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

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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

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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.

Changes to the HSF : Open Letter to the City Signed by 21 Organizations

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Many of you have been a part of the struggle to change the discriminatory policies underlying the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF). To-date we have written two reports (accessible here and here) documenting in detail the issues with the HSF and its management. The outrage sparked by Laura Bardeau‘s case and the subsequent mobilization led to series of changes being announced by the City in December last year. Some of these changes were implemented immediately, such as the abandoning of the discriminatory eligibility formula, whereas others, we were promised, would be designed in consultation with us and other community advocates and legal clinics.

The consultation did not happen and instead TESS merely notified us, by way of a poorly organized ‘information session’ on June 28, of the changes it had already designed and which would go into effect a mere 3 business days later (on July 4). Now a coalition of 18 organizations, OCAP included, have penned an open letter to the Mayor and members of the Community Development and Recreation Committee outlining the issues with the changes and the resolutions we are seeking. The letter appears below.

OCAP has also prepared our own assessment of all the changes to the HSF. You can download it here.
READ MORE

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

Tomorrow: Speakers Series: Poverty & Disability

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Thursday, July 20 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
[ASL-English Interpretation Provided]

Is disability biological, or is it created and reinforced by society? Why are some disabled people considered more deserving than others? Do non-disabled people have a role to play in disabled people’s struggles?

Join us as we discuss these and other questions that look at the connections between disability and poverty in our society, and what that means for our struggles.

Speaker: A.J. Withers, author and organizer
A.J. Withers is a long time disability and anti-poverty organizer with OCAP. They are the author of Disability Politics and Theory, stillmyrevolution.org, and the forthcoming book A Violent History of Benevolence: Interlocking Oppression and the Moral Economies of Social Working (with Chris Chapman).

The monthly speakers series focuses on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

Speakers Series: Canada’s War on the Poor: At Home & Abroad

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Thursday, June 15 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]

Hardly anyone who attends the Speakers Series will be surprised that Canada’s benevolent self-image crumbles when confronted with reality. But exactly what the carefully crafted ‘Canadian’ brand masks is worth discussing. The June Speakers Series will do just that, unraveling along the way the connections between the war on the poor at home and abroad.

Speaker: Todd Gordon

Todd is the author of Imperialist Canada and co-author of Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America. He is also a member of the Toronto New Socialists and is involved in the Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia.

The monthly speakers series focuses on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

HSF Casework Victory

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A lot of the work that OCAP does is  direct action casework –  working alongside individuals to get what they need when welfare or ODSP unjustly deny them.

Last week someone called our office and told us that he was being denied the Housing Stabilization Fund (you can read about our work on the fund here, here and here). He currently lives in Toronto and had to move here recently for medical reasons. However, he was unable to move his stuff when he came. Now, his old landlord is threatening to throw away all of his possessions. The City’s Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF) policy is that it will only give you money for moving if it’s within the GTA – he moved from further away.

That HSF is supposed to help people meet emergency housing needs and losing all of your possessions counts.  Each person has a maximum amount that they are entitled to. 

In spite of our raising this with City Councilors, staff, writing reports, deputing and protesting about it, the city has refused to put in any disability accommodation process for people. The HSF policy is arbitrary. For example, they give you $500 for a bed if you had bed bugs even if you need an adjustable bed because of a disability.  The City of refuses  accommodate disabled people when the arbitrary policies end up being discriminatory. Because he had to move here for health reasons, the GTA moving rule discriminates against him on the grounds of disability. 

We told Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS):

As we have established this necessary disability accommodation, we will now turn to the question of undue hardship. As  TESS should be aware (although past individual and systemic disability discrimination makes it clear that its knowledge of disability human rights law is lacking), TESS has a duty to accommodate on the grounds of disability unless there is an undue hardship. Given that this move will cost less than many moves within the GTA, there is no undue hardship for TESS to provide [him] with the HSF. Additionally, as the HSF has had a surplus of approximately $3.5 million each year since the program began, it is difficult to fathom that there could be an undue hardship in allocating [him] this entitlement.

We demand that you grant [his] HSF application promptly.  All of his possessions could be discarded any day. Failure to provide him with the funds will result in public action and much deserved hardship. 

We sent the letter through regular channels but also sent it to the big bosses in Toronto’s welfare bureaucracy.

We won!

On the heels of our report that exposed the mismanagement of the HSF, we got this man the money he needed to rescue his possessions from his former home.

The fact that we were prepared to take (and indeed have taken) direct action played no small part in securing this victory. What is significant about this case is that, for the first time that we know of, the City has been forced to provide disability accommodation to someone trying to access the fund.

We will keep fighting to make the HSF a more fair and better benefit and ensure that people get what they need! If you have been unjustly denied the HSF, get in touch.

If you are poor or an ally and want to fight for social justice, get involved.