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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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Media Release: Stop the Loss of Respite Sites

City allowing respite spaces to be lost despite shelters being full and directive from council to maintain respite capacity

Press Conference at 1pm on Thursday, April 12, at south-east corner of Dundas & Sherbourne, the location of Margaret’s respite centre, which will lose at least half its capacity this Sunday.

Speakers: Gaetan Heroux (OCAP), Maggie Helwig (Poverty Reduction Committee, Anglican Diocese), Maurice Adongo (Street Health), Greg Cook (Sanctuary), two more to be confirmed.

Toronto: On April 15, the All Saints church respite site, officially considered to be part of Margaret’s, and located at Dundas and Sherbourne, will shut down. The impending closure will result in Margaret’s losing at least half of its 110 person capacity, forcing at least 55 people to relocate, but no one knows where to. The City has failed to release a plan for the relocation and has not secured a replacement site in the neighbourhood. In response to repeated email requests to reveal where the City expects people to go, management at Shelter, Support and Housing Administration would only say that current occupants of Margaret’s would be “offered alternative space within the shelter system or respite sites.”

“People are in respite sites because they can’t get into overloaded shelters. The severe shortage of shelters was the precise reason why the operation of respite sites was extended to the end of the year. In this context, claiming that shelter space can now be magically found is dishonest, especially when every single shelter sector continues to remain full. If shelter space was that readily available, why wasn’t it offered before? As for respite sites, the only one with sufficient capacity is the Better Living Centre, half-way across the City. But even that site is facing closure, at-most a month later, with no plans publicly announced for where people staying there will go,” says Gaetan Heroux, member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

The intent behind the extension of the respite sites was to ensure that over 700 people staying in the 8 winter 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 close. City management committed to publicly communicating a clear plan that would ensure people would not be robbed of even the most bare-bones shelter from the elements the respite sites provide. No such plan has been released to-date.

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.

At the action on April 12, homeless advocates will be demanding that the City immediate pursue and open a replacement respite site in the downtown east and follow through on the adding of at least 1000 new shelter beds this year to deal with the deadly shelter crisis.

Media Spokespersons: Gaetan Heroux & Yogi Acharya, OCAP

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

Speakers Series: Beyond #MeToo: Ending Violence Against Poor Women

Beyond #MeToo: Ending Violence Against Poor Women
Thursday, April 19 | 6pm – 8pm | CRC, 40 Oak St.
[Free event with meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Facebook event | Speakers Series Audio Archive | Download Flyer

Speakers: Azeezah Kanji and Anna Willats

Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst and writer based in Toronto. She is the director of programming at Noor Cultural Centre and a regular opinion writer for the Toronto Star, focusing on issues related to race, law, national security, and human rights.

Anna Willats has been an activist working on social justice issues, particularly violence against women and transgender folks, since 1982 in Toronto. She is currently a professor in the Assaulted Women’s and Children’s counsellor/Advocate Program at George Brown College.

Over the past few months, the #MeToo movement has brought down several prominent men accused of sexual harassment and violence against women. The movement has been successful in exposing the pervasiveness of this violence in our society, and has been rapidly endorsed by celebrities and politicians.

But does #MeToo address the concerns of poor women? Is its scope limited to exposing the harassment and violence perpetrated by famous men, or to the violence experienced by rich women? How does the movement respond to systemic violence against Indigenous and racialized women? What does the history of movements fighting violence against women teach us about similar struggles today? How have poor women fought back?

Join us for this important conversation to better understand the forces shaping #MeToo, and the history of poor women’s resistance to violence.

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. 

What if Doug Ford wins?

We’re not suggesting in OCAP that the outcome of the impending Ontario election is settled or that any result is inevitable. However, we do feel that the possibility of a majority Tory government, led by Doug Ford, is serious enough that it would be wise to consider now what that would mean and how unions and social movements might respond to such an outcome.

