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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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

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.

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!