the City’s overloaded shelters. In February this year, following a months-long fight, council approved an extension of the City’s winter respite sites to the end of the year. It set aside $14 million to ensure that the over 750 people staying in the 8 respite sites and various volunteer-run overnight programs aren’t simply dumped back onto the streets come April 15 – the date these sites were originally scheduled to shut down. City management committed to publicly releasing a clear plan that would ensure people had a place to go. To-date, no such information has been communicated publicly.

The staggered closure of the volunteer-run Out of the Cold program has already resulted in the loss of 447 respite spaces, an average of 64 per night. By April 27, when the last Out of the Cold site shuts down, we will have lost 652 spaces, an average of nearly a 100 per night. The loss of at-least 55 spaces at Margaret’s will be an additional blow. In a context where it took a major fight and the death of nearly 100 homeless people to force a response to the shelter crisis, the City’s tardy approach to ensuring the continuation of the respite sites leads to only one conclusion. The delay is deliberate, they are banking on homeless people losing hope and reverting to sleeping rough in the ravines, under bridges, and on the streets. Respite service at substantially reduced levels might continue, but it will not be guaranteed. Such calculated disregard for the lives of homeless people must be challenged.

Join us next Thursday for a speak out and press conference to demand that the City replace the spaces lost with the closure of All Saints and the Out of the Colds. Given the concentration of homeless people in the downtown east, and the fact that shelters and respite sites in the neighbourhood are full, the replacement site must be opened in this area. Finally, the City must publicly release a clear plan for the operation of the respite sites for the remainder of the year. If you can, come with us following the action to city hall where we will make these same demands of Councillors responsible for shelter operations, at the Community Development and Recreation Committee meeting. #FightToWin

The Fight for Dundas and Sherbourne

Click on the photo to see a larger image.

A series of adjacent vacant properties are up for sale just steps from the south-west intersection of Dundas and Sherbourne. The owners want to sell the property to condo developers. We’re calling on the City to purchase the property, and if necessary, to expropriate it for building social housing.

Dundas and Sherbourne needs housing to be sure, but it needs housing that poor people can afford. The neighbourhood won’t get that housing with private development. Zoning requirements do require private developers to build at least 10% “affordable” housing, but this offers little cause for comfort. Outside of the fact that the 10% requirement is woefully inadequate and allows the developer to build up to 90% market-rate housing (most likely for ownership), the City’s definition of affordability is a cruel joke. The City defines affordable housing as “at or below the average City of Toronto rent.”

The average market rent in Toronto is over $1000 for a bachelor, over $1200 for a one-bedroom, and over $1400 for a two-bedroom apartment. Single people on social assistance receive a maximum of $721 or $1150, depending on whether they’re on Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program. Even people earning the new minimum wage, a 21% bump over last year, must spend over 60% of their income on rent to secure a one-bedroom apartment. With a sizable plot of land up for sale just steps from Dundas and Sherbourne, the threat of homes for the wealthy being built in a neighbourhood overwhelming populated by the poor is very real.

Based on work we’ve done thus far, a motion to get the City staff to look into purchasing or expropriating the plot of land will go to City council on Tuesday, March 27. While a positive vote will help, turning back the tide of encroaching gentrification will take a fight. Thankfully, this neighbourhood has a long history of resistance. Join us and let’s fight to win social housing at Dundas and Sherbourne.

Update, March 27, 2018: The motion referenced above passed, which means staff at the Affordable Housing Office now have the mandate to pursue the purchase of the property. This does not, however, mean the property will be purchased by the City. A report will now be produced at the Affordable Housing Committee meeting on June 25 which will provide further insight into whether the City will pursue the purchase. We will post more information as it becomes available.

For a brief history of the history of gentrification and resistance in the neighbourhood, see below:

A Brief History of Dundas and Sherbourne: Gentrificaion and Resistance

Downtown East Toronto, one of Toronto’s oldest working class neighbourhood, is being threatened by gentrification. This gentrification, which began in the mid 1960’s, has intensified over the last fifteen years. Working class people and the unemployed, who have been welcomed in Downtown East Toronto since the mid 1850’s, are now being displaced by large developers speculating and buying up property in the neighbourhood. Thousands of rooming houses, which have served as cheap housing for the poor, have disappeared from here.

The corner of Dundas and Shebourne remains one of the most important part of our neighbourhood. All Saints Anglican Church, which has served as a community centre since 1970, sits on the south-east corner. However, the valuable land located in and around Dundas and Sherbourne area is now being targeted by speculators and developers who are hoping to cash in. A property located on Sherbourne St. just south of Dundas Street East, just across from All Saints Chruch, is now being offered for sale to developers for a potential 23-storey condo development. On the site sits a large abandoned Victorian House, which had operated as a rooming house since 1914, and which has now sat empty for more than a decade. Two other houses adjacent to 230 Sherbourne, which also operated has rooming houses for decades, were demolished several years ago by the owners, and now only an empty lot remains.

