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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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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.

Speakers Series: The Overdose Crisis & the War on Drugs

The Overdose Crisis & the War on Drugs
Thursday, February 15
| 6pm-8pm | CRC, 40 Oak St.
[Free event with meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Facebook event

Speakers: Zoe Dodd and Matt Johnson

Zoe Dodd is a harm-reduction worker and an organizer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention site.

Matt Johnson is a long time injection drug user and harm reduction worker. He is one of the organizers of the Overdose Prevention Site in Moss Park and continues to fight for an end to criminalization of people who use drugs.

In 2017, an estimated average of 333 people died every month from opioid related overdoses across Canada. In response to government inaction in the face of this lethal crisis, people involved in the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society setup an unsanctioned supervised injection site in Moss Park in August. Now, six months later, they still remain there, having saved hundreds of lives. Their defiant actions brought to into public focus this crisis of drug overdoses, which hits poor and homeless communities particularly hard. They forced the reluctant City administration to fast-track the opening of at-least 3 supervised injection sites.

Join us at the February Speakers to learn more about the underlying causes of the opioid crisis, its link to the so-called “war on drugs,” and the measures that still need to be won.

Brief Feb 12 Budget Day Action Update

For those that weren’t able to join us at the budget day action today, below is the coverage of it by a few different media outlets. Some pictures can be found here, here, and here.

CP 24 | Toronto Star | Toronto Sun | CBC | CTV

We were also joined today by Tara Hird, who is 35 weeks pregnant, and her partner Brian Wellet, both of whom are stuck living in the Better Living Centre, a respite site. They had been trying for weeks to get a shelter bed to no avail. As planned, following the action, a delegation from OCAP went with them to the Mayor’s office, and then to Metro Hall to demand they be immediately relocated. We won, and Tara and Brian are being moved to a family shelter today.

We plan on being present in council chambers for the final vote, expected to happen tomorrow, Tuesday. Feb 13. Join us. #FightToWin

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.

Basic Income Pamphlet Launch

Our allies at the Socialist Project have published writings by OCAP organizers on Basic Income as a pamphlet. It is being officially launched at a social they are organizing on Saturday, February 3rd. You can download the pamphlet here, but we encourage you to also come out to the social and get a free copy.

Below are the details:
Saturday, February 3 | 7 pm | Dooney’s Cafe, 866 Bloor St. West
Facebook Event

“The Socialist Project is throwing a social to celebrate the launch of its beautiful new website and the shiny new OCAP pamphlet Basic Income In The Neoliberal Age. Please come out to Dooney’s on Saturday February 3rd, have fun, and bring anyone who likes to talk politics and have a good time!”

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!