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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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/

OCAP Supports the AIR-Encampment

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty condemns any attempts or threats to forcibly remove encampments of people from Nathan Philips Square. Since June 19, the Afro-Indigenous Rising Collective and supporters have been peacefully protesting in place at Nathan Philips Square against centuries of colonial and state condoned police violence against Indigenous and African-Canadian communities.

The City of Toronto is saying that the encampments are putting health and safety at risk when, in fact, police brutality against Black and Indigenous peoples puts their health, their safety, and their lives at risk every day.

At the same time, the City deliberately ignores the health and safety of hundreds of homeless people by putting their lives at risk in their refusal to provide safe environments, forcing them to live in crowded shelters where social distancing is impossible to achieve. The reality is that the City politicians and officials are refusing to acknowledge the protesters’ demands to defund/abolish police – demands echoed by thousands of people in anti-racism protests across the world following the murder of George Floyd in the US.

The continued existence of this encampment flies boldly in the face of the City’s efforts to ignore protesters demands. They are hoping that “out of sight-out of mind” will enable their efforts to ignore all demands to defund/abolish police. The City’s concerns that the square is a “public space” that should be shared by all, clearly denies the rights of protesters to share this space. The protesters have been ordered to take down their encampment or face charges of trespassing and $10,000 fines. OCAP supports the right of this Collective to camp in Nathan Phillips square without harassment or threats from the City of Toronto. We support their demands to defund the police and to redirect funds into communities.

Response to Ford’s Cancellation of the TCB Cuts

The Ford government has backed down from its plan to eliminate the Transition Child Benefit. The benefit, which provides food and clothing allowance for 32,000 of Ontario’s poorest children, was scheduled to be cut on November 1. Families surviving on social assistance and struggling to put food on the table were set to lose up to 30% of their income. The attempted cut was widely condemned by municipalities, faced a legal challenge, and triggered a community mobilization.

The government’s last minute decision to cancel the cut is a welcome reprieve, but it comes after months of subjecting poor families to brutal anxiety over their ability to take care of their children. The government is reportedly also cancelling its plan to increase the clawback of the earned income of people on social assistance, and is fuelling speculation about whether it will go through with its promised tightening of the definition of disability in January.

Ford is following a troubling pattern with changes to social assistance. Upon coming to power, the Conservatives immediately cut a planned increase in rates by half, cancelled a series of scheduled positive reforms, and announced a 100-day review of social assistance. The move sent chills through poor communities. The distressing months that followed were full of wild speculations about the extent of cuts that could be implemented.

More than 400 days later, the government still hasn’t revealed the results of its review. Instead, in late 2018, it signalled that social assistance would increasingly become more restrictive, but offered few details, and said changes would be implemented over an 18 month period. The move offered short-term relief to some, but prolonged the agony for most. A year later, he has suddenly cancelled two planned regressive changes, but has effectively shifted attention away from the fact that for the first time in years, people on social assistance will not receive any increase to their sub-poverty incomes this year.

Ford’s record makes clear he intends to gut income and social services further and create a climate of desperation where people scramble for the lowest paid jobs. But the populist premier’s approval ratings have plummeted and he has become a liability for the federal Conservatives vying for power. In this context, the rollback of some of the cuts to social assistance is evidence that his austerity measures can be beaten back. But given there won’t always be the spectre of a federal election in the background, we must build a serious social mobilization capable of haunting his administration and grinding its austerity measures to a halt. We are committed to doing so and fighting to raise social assistance rates, join us.

FAQ, For Dinner With A View

A response to some frequently asked questions about Dinner With A View:

Why are you doing the action on April 5?

We’re doing it because in our City homeless people living under the Gardiner with no heat are evicted. Meanwhile pop-up restaurants serving ritzy dinners in heated domes under that same highway are granted permits. Such brazenness begs a challenge and we’re happy to oblige.

Why take issue if the homeless camp wasn’t located at the Bentway?

There were multiple homeless camps under the Gardiner this past winter – from Jarvis in the east-end to Spadina in the west-end – and the City evicted them. For years, homeless people and advocates have also been calling for the City to open up the armouries as temporary shelter. The pop-up restaurant sits at the doorstep of the Fort York armoury.

Is the action unfair to the people who paid for a novel dining experience?

On the one hand you have homeless people whose tents were demolished and who were evicted with nowhere else to go. On the other hand you have people with sufficient disposable income to splurge over $550 on a single meal and who’re facing the possibility of their luxurious dining spectacle being tainted. The answer to who the situation is unfair to is clear.

Put another way, did the restaurant patrons personally evict the homeless from the under the Gardiner? No. Is their chichi dining experience close to where people people were often hungry and cold, crass? Yes. Do they deserve to be mocked for their obliviousness to the suffering around them? Absolutely.

But isn’t your beef with the City?

Yes, particularly with Mayor John Tory and his backers on Council who’ve allowed Toronto’s housing crisis to turn deadly. They deserve our wrath and we must demand that they build adequate emergency shelters and rent-geared-to-income housing.

Why not go to City Hall?

