OCAP | COVID-19
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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National Housing Day 2020: A crisis like we have never seen, housing is a public health emergency 

As we approach National Housing Day on November 22nd, the shelter and housing crisis in our City is unlike anything we have ever seen before. 

COVID-19 has amplified this crisis as more people lose income and struggle to survive. The provincial and municipal governments refuse to institute a moratorium on evictions, paving the way for new waves of evictions. Shelters are full, and remain sites of fear for a perfect storm for COVID transmission as conditions do not allow for distancing or enough personal space. Encampments have grown in every park across the city, and communities of people in tents are staring down the approaching cold weather with no real alternatives. All levels of government have failed miserably to house people. We see drops in the bucket, tiny Bandaids on a giant wound. The City of Toronto recently opened up the Better Living Centre as a respite site, complete with dystopian cell-like glass cubes  – no privacy, no respect for the dignity of poor people in our city, no offer of one person one room, nor enough beds for everyone who needs them right now. 

Overdose deaths have nearly doubled since last year. Doubled. We are seeing the collision of the housing/shelter crisis with an overdose crisis and the results are catastrophic. Communities are losing people – loved ones, friends – at a shocking and horrific rate. This grief and trauma cannot be measured. 

We need housing and we need it now. Not trickled down half measures, but bold, determined, full access – HOUSING. Immediately. 

In the spring we fought for access to hotels and housing as an alternative to overcrowded shelters. We won some spaces in hotels, but that has proved to be, once again, a drop in the bucket, and with a dangerous lack of adequate harm reduction supports on-site. A few weeks ago we marched again on 214-230 Sherbourne, an empty property and abandoned building in the middle of one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, to demand it be expropriated and immediately converted to housing, which the city had promised to do. 

As we head into another winter. As COVID-19 cases rise dramatically, it feels like entire communities are left on deflating lifeboats. Who will get a chance to survive?

Today, we renew our support for the 6 Demands for Immediate Action created by Encampment Support Network:

  1. Invest in actually affordable housing Obtain vacant buildings to convert into housing. Create 10, 000 units of rent-geared to income housing in the next 24 months 
  2. Immediately enforce an eviction moratorium
  3. Immediately end the criminalization of encampments and issue a moratorium on clearing encampments: No one should be ticketed or harassed by police or security for living in the park
  4. All shelter and supportive housing sites must be user-friendly and include robust overdose prevention and harm reduction services as well as robust covid safety measures 
  5. Until there is enough permanent, safe, dignified, and affordable housing, immediately ensure enough emergency shelters (with COVID safety measures). That means 2000 more rooms before winter comes
  6.  Immediately provide winter survival gear for those in encampments, including fire safety gear, sleeping bags, access to food and water, winter clothing, and heaters.

Many people across Toronto and beyond are organizing and resisting – from supporting the encampments to blocking evictions – poor and working-class people who are defending themselves, supporting each other, and organizing. 

In the same way, there can be no half-measures from the government, there can be no half-measures in our organizing as we fight for what poor and working-class people need to survive in this critical moment. If you are not already in the struggle – join it. Join a neighbourhood anti-eviction committee with Parkdale Organize or People’s Defence, join the Encampment Support Network, join Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, join OCAP, or fight where you are. Let’s work together, let’s organize, let’s win. 

 

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty 

November 22, 2020

Speak Out: Homeless Rights & Housing for all

Wednesday, July 22 at 11 am | Peter St. Referral Centre | 129 Peter St. (at Richmond)

The state of homelessness continues to grow and reach bigger crisis levels in the City of Toronto.

With the added problem of COVID, the situation is rapidly deteriorating.  The shelter system capacity has been cut in half and has not been replaced adequately by hotels or housing.  Including all of the backup respite sites, there has still been a loss of over 500 spaces.  The Peter St. referral centre remains closed and there is nowhere to refer people to for safe space as the shelters are both full and hazardous to people’s health.  The only housing being built in the City remains unaffordable and inaccessible, while the Province is moving to make thousands more homeless through Bill 184 and by lifting the moratorium on evictions.

For the well over a thousand people already sleeping on the streets and in the parks there is no where else to go.  Still they face threat of displacement and criminalization by the City.  Instead of providing basic needs for people to live like housing, the City continues to invest over $1.1 billion a year into racist, violent policing.

Call out the City and demand action to confront this crisis we are facing.

 

We demand the City:

  1. Social Housing Now: the City do whatever it takes to buy, expropriate, build social housing now to deal with homelessness (including expropriating 214-230 Sherbourne Ave immediately).
  2. Defund the Police: the City defund the police 50% now and fund basic needs and services such as hotels and housing.
  3. No Shelter and Housing Cuts: no cuts to the housing and shelter budget
  4. Encampment Eviction Moratorium: the City reimplement the moratorium on all encampment relocations and evictions and it be kept in place for the duration of the pandemic and a minimum of 12 months.
  5. Hotels and Housing for All: End the use of congregate living settings and ensure everyone has a private room and bathroom. Lift restrictive rules in existing and future hotel; and, new units need to be opened in the downtown core.
  6. Moratorium on Tenant Evictions: the Mayor to use his emergency powers to implement a moratorium on tenant evictions.
  7. Stop Bill 184: the City call on the Province of Ontario to stop Bill 184 and the creation of more homelessness.

Speakers:

John Clarke – Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

Desmond Cole – Activist, Journalist, Author

Zoe Dodd – Toronto Overdose Prevention Society

Greg Cook – Shelter Housing Justice Network and Outreach Worker at Sanctuary

ALSO- Speaker from Parkdale Organize
http://parkdaleorganize.ca/

Building Resistance in the Pandemic & Beyond

As an organization that has spent decades organizing against the agenda of austerity and the war on the poor in Ontario, OCAP is now trying to take stock of the incredible changes that have been set in motion by the pandemic and the unfolding economic slump it has set off.

