OCAP | homeless deaths
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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Three Reasons to Join Us at the Defeat Ford Rally

Placards to be used at the rally.

As you know, today we take the fight against austerity to Doug Ford’s doorstep, with a rally at his campaign headquarters. Here are three reasons why you should join us there:

1. Challenging Ford is important because he represents the most extreme form of the austerity agenda. We are equally convinced, however, that the day after the election, whatever its result and whoever forms the government, that the struggle against that agenda will have to continue.

2. If that struggle is against Ford, we will be fighting a hard right regime. If the NDP wins, from day one, big business will be working to push them to the right, and only a serious social mobilization will be able to counter this.

3. The argument that we should not take to the streets during the election for fear of “helping Ford,” will go over to insisting that we not act to pressure an NDP Government because that might hurt their chances of re-election. We can’t accept this and make clear that our fight is against austerity and the war on the poor in whatever form they are delivered.

There is still some room on the buses, so even if you haven’t registered, feel free to come to one of our bus pick up spots (at Sherbourne & Carlton or at St.George Station, Bedford exit) at 12:30pm. Buses leave at 1pm. We’ll have shwarma and falafel wraps available for people. The rally location is also accessible by TTC. See you there!

Stop Scapegoating Refugees & Build Social Housing and Shelters

Faced with a rise in refugee claimants fleeing harrowing conditions of war in their countries of origin, and racism in the United States, politicians from all three levels of government are blaming the decades-old shelter crisis on people in desperate need of refuge. Erasing over 20 years of their own complicity in creating and entrenching homelessness, politicians  are playing political dodgeball over who should pay to shelter refugees. The fact that their political rhetoric is increasing bigotry and the potential for racist violence towards an already traumatized people seems to matter little.

Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis that is a product of over two decades of municipal, provincial and federal refusal to build new public housing and co-ops, and to adequately maintain existing housing. All three levels of government permitted the unrestrained expansion of the private housing market – run by landlords, developers and property speculators – that uses homes as cash cows to be milked for profit. A whole generation of people has been priced out of homes, and almost half the renters in this city struggle to pay rent. Average rents in the city far exceed the entire income of those on social assistance.

Homelessness became a serious problem in the 1990s, and has worsened dramatically. The city’s emergency shelter system never kept pace with the rising demands and has faced a bed-shortage since the late 1990s. In 1998 City Council made a commitment to fix the bed shortage, but in the 20 years that have since passed, they refused to dedicate the resources to  make that happen. Meanwhile, the homeless death toll keeps rising, with at least 100 succumbing to the harshness of life on the streets in 2017. The informal tally maintained by volunteers at the Homeless Memorial since 1985 now exceeds a thousand dead.

For over two decades homeless people and housing advocates have fought tooth and nail for the expansion of shelters and public housing. These fights have forced a few life-saving victories: the creation of 24 hour women and trans drop-ins, respite centres, and the addition of a few new shelter beds. But with successive Mayors, Premiers and Prime Ministers relentlessly pushing service cuts and refusing to clamp down on the private housing market profiteers, the fights have largely prevented existing services from being lost entirely. They have not resulted in the sufficient expansion of shelters or the creation of housing that is affordable for poor and working class people.

Those in power rule by dividing and conquering. Poor and homeless people who were born in Canada, and those who have lived here a long time, should remember that our well-being has never mattered to such politicians. Mayor John Tory pushed through a 2.6% cut to shelters in the 2017 budget and actively sabotaged attempts to add 1000 beds to the system. When he campaigned to become Mayor in 2003, one of his campaign promises was to ban poor people from panhandling in the downtown core. Provincially,  first the Conservative government gutted social assistance, and then the Liberals ended the need-based cost-sharing agreements for shelters and homelessness services with municipalities. Federally, funding for building new social housing and coops was eliminated in the mid-nineties, in many ways initiating the crisis we see today. The “National Housing Strategy,” announced last year, doesn’t commit any major funding until after the next election, and will not lead to an expansion of rent-geared-to-income housing.

The only way for poor and homeless people in Toronto to win is by refusing to fall for the divisive traps politicians are setting for us. Most people in Canada today are immigrants, or are descendants of immigrants, and we must unite with the refugees who have been pushed out of their nations by politicians who share a lot in common with those who run ours. Let’s welcome refugees and build a united front powerful enough to win decent shelter and housing for us all. Fight To Win.

Open Letter to Fred Victor Management: Stop the Closure of the Open House Drop-In!

 

The following is an open letter to Mark Aston, CEO of Fred Victor, about the abrupt closure of the Open House Drop-in program on Tuesday, May 22. Instead of addressing the long-standing issues of under-staffing at the drop-in, management at Fred Victor decided to just end the program, cutting off a critical service to dozens of people in the neighbourhood. Such callous disregard for the lives of poor people in the neighbourhood and the needs of agency workers cannot be tolerated. Please sign the petition demanding that Fred Victor reinstate the drop-in and provide adequate staffing.

Dear Mark Aston,

We’ve learned that the Fred Victor Centre will be closing its Open House Drop-In program, located at 145 Queen Street East, indefinitely starting Tuesday, May 22. The sudden shutdown of this decades-old program was announced on Monday, May 14, just a week prior to the closing date. It’s shocking that you would choose such a course of action at a time when the shelter and opioid crisis are claiming the lives of at least 2 homeless people weekly.

The move appears to be a response to the on-going issue of understaffing at the drop-in. But Fred Victor management has been aware of these staffing shortages for quite some time. Around this time last year Fred Victor received multiple letters identifying significant concerns about deteriorating service and staffing levels at the drop-in.

Instead of responding to these concerns with demonstrable efforts to secure funding for adequate staffing, you chose first, to cut the drop-in hours in half, and, now, are eliminating the service completely. These actions demonstrate management’s disregard for the needs of both: the agency workers and service users.

The loss of the Open House Drop-In program will jeopardize the lives of people in an area that has been identified as a “priority neighbourhood” by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network. Faced with such cuts and escalating homelessness, OCAP has been fighting to defend and expand homeless services in this city. We will not allow this key service in the neighbourhood to be lost. A petition addressed to you and the Fred Victor board of directors has been initiated, and we are prepared to mobilize further, if necessary.

We expect an urgent response from Fred Victor that will facilitate the continued operation of the drop-in and the reinstatement of its original four-hour service duration, with food provided, and operated with four full-time staff with relief worker support. The drop-in is an essential resource and every day that it remains closed and without resolution to staffing issues, people are at increased risk in the neighbourhood.

A copy of this letter is being sent to Wangari Muriuki, board chair at Fred Victor, Councillor Wong-Tam, Paul Raftis and Mary-Anne Bedard at SSHA, and Susan Fitzpatrick at the Toronto Central LHIN.

Sincerely,

Yogi Acharya, on behalf of the
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
157 Carlton St., Unit 201
Toronto, ON M5a 2K3

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: 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.

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