We would be the first to agree that an austerity agenda has been at work during the years the Liberal party has been in government and that it will continue regardless of who wins the next election. However, a Ford government would be a hard right regime that could be expected to escalate the attack on workers and communities considerably.

There are obviously some comparisons to be made to the Harris Tory regime that held power from 1995 to 2003.  There was considerable resistance during those years but there are lessons that must drawn as well. When the Tories first took power, there was a kind of stunned demobilization that lost us time and momentum and, when the Days of Action strikes and mass protests got underway, as impressive as they were, there were serious limitations in how they were conducted. The object of the whole mobilization was never made clear. Was it all about trying to put moral pressure on the Tories or to create a social force that could actually stop them? At the same time, the events were sporadic and no plan to escalate to province wide shutdown was ever developed.

OCAP is proposing that organizations and union and community activists who think we should be ready for Ford, should meet, discuss and plan a fitting response should he take the election.  There will certainly be protests against the regressive measures his government would take but we are suggesting that we need a movement ready to fight fire with fire. The response to his attacks should be a working class common front that is ready to create a level of economic and political disruption powerful enough to force the Tories to retreat or to drive them from office. Ford would attack worker’s rights, the social infrastructure and the environment, fan the flames of racism and trample on Indigenous rights. The potential for a winning social mobilization against him is enormous but only if a lead is given.

We’re hoping that, we can bring together the basis for a kind of caucus for a real fightback that could influence union and community action and the course of the struggle. Please let us know if your organization or you, as an individual activist, would be interested in being part of this by emailing ocap@tao.ca.

The Fight for Dundas and Sherbourne

Click on the photo to see a larger image.

A series of adjacent vacant properties (214-230 Sherbourne) 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.

Update: June 26, 2018: The owners of 214-230 Sherbourne took the properties off the market. The owners seem to prefer to sell to developers willing to pay more than the already inflated market price. The affordable housing office has been directed to develop a general “affordable housing real estate acquisition/ expropriation strategy,” but they are choosing to not pursue the expropriation of 214-230 Sherbourne at this time. The motion does mention that if the properties were to be listed again before the end of the year, the affordable housing has the authority to put in a “conditional offer” to purchase the properties. But a conditional offer that’s contingent on council approval, which could take months, is likely not going to enough to stall the purchase of the properties. In the midst of a deadly housing crisis, there is no good reason to not proceed with expropriating these properties now.

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.

CUPE 3903, we got your back: Strike to Win!

Below is an open letter of solidarity sent to CUPE 3903 – the union representing teaching and graduate assistants, contract faculty, and part-time librarians – at York University, who have been on strike since March 5.

Dear CUPE 3903 Members:

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) expresses it full support for and solidarity with the present struggle of the members of CUPE 3903 against your employer, York University. We’d like to set out why we take such a position.

OCAP is, of course, an anti poverty organization. We take up struggles and campaigns on the issues facing poor and homeless people. They are the most extreme victims of the agenda of neoliberal austerity that you are confronting. Income support systems have been gutted, so as to create a climate of desperation and force people into the lowest paying jobs. Housing has become unaffordable and hundreds of thousand live on the edge of homelessness, while thousands face overcrowded shelters or the streets.

Right here in Toronto, the neoliberal city, York University is making its own major contribution to this agenda by working to ensure that post secondary education is provided through the super exploitation of workers. The university as a precarious low wage employer is a work in progress and, with its attack on the members of CUPE 3903, York U is trying to advance this agenda with a vengeance.

Your Local has shown its support for the fights that OCAP takes up many times and in many ways and we are proud to return that solidarity. However, we also offer our support because your fight is too important to disregard. Your victory in this strike will be a victory for all of us. Correspondingly, it will be a defeat for the agenda of austerity and greed that we are all confronting.

We express our full and unqualified support for CUPE 3903 and its present vital struggle. Strike to win!

In solidarity,

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

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.