We have enough trespass tickets from City Hall to prove we go there often and have also slept-out outside one of Mayor Tory’s multi-million dollar homes. On Friday, April 12 at 1pm we’re going to Metro Hall to demand the City keep homeless respite sites open, expropriate a vacant property, and build rent-geared-to-income housing. We invite everyone to join us there too.

There are many fancy restaurants in Toronto, why single this one out?

You got us. Boorishness by the wealthy shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. Our society desensitizes us to poverty and we accept outlandish things as normal. Luxury dining domes under the Gardiner would be a new frontier in this desensitization, and we intend to not cross it.

Response to Ford’s Social Assistance Reforms

Ford Government intensifies attack on Ontario’s poorest people

The social assistance reforms that the Ford Government announced today can well be described as the new Doug Ford Poor Laws. As expected, they’re making Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) significantly more restrictive and precarious.

The basic intention is to refine the system as a tool to push people into the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs on offer. It is entirely in line with the attack they have already carried on the minimum wage, workers’ rights, and job protections. Forcing people off social assistance while depressing working conditions in the midst of a housing crisis won’t move people out of poverty but will make the Progressive Conservative’s bankrolling base of business executives and owners even richer.

The reforms will divide people on social assistance into those deemed the most severely disabled and those who must join the scramble for jobs. The kind of “compassion” that severely disabled can expect from this Government is made clear from the fact that the social services Minister, Lisa McLeod, would offer no comment on whether any increases in social assistance rates can be expected over the next three years.

Those presently on ODSP will be grand-parented into the new system but new eligibility rules will use the more narrow federal definition of disability. Many who could get onto ODSP under the existing rules will be forced to try to live on OW, including having to look for work even when they are too unwell to do so.

All those who are deemed capable of working will be expected to comply with “individual action plans” and the Government’s “Open for Business” website will draw the most unscrupulous employers directly into the process. Local municipalities will be encouraged to compete with each other in the development of punitive and intrusive practices designed to hound people into scrambling for the worst jobs. The door is certainly open to the privatization of delivery and services.

The government also signalled that supplementary benefits accessed by people on social assistance will be moved from being mandatory to discretionary. These benefits will likely differ from municipality to municipality. So we’ll be left with a patchwork of benefits with no access to the Social Benefits Tribunal to appeal denials. Outright elimination of particular existing benefits remains a possibility.

People on OW will only be able to earn $300 monthly without claw backs, up from the current $200, but less than the $400 it was supposed to go up to this December. Earnings above $300 will be subject to a 75% claw back, which is worse than the current 50%. The earning exemption for ODSP changes to $6000 annually, but is again subject to the increased 75% claw back beyond that limit.

Over the next eighteen months the full viciousness of the Doug Ford Poor Laws will emerge but it is already clear that, for the Tories, social assistance is a weapon in their war on the poor.

Support the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario this Saturday!

The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign won a major victory in the fall of 2017 with the introduction of Bill 148: an immediate jump in minimum wage to $14/hr with a further increase to $15/hour scheduled in January 2019, paid sick days, equal pay for equal work provisions for contract and temp workers, and fairer scheduling rules, to name just a few gains. Taken together, these gains represent the most significant progress for low-wage workers in this province in decades.

However, the Ford Conservatives are set on repealing many of these gains, including blocking the raising of the minimum wage to $15. It is no coincidence that this attack on workers is progressing alongside the recently announced cuts to social assistance rates and the additional sweeping changes to OW and ODSP expected later this fall.

How better to roll out the red carpet for big business exploitation than to keep minimum wage workers and those on social assistance as poor and precarious as possible. Corporations and their executives make massive profits on the backs of poor workers – take for example Galen Weston Jr., the CEO of LoBlaws, who has a net worth of $8.82 billion. Unsurprisingly, he is also one of the people leading the charge against the minimum wage increase.

We need to be organizing with all we’ve got to defeat Ford’s cuts to welfare and workers’ rights. The Fight for $15 & Fairness is organizing a day of action this Saturday, September 15 with actions across Ontario, and we encourage everyone to join in. Details can be found on their website here.

Speakers Series: Rent Strikes, Expropriations & More: Resisting Gentrification

Rent Strikes, Expropriations & More: Resisting Gentrification
Thursday, September 20 | 6pm – 8pm | CRC, 40 Oak St.
[Free event with meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Facebook event | Download Flyer | Audio Archive

Bringing together struggles against gentrification unfolding in neighbourhoods in Toronto and Hamilton, this Speakers Series will profile successful models of resistance people are using to push back and win. Join us!

Speakers: Julia Manzo, Linda Habibi, Bjarke Risager, , and Gaetan Heroux

Julia Manzo is a resident of Parkdale, and one of the organizers of the successful rent strike in Parkdale last year. She is also a member of Parkdale Organize.

Linda Habibi is a tenant and strike captain in the Stoney Creek Towers in Hamilton, where tenants are currently on a rent strike. Details about their rent strike can be found here: facebook.com/hamiltontenantssolidarity/ and here: hamiltontenantssolidarity.ca

Bjarke Risager is an organizer with the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network.

Gaetan Heroux is a member of OCAP and has worked and fought for housing in the downtown east end of Toronto for over three decades.

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.