OCAP | Shelter Crisis
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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Statement on the City’s Winter Plan

The City’s winter plan for emergency shelter will leave vulnerable people scrambling to find space indoors. Hundreds of people will endure the inhumane conditions within respite centres or line up outside each night in hopes of getting a spot at a volunteer led program. Many will be left outside in the cold. Shelters and respite sites were full all summer and the City’s plan to open additional winter spaces will not be enough to meet the growing need. 

Last week, the City of Toronto released its plan to open 485 spaces in the coming weeks, including 200 beds for refugees/asylum claimants in North York. The plan provides 94 more spaces than last year and 85 of them are transitional housing so they won’t be available for emergency shelter. This means there will only be the addition of 9 emergency spaces this winter. This is unacceptable. The homeless crisis is intensifying daily. Shelters, respite centres, and drop-ins are full, with no real relief in site. 

This summer we witnessed an unprecedented demand for shelter. Even a chair or mat on the floor in an overcrowded respite site was hard to come by. The Peter Street Referral Centre, the City’s last resort for a warm place to stay, began turning people away. With rising rents and stagnant incomes the need for shelter is growing exponentially. 

In the past, shelter occupancy rates were based on the number of beds available. The City is now counting cots, mats on the floor and even chairs as shelter spaces, and the system is still over capacity. Earlier shelter standards required 2.5 feet between beds. People are now crammed into respite sites, sleeping inches apart from each other without access to privacy, adequate bathroom facilities, or rest.

In respite sites people with chronic illnesses and older adults struggle to climb onto cots and mats on the floor. Outbreaks of lice, scabies, bed bugs and infectious diseases are never ending and nearly impossible to contain. The poor conditions, extreme stress and chronic exhaustion people must endure are causing illness. This is an emergency. The shelter system is in crisis.

Last week seven deaths were added to the Toronto Homeless Memorial, and the body of Richard Fontaine was found near Queen’s Quay, where he lived outside. Homeless people are dying prematurely and this year’s inadequate winter shelter plan will contribute to more deaths.

The City must declare an emergency, open 2000 new shelter beds now, and immediately break ground on new rent-geared-to-income housing. In a city with so much wealth it is disgraceful to have people dying on the streets for lack of basic shelter and housing. The 2000 new shelter beds would bring the shelter system to its City Council mandated goal of 90% occupancy, a goal it has never met. With shelters at above 90% occupancy, it becomes nearly impossible to find a bed for anyone.

On November 11th as a cold snap loomed, sustained community pressure pushed the city to open 30 cots at a Metro Hall warming centre. While cold makes things worse, the crisis exists at -10 degrees, -5 degrees, and at 10 degrees. This winter, OCAP will fight for 2000 safe, secure shelter spaces. We will fight for deeply affordable social housing. We will fight for and with the people of this city; and, we will fight to win.

Dinner With A View…Of The Rich

Friday, April 5 | 6:30pm | The Bentway (250 Fort York Blvd.)
Facebook Event

What does $550 get you in Toronto you ask? The creators of a pop-up restaurant have the answer. A chichi dinner for 4 under the Gardiner in a little heated dome designed to look like a terrarium and furnished for comfort. They call it “Dinner with a View.”

What sort of view you ask? Well, not of the homeless camp, obviously. The City demolished that and evicted the people living there two weeks ago, remember?

What are we going to do it about you ask? You ask a lot of questions, but we’ll tell you. We’re inviting you to join us for a free 3-course dinner under the Gardiner.

Our chefs aren’t Top Chef Canada winners, but they do win at human decency. Together we’ll eat, be lively, and take in the view of the brazenness of the wealthy and the brutality of the city.

Bring your noisemakers and email us your music requests. While you’re at it, email Mayor Tory (mayor_tory@toronto.ca) and tell him we need adequate shelters and rent-geared-to-income housing.

First We Visit QE, Then We Take Metro Hall

Tuesday, April 9 | 7pm | Queen Elizabeth Respite Site (185 Princes’ Blvd)
Rally & Community Meal

Friday, April 12 | 1pm | Metro Hall (55 John Street)
Rally. Lunch Provided

The City is shutting down the homeless respite site at the Queen Elizabeth (QE) building mid-April. The 200 people who stay there don’t know where they are supposed to go next.

Plans are also in place to end respite service at 545 Lakeshore W and 354 George St. this spring. Over 300 people stay at the two sites. 500 other homeless people are facing eviction from a city-rented motel. With remaining respites, drop-ins and shelters full, homeless people have nowhere to go but back to the streets.

The City says it has a “comprehensive plan,” for respite users but hasn’t provided any details. We need those details given the City also said it would have 3 respite domes open by January. Only one opened, and the City still can’t commit to a date for opening the other two.

We need adequate shelters and rent-geared-to-income housing. Mayor Tory’s plans build neither. This deadly housing crisis demands action: first, we visit QE (on April 9), then we take Metro Hall (April 12). Join us.

