OCAP | Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
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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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.

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.

Speakers Series: The Overdose Crisis & the War on Drugs

The Overdose Crisis & the War on Drugs
Thursday, February 15
| 6pm-8pm | CRC, 40 Oak St.
[Free event with meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Facebook event

Speakers: Zoe Dodd and Matt Johnson

Zoe Dodd is a harm-reduction worker and an organizer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention site.

Matt Johnson is a long time injection drug user and harm reduction worker. He is one of the organizers of the Overdose Prevention Site in Moss Park and continues to fight for an end to criminalization of people who use drugs.

In 2017, an estimated average of 333 people died every month from opioid related overdoses across Canada. In response to government inaction in the face of this lethal crisis, people involved in the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society setup an unsanctioned supervised injection site in Moss Park in August. Now, six months later, they still remain there, having saved hundreds of lives. Their defiant actions brought to into public focus this crisis of drug overdoses, which hits poor and homeless communities particularly hard. They forced the reluctant City administration to fast-track the opening of at-least 3 supervised injection sites.

Join us at the February Speakers to learn more about the underlying causes of the opioid crisis, its link to the so-called “war on drugs,” and the measures that still need to be won.

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.

Basic Income Pamphlet Launch

Our allies at the Socialist Project have published writings by OCAP organizers on Basic Income as a pamphlet. It is being officially launched at a social they are organizing on Saturday, February 3rd. You can download the pamphlet here, but we encourage you to also come out to the social and get a free copy.

Below are the details:
Saturday, February 3 | 7 pm | Dooney’s Cafe, 866 Bloor St. West
Facebook Event

“The Socialist Project is throwing a social to celebrate the launch of its beautiful new website and the shiny new OCAP pamphlet Basic Income In The Neoliberal Age. Please come out to Dooney’s on Saturday February 3rd, have fun, and bring anyone who likes to talk politics and have a good time!”