UPDATE from August 23 Action to Stop The Closing of The School House Shelter, Plus FAQ

August 23, 2012:
OCAP Takes Over Dundas/Jarvis With An Outdoor Drinking Zone:
Delivers Toast To the ‘End of Gentrification’

(See More pics hers, at journalist John Bonnar's page: http://johnb.smugmug.com/Journalism/Rally-to-Save-the-Schoolhouse/249627...)

As part of the fight to save a local shelter from closing down, OCAP has
today marched to the site of an upscale development - Great Gulf Homes’
Pace Condos - that is encroaching on the edge of the Downtown East. It is
here that those who wish to drink a beer are doing so in the open for all
to see. We are together making a toast to the fight to save the School
House shelter, and to the determination of this community to stand up with
pride and defend itself.

The decision to close the School House shelter means that homeless people
who drink will have no choice but to drink in public. The politicians who
made this decision know this, but they are counting on the cops to sweep
the problems they create from sight. Right now, OCAP is here at the Pace
Condos lot at Dundas and Jarvis to raise a glass and loudly proclaim that
we will not be pushed, priced or policed out of our neghbourhood.

Great Gulf Homes, with their 46 storey luxury condo tower at Dundas and
Jarvis, are establishing a beach head for a new level of upscale
redevelopment in the Downtown East. The whole area is now contested
territory and the contest will either end in the driving out of the poor
and homeless, or the defeat of gentrification by a community that
mobilizes to resist.

Drinking problems affect people at every level in this society, but those
with wealth and position can deal with their issues in discreet seclusion
and enjoy the best supports money can buy. The homeless, who have no
private space, have none of these benefits and must face public derision
and criminalization when they behave as any wealthy drinker would but for
a plush home and an ample bank account.

This fight is only beginning. OCAP has stated that we do not indeed to let
the building sit empty while homeless people die on the streets.


What is happening:
The City is moving to close down the School House shelter on George St, a 55 bed men's harm reduction facility that has provided shelter in the Toronto Downtown East community for decades. It is one of the oldest facilities, a flagship as a safe use site, and has been a staple of the neighborhood since the 1970’s. 55 beds might not seem like a lot, but that’s on top of HUNDREDS of shelter beds we have already lost in this neighborhood. Once a space is closed and residents are moved out, those beds are not replaced. This means that an already over-­‐ stressed shelter system will be pushed to the brink. The city is in a housing crisis, people are on the streets, we need more and better services, not less.

Harm Reduction:
The loss of a 'wet' shelter (i.e. one that permits some alcohol to be consumed on site) will mean that homeless people who drink will be forced to do so outside, in the parks and in the alleyways. This will put people at risk of criminalization – they will be given tickets that they cannot pay and be thrown in the Don Jail when they fail to pay those tickets. This will also mean that in the winter, when they should have the option to drink in a safe and warm place, people will be forced outside, at risk of freezing to death, like too many have already in this city as a result of government cuts and anti-­‐poor policies. Most shelter spaces won’t let guys take in their drinks but the School House is a unique harm reduction program for men who drink and this saves lives. It provides front-­‐line staff on-­‐site, a health care provider visits, and access to services.
Some have tried to say that School House does not meet their standards of harm reduction, but in the City and Dixon Hall’s own words, in the details of their initial contract, it has been highlighted and advertised as a harm reduction site for years http://www.dixonhall.org/our-­‐ services/housing-­‐homelesness/shelter/). It is only now that the City is attempting to say otherwise as it suits their agenda to have the location shut down. Harm reduction is not about a prescribed cookie-­‐cutter approach; it is meant to be a continuum of care to meet people where
they are at. A narrow definition of harm reduction that does not include safe spaces where people can drink, like the School House, is both dangerous and inaccurate.
After a series of freezing deaths in the 90’s, OCAP and many others in the Downtown East fought for an expansion of services like the School House to provide safe and warm places for people to drink and stay. Now, as we face higher levels of homelessness, we are seeing these programs taken away. The School House fills an important void in harm reduction space in this City, especially for men who drink, and is unlike any other program. Ask anyone on the streets, people who have stayed at the School House, frontline workers or health providers in the area and they will tell you that is an essential and incredibly important facility that has undoubtedly saved lives.

