OCAP | Mayor John Tory
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.
poverty, homelessness, housing, social assistance, ontario works, odsp, anti-poverty. ocap. ontario coalition against poverty, shelters,
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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.

Updated 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. The earlier version of this media release can be found here.

Speakers: Gaetan Heroux (OCAP), Maggie Helwig (Priest, St. Stephen-in-the-Field Anglican Church), Maurice Adongo (Street Health), and Greg Cook (Sanctuary).

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 over half of its 110 person capacity, forcing 60 people to relocate, but no one knows where to.

Until today the City had not released a plan for the operation of respite sites post April 15, the day these sites were originally scheduled to shut down. This morning, a day ahead of the planned protest, the City publicly announced that it will be retaining six of its eight respite centres, and replacing two – the Better Living Centre and 348 Davenport Road. An average of 93 spaces lost nightly through the closure of the volunteer-run Out of the Cold program will not be replaced.

“There are two problems with the City’s plan. First, respite service is being cut by almost 250 spaces, even as the deadly shelter crisis persists. The cut includes 60 spaces at Margaret’s, located at Dundas and Sherbourne, where the need for homeless shelters is dire. Secondly, the City is forcing an dreadful choice on homeless people. They must either travel far out of the downtown core, leaving behind support networks, services and related infrastructure, or stay behind and revert to surviving on the streets. Many will ‘choose’ the latter,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

The spreadsheet demonstrating the loss of nearly 250 respites spaces is attached. It can also be downloaded here.

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. Homeless people and advocates will be gathering outside of Margaret’s as planned tomorrow to demand that the City immediately pursue and open a replacement respite site in the downtown east and follow through with the addition of at least 1000 new shelter beds this year.

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

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.

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.

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!