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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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.

Shelter Now: Fill City Council For Vote on Adding 1000 Shelter Beds


Tuesday, December 5
| 8:30am – Breakfast, 9:00am – Rally, 9:30am – Go into Council Meeting
City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square, in front of ‘Toronto’ sign
Facebook Event

Toronto’s homeless shelter system has been dangerously overfull for a very long time, with dire consequences.  70 homeless people died in the first 9 months of this year, many not even reaching the age of 50. The City has thus far refused to add enough shelter capacity and chosen to cram people into warming centres and volunteer-run out of the cold facilities, but even those are overburdened.

Now, following a long fight, the council committee responsible for shelters recently voted unanimously to recommend to City Council that it open 1000 new shelter beds. It also voted 4-1 to call on Mayor Tory to declare a state of emergency and open up the armouries to shelter people this Winter. Both measures are urgently needed and will save lives.

City council will vote on both of these recommendations on December 5 and we need to be there. It is by rallying together that we can win what we need. Join us.

 

 

Toronto Star Piece: City is Ignoring Toronto’s Shelter Crisis

Jessica Hales, a member of OCAP, wrote about the shelter crisis in the Toronto Star today. She cuts apart the City’s claim that it is adding 200 more beds before winter:

First, the addition of new shelter beds is simply not keeping pace with shelter closures and the growing homeless population. It fact, only 30 of the 200 beds being “added” to the system are new beds. The rest include adding mats to a women’s drop-in and replacing 60 beds lost from the closure of the Hope Shelter and 100 beds closed during an infectious disease outbreak at Seaton House. This simply will not meet the city’s need, especially as people attempt to move indoors during winter.


For the full article, click here.

Emergency Speak Out at the Peter Street Referral Centre

Wednesday, September 27 | 10am | 129 Peter Street
(
One block south of Queen and east of Spadina)

On Tuesday last week, the ongoing crisis of insufficient emergency shelter space for Toronto’s growing homeless population took a dangerous turn. The city-run Peter Street Referral Centre, a place of last-resort that tries to find shelter beds for homeless people, shut its doors at night even as people kept coming for help. On any given night up to 50 people are forced to spend the night in chairs and on the bare floors at the Centre, subsisting on cookies and juice, because shelters are overwhelmed and staff aren’t able to find them a bed. Last Tuesday, however, not only were there no beds to refer people to, there was no physical space left to let people into the building.

The situation at the Peter Street Referral Centre is reflective of the gross lack of shelter space for the city’s burgeoning homeless population; a fact that is also evidenced by the unprecedented demand for beds this summer, a season where sleeping rough doesn’t always equal death. The official nightly occupancy figures released by the City paint a bleak picture but actually understate the reality. The system is overwhelmed and at the point of breakdown. Even the two 24/7 drop-ins for women have been over-capacity and the location on Adelaide often has had to turn women away. With the shelters in this state and the cold weather looming ever close, it’s apparent that even the option of disgracefully cramming people into substandard out of the colds, warming centres and drop ins will fail to hold up under the strain.

Politicians and bureaucrats can no longer look away and underplay the problem. A system that has been horribly crowded and grossly inadequate is at the point of collapse. Shelter space must be opened. This Wednesday, advocates and people on the front lines will gather at the Referral Centre to speak to the urgency and enormity of the shelter crisis and demand action by City Hall. At least 1000 new shelter beds must be opened to meet the current demand, and in the interim, facilities like gymnasiums and the armories that meet basic shelter standards must be opened up to provide immediate respite to the homeless.

Join us!

 

 

Back-Off BIA: Private Policing of Public Space Won’t be Tolerated

BobKempBIASecurity
BIA security with Bob Kemp, “Streetscape Coordinator” for the BIA, in St.James Park

Watch the Video | Download Know Your Rights Poster
In the Media: CBC | City TV | Now Magazine

The St.Lawrence Market Business Improvement Area (the BIA) has hired private security that patrols the neighbourhood, and has become notorious for harassing poor and homeless users of St. James Park. The security guard ‘bans’ people from the area, enforces made-up rules (no sleeping in the park) and has become a symbol of fear, which is precisely the intent.

We learned about the situation mid-July from a currently homeless park user, Neil Mclellan, who called us while he was being threatened and illegally kicked off from the park gazebo by the guard. We notified the city, called the BIA and sent them a written letter to cease and desist from these practices. When the harassment continued, we issued a poster informing park users of their rights.

Instead of laying off, the BIA escalated the situation. They started confiscating posters OCAP had distributed to park users (which is theft) and threatened Neil with physical violence. Despite being told by the city to cease having security patrol the park, and interact with park users outside of the hours stipulated on their permit, the BIA continued with the status quo this Thursday.

So we are now releasing this statement and video publicly, with a warning to the BIA – back off and stop the illegal private policing of the park and the surrounding area, and the harassment of poor people. If you don’t immediately put an end to these illegal practices, we will start picketing all your member businesses, starting with the ones owned by your board of directors.