There are 79,000 people on the waiting list for housing (that list is 10 years long) and the City is looking at selling what little housing there is, NOT investing in new buildings. People are also priced out of the private housing market. Rent subsidies are not adequate and often force people in slum apartments that are inaccessible to services or to community. The reality is that there is no housing; there is a housing crisis. Shelters are necessary and the School House is one space that actually allows people to have some control over their own lives. At the same time that we fight for access to services and shelters, we of course fight for REAL affordable and accessible housing for all.

Upscale development vs. the poor:
This neighborhood is changing quickly as rich developers aim to re-­‐develop everything they can get their hands on, moving slowly but surely into the heart of the Downtown East: Dundas and Sherbourne. The School House is located on a street with many other services and housing projects -­‐ it is a corridor into the rest of the DTE community – if we allow it to be 're-­‐developed', will create a ripple effect and will result in massive displacement of poor people and services. Closing School House is not about saving money or reallocating resources. The truth is that decisions like this are made to benefit gentrification of the Downtown East neighborhood. First the shelters close and then the luxury condos go up. We cannot lose another space and let our neighborhood be taken over while poor people are pushed out. The DTE neighborhood in Toronto has a long history as a poor and working class neighborhood and a long history of resistance.

The Campaign so far:
The campaign to Save the School house was started by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the Downtown East Committee to Stop the Cuts (part of the city-­‐wide Stop the Cuts network), alongside allies in local unions and agencies in the neighborhood. We heard about the potential closure not by the politicians at City Hall, but from our members on the streets and those who have stayed at the School House and local shelters.
The School House is a city-­‐owned property and has been run by the not-­‐for-­‐profit, Dixon Hall. Dixon Hall has said that they are unable to keep running the School House program and looked to the City to take it over. Instead of finding a new service provider, or increasing the amount needed to run the School House, the City staff at Shelter, Support and Housing Administration decided to shut the place down. They were attempting to have the shelter close down quietly and with little community input or resistance. It was through this campaign that this issue was forced into the light. We have taken a delegation to meet with local Councillor Wong-­‐Tam on multiple occasions, along with staff from Shelter, Support and Housing, we had a BBQ and a march in the neighborhood, community meetings, a petition signed by 800 people, and did deputations at City Hall.
Despite the overwhelming support to keep the shelter open, the City's Community Development and Recreation Committee, including Councillor Kristyn Wong-­‐Tam, are not supporting keeping the School House open or even keeping the needed shelter beds within the Downtown East neighborhood. On June 26th, the committee voted to shut down the George St. shelter and transfer the funds elsewhere. They claim that this is not a cut and want us to believe that they will spend the money they save by closing School House on new ‘housing initiatives’. But the reality is that this is a huge cut to a vital service in the midst of a crisis – there is no housing alternative, shelters are already overcrowded with tensions flaring up, and people's health and lives are on the line.

What next:
Everything now depends on community mobilization in the Downtown East and beyond to save the School House. This shelter has to become the place where we draw a line. We can’t let this shelter sit empty with a padlock on its door while people die on the streets. We must organize to take back the School House and take forward the struggle in this City for the right to decent and affordable housing and services for all.
How you can get involved:
To make this campaign successful, we need lots of people to get involved. If you are on the streets, have lived at School House, work or live in the neighborhood, or are an ally -­‐ get in
touch and get involved! We are planning demonstrations and actions throughout the fall and are not giving up anytime soon!

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: 416-­‐925-­‐6939 // ocap@tao.ca Downtown East Committee to Stop the Cuts: torontodte@gmail.com