This may only be the first wave of the coronavirus and there may be more lockdowns ahead of us. Huge numbers of people have been thrown out of work during the present lockdown but it is clear that many will not go back to work and that a period of mass unemployment is now underway. After the lockdown, hundreds of thousands of tenants will face the threat of eviction, the food banks will not be able to cope with the levels of hunger and the homeless crisis will intensify greatly.

We can also expect to see a huge assault on workers rights, an austerity driven attack on public services and an intensification of the threat of xenophobia and racism, both in the form of government policies and from the far right. Already we are seeing resistance on this front, as migrant sex workers organize against increased police powers, and migrants fight for access health care and benefits. Clearly, the pandemic has opened the door to an economic crisis of capitalism and to political attacks on a scale that can be compared to the Great Depression.

Even before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited an uprising in the US, along with a ‘defund the police’ movment, that has now spread to Canada, there was already resistance in the face of the pandemic. ‘Essential’ workers on the front lines have challenged unsafe conditions,with hundreds of work refusals in Ontario. Tenants have organized rent strikes and other actions. There has been determined community action to challenge the abandonment of homeless people as the coronavirus
spreads among them. However, it’s clear that we are up against a completely changed situation and that small scale and limited resistance will not be enough. A recent EKOS poll in Canada had 73% of those surveyed saying that they wanted to see “broad transformation of our society” and major social reforms that prioritize “health and well-being”after the pandemic lockdown. The failings of the austerity damaged healthcare system, the unforgivable loss of life in for profit care homes, the obviously disproportionate degree to which poor and racialized people have been impacted by COVID-19 have produced a widespread sense that things must change. After the lockdown ends and, in conditions of economic crisis, governments try to impose the burden on working class people, the possibility of mass social resistance will be very great. In OCAP, we think we need to start preparing for that changed situation now.

If the kind of fightback the unfolding situation requires is to emerge, it is going to have to come from the base in society. Workers and communities under attack are going to have to give the lead. The struggles for survival will require a deeply rooted level of solidarity and a high level of organization. How can we work to lay the foundations and begin to take the actions that can give a lead in this?

OCAP is interested in hearing from organizations and community members that share our sense that we need to prepare for huge struggles in the coming months. We would like to begin the discussions and create the spaces where we can take forward the task of organizing in the face of this unprecedented crisis. Please let us know if you are interested in being part of this.

News Conference on COVID-19 Response

This morning (Monday, March 23), OCAP and Shelter and Housing Justice Network organized a news conference to call for the urgent implementation of critical measures necessary to mitigate the deadly impacts of COVID-19 on homeless people, those on social assistance, and on those whose lives are being saved by the overdose prevention sites.

The full news conference is below. Media coverage is here: CP24 | CTV

The speakers made a case for the following:

  1. Rapid and dramatic increase in shelter spaces, particularly motel or hotel rooms accessible to homeless people to ease overcrowding in existing emergency centres and allow for social distancing and physical isolation. The expansion must include new drop-in spaces to compensate for the closure of lunch programs, coffee shops, and municipal facilities like libraries and community centres which has near-eliminated infrastructure homeless people for food, indoor space, and sanitation.
  2. An immediate boost to social assistance rates to compensate for the loss of food programs, soup kitchens, and the cost of self-quarantining; extending coverage to people without immigration status.
  3. Expanded access to safer opioid prescribing programs, overdose prevention sites and making witnessed injection and harm reduction support available at quarantine facilities; ensuring access to personal protective equipment at overdose prevention sites and working with people who use drugs to prevent further escalation in overdoses and overdose related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rapid & Dramatic Shelter and Drop-in Expansion Necessary

Rapid and dramatic increase in shelter and drop-in space needed to slow COVID-19 spread and curb deadly consequences for Toronto’s homeless

Chronic overcrowding in Toronto’s shelters, respites and drop-in sites make social distancing and physical isolation impossible. Inability to implement the critical public health measures in the context of the current pandemic make these spaces even more dangerous to the health of homeless people, the workers that serve them, and the broader public.

Compounding the problem, recent closures and scaling back of drop-ins, food programs, coffee shops, and municipal facilities like libraries and community centres has drastically reduced the infrastructure homeless people rely on for food, indoor space and sanitation.

It is imperative that enough spaces be added to the emergency homeless shelter system to allow for adequate physical separation between people, and when required, isolation. It is also imperative that drop-in spaces with access to food and washrooms be opened.

With most city buildings closed to the public, the City has immediate access to multiple spaces (community centres, city hall, metro hall, armouries, and more) that can be repurposed to alleviate crowding in emergency homeless centres and provide relief to the many who cannot access the shelter system.

The City has announced it will add 200 spaces by the end of this week but the shelter system needs at least 10 times the number of spaces to bring occupancy levels down to manageable levels. This shortage is a product of over two decades of neglect and it has left little room to manage sudden crises such as the one we now face.

In order to avert the catastrophic possibility of a rapid spread of COVID-19 in the emergency homeless spaces, the City must dramatically increase spaces homeless people can access and do it fast. This means adding well beyond 200 spaces this week and drastically ramping up that capacity in the coming days. Drop-in spaces providing food, bathrooms, showers and telephone access must be part of this expansion because homeless people unable to access shelters have nowhere left to go.

For years, the powerful in this City have abandoned poor and homeless people to a life of misery. They must not be allowed to do so any longer.