Postponed: Press Conference to Respond to Vilification of Homeless People & Poor People Who Use Drugs

Update – Monday, July 23: Given the shooting on the Danforth last night, the press conference referenced below is being postponed to a later date.

Coalition of anti-poverty organizers, supervised injection and overdose prevention site workers, homeless service providers to respond to increasing vilification of homeless people & other poor people who use drugs

Press conference on Monday, July 23 at 10am at the corner of Dundas & Sherbourne

Speakers include: A.J. Withers (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty), Desmond Cole, Frank Coburn (Street Health), and representatives from the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site

Toronto: There have been a series of lurid stories in the media recently of homeowners and businesses supposedly under attack by what the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy calls “druggies.”

These articles further the position that supervised injection services (SIS) and overdose prevention sites (OPS) must be shut down and call for the return of policing programs that have been proven to be dangerous and racist. Echoing rhetoric of residents and business associations in gentrifying neighbourhoods, particularly in the downtown east end of Toronto, it is argued that SIS and OPS facilities encourage drug use and it is assumed, without any evidence, that the lack of such options would lead people to give up drug use.

“After letting the developers control and profit from the creation of upscale housing, after allowing public housing to crumble, after letting social assistance income decline substantially, and after failing to provide adequate shelter for the homeless for years, refugees have become a convenient target to blame for the problem. Now, the same interests are targeting poor and homeless people who use drugs, in a truly despicable move,” says A.J. Withers, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

Homeless people, whether they use drugs or not, are on the streets because shelters and respite facilities are packed full, and conditions within most of them remain deplorable and stressful.

“The residents and business associations don’t want homeless people on the streets, but they don’t want shelters in their neighbourhoods either. What they want are policing measures that target and remove homeless people from sight, with no regard to where or how people end up. Such a dystopic vision for dealing with serious social issues begs to be challenged,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer with OCAP.

The aforementioned press conference, to be held on Monday, July 23 at 10am at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne, will respond to these arguments, make the case for the continued funding and operation of the SIS and OPS facilities, oppose the reintroduction of programs like the misleadingly named Toronto Anti-Violence Strategy (TAVIS), and finally, call for the creation of adequate shelter and housing.

Media Contact:
A.J. Withers & Yogi Acharya

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.

Partial Victory: Fred Victor Drop-In Update – Sign Revised Petition to Ensure Full Victory

Shortly following the launch of the petition and the open letter, we received a response from Fred Victor management indicating that the drop-in closure won’t proceed indefinitely as was previously indicated. The drop-in closure will be limited to four days, and it will reopen on Monday, May 28. We’re glad public pressure has ensured the critical drop-in does not shut down. Thanks to all those who shared and signed the petition.

However, management did not address the persistent problems of under-funding and under-staffing that have plagued the drop-in for quite some time. This means the drop-in will continue operating at half its original service duration and place continued strain on workers. So we are demanding that Fred Victor commit to reinstating the drop-in to its original four hour service duration and addressing the staff shortage by guaranteeing at least four full-time staff with relief worker support. The petition has been updated and available below. Please keep signing and sharing it. We also continue to call on the City and the Province to fund drop-in services adequately. We’ll keep you updated about additional actions, as necessary. #FightToWin

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

Petition: Stop the Closure of the Fred Victor’s Open House Drop-In Program

This sign was posted at the entrance to the Fred Victor Open House drop-in on May 14, just a week before the decades-old drop was suddenly scheduled to close.

Update: Shortly following the launch of the petition and the open letter, we received a response from Fred Victor management indicating that the drop-in closure won’t proceed indefinitely as was previously indicated. The drop-in closure will be limited to four days, and it will reopen on Monday, May 28. We’re glad public pressure has ensured the critical drop-in does not shut down. Thanks to all those who shared and signed the petition.

However, management did not address the persistent problems of under-funding and under-staffing that have plagued the drop-in for quite some time. This means the drop-in will continue operating at half its original service duration and place continued strain on workers. So we are demanding that Fred Victor commit to reinstating the drop-in to its original four hour service duration and addressing the staff shortage by guaranteeing at least four full-time staff with relief worker support. The petition has been updated, please keep signing and sharing it. We also continue to call on the City and the Province to fund drop-in services adequately. We’ll keep you updated about additional actions, as necessary. #FightToWin

To: Wangari Muriuki, Board Chair, and Mark Aston, CEO, of Fred Victor, Toronto. Aston is also the frequent spokesperson for the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness.

Starting Tuesday, May 22, the Fred Victor Open House drop-in program at 145 Queen Street East is scheduled to close “until further notice.” The announcement was made on Monday, May 14, just a week prior to the sudden shut down of a decades-old drop in program. This service cut is happening in the midst of a deadly shelter and opioid crisis in the city that claimed at least 100 lives last year.  The drop-in provides a vital service in the neighbourhood and the community cannot afford to lose it.

We, the undersigned demand that the Fred Victor Centre stop the drop-in closure and find resources to reinstate the 4-hour drop-in, with food and adequate staffing to support the service.