BBQ & Rally for Shelters & Housing

August2017BBQ
Saturday, August 19 | 12 noon | Allan Gardens, Sherbourne & Carlton
Free Food | Kids Welcome | Music | Facebook Event

The city tells us that emergency shelters aren’t the solution to homelessness and the escalating rates of homeless deaths, housing is. So shelters are kept underfunded and overcrowded. At the same time, the city is boarding up hundreds of public (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) housing units, at a time when the demand for them far outstrips supply. Thousands of families are facing displacement and thousands more languish on the subsidized housing waiting-list with wait-times that now stretch over a decade. Meanwhile market rents continue their upward spiral and upscale redevelopment projects continue pushing poor people out of the downtown core.

We intend to build a formidable fight capable of facing off against these marauding housing profiteers and their lackeys in government. These neighbourhoods are ours and we refuse to be pushed, priced or policed out! We demand the following:

  • Open 1000 new emergency shelter beds.
  • Stop the ongoing closure of TCHC units.
  • Protect the city’s stock of rooming houses.
  • Build decent, accessible, and affordable public housing now.

This summer has been an especially difficult one, we’ve lost a lot of people. Their lives have been lost not only to homelessness, but also to senseless policies of the so-called ‘war on drugs.’ So we come together, in the spirit of what Mother Jones once said, to mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living. Join us.

TORONTO OMBUDSMAN ENQUIRY REPORT ON COLD WEATHER DROP IN SERVICES

xsm SLEEPOUT POSTER for web

What it Shows and What it Misses

The Toronto Ombudsman’s report opens by acknowledging that its enquiry was prompted by a CBC interview with Cathy Crowe, ‘a well known social activist and street nurse about Toronto’s cold weather response for people who are homeless.’ The interview dealt with inadequate levels of shelter provision and looked at the need for the federal armouries to be opened in order to respond to this. Given that the media interview that prompted the enquiry raised issues around the inadequacy of the overall shelter system, it’s curious that the Ombudsman chose to limit deliberations to the back-up cold weather drop-ins. In fact, it’s actually rather worrying that this choice was made because it happens to be a rather useful one for Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) officialdom and the agenda they are pursuing.
READ MORE

Bringing the Crisis of Homelessness to John Tory’s Door-Step

Is OCAP Really Being ‘Unfair?’

sleepout poster-SoUnfair

On Saturday, April 22, at 7.00PM, OCAP will be back in front of Mayor John Tory’s luxury condo at Bloor and Bedford to challenge the homeless crisis in Toronto. This time, we will bed down and stay for the night. Tory has previously accused us of being ‘unfair’ by bringing the fight to his private residence. At least two City Council members have taken the same position publicly. Sections of the media have been aghast that we would behave in this way. This being so, we wanted to put the following points on the record.

  1. We are not challenging some inconvenience or mild injustice but the lethal abandonment of homeless people to the streets. The shelters are bursting at the seams, the City is failing to implement its own policies with regard to occupancy levels and the back-up warming centes and volunteer-run Out of the Cold facilities have closed for the year. Homeless people have died this winter for lack of adequate shelter, they have suffered hypothermia on the cold streets, and their health and dignity have been assaulted. City Council has cut homeless services in the midst of this situation and made it clear that the needs and survival of homeless people are valued much less than the objectives of austerity and upscale redevelopment.
  1. John Tory can’t plausibly deny that he is fully aware of the reality of the crisis on the streets of this City. The threadbare denials and excuses that he and his administrators have put forward would convince no serious observer. Homeless people and their advocates, front line workers, medical providers and religious leaders have all provided him with abundant and compelling evidence of the gravity of the situation. He knows but chooses not to act.
  1. If we were dealing with a Mayor who, in good faith, was seeking to find solutions and take vitally necessary actions to deal with the crisis, we would be taking a very different approach. However, we have learned from bitter experience that ‘going through the proper channels’ is to disappear into a maze of political evasion and bureaucratic delay. Those who tell us we should be going the route of polite discourse and restrained tactics, may be prepared to accept the suffering and misery of the homeless but we are not. We look to maximize the pressure on the Mayor and, if our home visits make him uncomfortable, so much the better.
  1. We think that coming to the front door of Tory’s luxury dwelling is far from ‘unfair’ and that, in fact, it is entirely fitting and just as a course of action. The building he lives in is known as the ‘Tower of Power.’ If he and his well-to-do and well-connected neighbours are mildly inconvenienced by the actions, the discomfort is nothing compared to the impact on human lives of the failure to provide basic shelter from the elements or shelter conditions that are remotely humane and decent. If Tory wants us to be more ‘reasonable,’ he can tell his political co-thinkers and developer friends that he will meet the very basic demands we put forward in response to a desperate and worsening crisis of homelessness.

We will be bedding down in front of John Tory’s condo on April 22 and we make no apologies for our actions. In this wealthy City, the fact that people lack even shelter space, is a shame and a disgrace and we intend to challenge that even in the face of high placed disapproval.