OCAP | Toronto
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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Homeless Encampments: Open Letter to Mayor Tory

Dear Mayor Tory and Toronto City Council,

The pandemic has been utterly devastating to homeless communities in Toronto. Congregate living arrangements in packed shelters continue to leave thousands of homeless people exposed and the City has failed to open up sufficient housing units and hotel rooms. A lawsuit was necessary for the City to agree to implement basic physical distancing standards in all its respites and shelters – which still has yet to take place. People staying in the homeless shelter system contract COVID-19 at a rate of 19 times that of Toronto’s housed population.*

The situation has forced hundreds, likely well over a thousand people, to seek protection in tents outdoors. Despite this, you’ve reversed a prior moratorium and are now actively clearing homeless encampments.

We call on you to follow the advice of international health experts by immediately ending the dismantling of homeless encampments and open up vacant housing units or hotel rooms for homeless people. Moving forward, we further call on you not to worsen the already pre-COVID shelter crisis by implementing deadly austerity measures; rather, to have the foresight to recognize low income housing as an urgent health need and create more units.

The shelters are full. Homeless people and front-line workers experience the inability to access beds on a daily basis.

The City is using “health and safety” as an excuse to destroy the encampments but the United Nations and the Center for Disease Control both say it is unsafe to do this. The CDC says:

  • If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.
    • Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.

It outlines supports the City should be putting in place instead – like ensuring people have washroom access. The US National Law Centre on Homelessness and Poverty says:

preserving individuals’ ability to sleep in private tents instead of mass facilities through repealing—or at least pausing enforcement of—ordinances banning camping or sleeping in public would ensure people can more safely shelter in place, maintain social distancing, and reduce sleep deprivation. Encampments should be provided with preventative solutions—like mobile toilets, sanitation stations, and trash bins—to further reduce harm.

Instead, the City says it has a policy of guaranteeing people “indoor placement” for people who are evicted from the encampments. There are two serious problems with this claim. The first is that this has not been the case in several instances. The second is that these are often shelter or respite placements; they put people right back into the conditions they left.

The City’s COVID-19 strategy has been a disaster for homeless people in Toronto. While the pandemic was unavoidable, the current crisis in Toronto’s shelter system was not. Years of austerity have ensured that our City has insufficient low income housing and emergency housing.

The crisis that homeless people are currently in is largely the result of decisions made by City Council. In the coming months, moving into a potentially unprecedented series of evictions, you can learn from your mistakes and pass a budget that not only refuses to cut shelter and housing but recognizes the urgent public health need for more low income housing and commits funds for more rent-geared-to-income units.

Again, this is what we need:

Today: a moratorium on encampment evictions.

Urgently: a permanent housing unit or a hotel unit for every single person in the shelter system.

In the budget: More housing and shelter, not less!

Failure to implement these measures will result in public action.

With the utmost sincerity,
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
157 Carlton St #201
Toronto, ON. M5A 2K3
416 925 6939
ocap.ca | @OCAPtoronto | facebook.com/OcapToronto

* While there are higher rates of testing in some shelters than in the general public, people staying in shelters test positive for COVID-19 at 1.8 times rate of all those tested in Ontario (https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/ontario-records-323-new-covid-19-cases-amid-record-number-of-tests-completed-in-single-day-1.4961672 ).   Based on COVI-19 data for May 29, 2020 from: https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-latest-city-of-toronto-news/covid-19-status-of-cases-in-toronto/; July 2018 population data from: https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/data-research-maps/toronto-at-a-glance/; Toronto shelter population as of May 24th, provided to plaintiffs as per settlement agreement: https://ccla.org/toronto-must-defend-homeless/.

Resisting Revitalized Bigotry in the Downtown East

Thursday, October 17 | 6pm-8pm | CRC, 40 Oak Street
[Free event with meal, childminding, wheelchair access, and tokens]
Facebook Event

Toronto’s downtown east is changing rapidly. The historic Regent Park social housing is being reduced to rubble and the “mixed-income” imagination of politicians is coming alive. Towers with a combination of ownership condos and rental units for former social housing tenants have risen, with more on the way.

Mitchell Cohen, the president of Daniel’s Corporation, sold his company’s revitalization plan as one that would make “tenants and owners feel at home with each other and in their community.” But the residents of Daniel’s new building at Parliament and Dundas installed spikes on the large tree planters downstairs. Neighbours and passerby’s would sit around those planters to rest, drink coffee or have conversations. Now they can’t.

Not far away, Dundas and Sherbourne has turned into a battleground. Residents who control the Cabbagetown South Residents’ Association want to shut down a health centre and respite site that serve the homeless at that corner. They don’t want poor people in crisis in the area. The City responded with more police, the Province cut funding for the overdose prevention site, the health centre put up a fence, and the respite site cut its capacity. Not satisfied, the Association now collaborates with Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy who writes articles denigrating poor people as dirty, drug-addicted and dangerous.

Area residents have two choices: we either build solidarity or escalate hostility. We invite all those who choose the former to join us to discuss how we can do so.

Speakers: Gaetan Heroux and A.J. Withers

Gaetan Heroux has worked in the downtown east for over three decades, a longtime organizer with OCAP, and co-author of Toronto’s Poor: A Rebellious History.

A.J. Withers is an longtime OCAP organizer and author of stillmyrevolution.org, and two books: Radical Disability Politics and Theory and A Violent History of Benevolence.

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. 

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.

January Speakers Series: The Fight for Housing & Shelter

The Fight for Housing & Shelter
Thursday, January 18 | 6pm-8pm | CRC, 40 Oak
St.
[Free event with meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Facebook Event

Speakers: David Hulchanski & Gaetan Heroux
David Hulchanski is a professor of housing and community development at the University of Toronto. He was a co-founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. He leads a national research team examining the impact of Canada’s growing income and wealth inequality on urban neighbourhoods, housing, and homelessness. www.NeighbourhoodChange.ca 

Gaetan Heroux is a long-time member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, a front-line worker who has worked in the downtown east neighbourhood for three decades, and author of Toronto’s Poor: A Rebellious History

Toronto is in the midst of a deadly crisis of homelessness. We know all three levels of government are responsible for creating the housing crisis and then refusing to deal with the consequences. But how exactly have they done this? What precisely is wrong with the Canadian housing policies? How to we make sense of the claims of “historic investments” in housing that the Liberals made when they announced the National Housing strategy last November? Will the strategy help poor and low-income people?

Over the past month we’ve won the opening of the armouries to provide immediate respite to the homeless but the fight for shelter is far from over. How do we build on the gains made to win adequate shelter in the coming months and housing for all?

Join us as discuss these and other important questions to understand the current crisis and strengthen the fight for shelter & housing