The poor have a long history of fighting for housing at Dundas and Sherbourne area. In 1970’s the City of Toronto was facing a crisis as more and more rooming houses were disappearing. The city eventually bought up more than a dozen rooming houses on Sherbourne St., just north of Dundas Street East, which continue to operate today.  More than forty rooming houses were also saved, and bought by the city, in the late 1970’s, after poor people fought back against speculators buying up rooming houses during the St. Jamestown redevelopment. In the mid 1980’s, after Drina Joubert was found frozen to death at the back of a rooming house across the street from All Saints Anglican Church, a large coalition was formed calling on the Ontario government to build social housing for single adults. This battle resulted in the subsequent building of 3,000 units of social housing for single adults, including 61 units at Dundas and Sherbourne, behind All Saints Church.

On a nightly basis more than 100 people are sleeping on mats at All Saints Anglican Church, one of seven respite sites funded by the city this winter. A few blocks west of Dundas and Sherbourne, on George St., another respite centre, 100 people are also being sheltered in an old youth detention owned by the province, every night. As the city’s shelter and housing crisis continues to intensify we cannot allow developers to displace the poor and the unemployed, who had always been welcomed in Downtown East. In order to continue to ensure that this community keeps its working class identity we must protect it.

Speakers Series: One of Us – Why Toronto’s Poor Should Welcome Refugees

One Of Us: Why Toronto’s Poor Should Welcome Refugees
Thursday, March 15 | 6pm – 8pm | CRC, 40 Oak St.
[Free event with meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Facebook event | Speakers Series Audio Archive

Speakers: Speakers from No One Is Illegal-Toronto and OCAP to be announced soon

There is a pervasive sense that refugees and poor immigrants, particularly those without full immigration status, take resources away from the poor who were born in Canada. Many politicians  exploit this sentiment to sow division among the poor for personal gain. Even those politicians who may not be overtly racist, still imply that their failure (and in reality, refusal) to address poverty and homelessness is a result of a “refugee influx.”

Do these claims are any merit? Has the rise in refugees seeking asylum triggered the shelter crisis in Toronto? Does government support for refugees mean less support for poor citizens?

Join us to discuss and other important questions at this month’s Speakers Series. The Speakers will make the case for why we should welcome refugees and toss out our rulers. Join us for a meal at 6pm, and stay for the discussion.

Speakers: Maya Menezes, Emily Green and Yogi Acharya

Maya Menezes is an organizer with No One Is Illegal-Toronto. She works on issues from justice for non-status folks, to environmental protection and poverty reduction.

Emily Green is a kitchen relief worker in a shelter for refugee families, a position she has held for almost four years. In her front-line work, she has witnessed the crisis in Toronto’s shelters system, as well as some of the other challenges that newcomers to Toronto experience.
Yogi Acharya is an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

The monthly Speakers Series is where we gather to discuss issues that are critical to the success of poor people’s movements. It’s where we build our capacity to fight to win.

Feb 13 Budget Update: Victory & The Fight Ahead

Around 10 pm last night, we secured a significant victory in the fight for shelters. Council voted 34-8 in favour of a motion to make the necessary funds to build 1,000 shelter beds available this year.

Mobilizations of homeless people and their allies, like the one we had yesterday, have forced the City and the Mayor to dramatically shift positions. In a span of a few months, they went from downplaying the seriousness of the crisis, to acknowledging there was one; from refusing to open necessary respite sites, to opening 8 this winter; from planning to shut down the respite sites in April to budgeting money to keep them open until the end of the year; and finally, from refusing to budget money for 1,000 beds this year to doing so last night.  It’s a testament to the power of fighting back.

That said, the victory, at least at this stage, is incomplete. The motions that passed don’t commit the city to add 1,000 beds this year. The motions call on the City to “make all reasonable efforts (emphasis added) to expedite the expansion of permanent shelter beds by 1,000 in 2018.” This means the fight must now shift to making sure the City follows through. Further, given that no new shelters are likely to open until the latter part of the year, over 700 people will continue to stay in respite centres. The conditions within these centres are dreadful and they must be addressed immediately.

As we build the struggle ahead, we want to take a moment to honour the memory of all those we’ve lost to poverty and homelessness, and to express our gratitude to and solidarity with all those who continue to show up to fight like hell for the living. Let us commit to making sure we get not only the necessary shelter beds, but also housing that poor people can afford. Join us, and let us fight to win.