OCAP | OCAP Updates
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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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.

At Full Capacity: Homelessness and Resistance

Thursday, November 21 | 6pm-8pm | CRC40 Oak Street
[Free event with meal, childminding, wheelchair access, and tokens]
Facebook Event

Film Screening & Discussion

On November 11th Toronto endured its first winter storm. With shelters at capacity, many were left out on the streets in below freezing temperatures. Community members and organizers immediately pushed the city to open Metro Hall as a warming centre.

The city is failing to respond to the shelter and housing emergency, and the number of homeless deaths is on the rise.

Together we have the power and must push back. We will fight to win the basic shelter and housing we need. Join us.

Discussion on resistance and fight back to follow the film screening.

Film: The Public (2019) With emergency shelters at full capacity and a brutal winter storm on the way, a group of Cincinnati homeless men refuse to leave the public library. Demanding shelter from the extreme cold, they stage a sit-in and occupation.

Vigil Outside the Peter Street Referral Centre

Thursday, November 7th, 2019 | 5:30 PM | East of Richmond & Spadina
Light Meal Provided | Facebook Event

Homeless People Die as Referral Centre Turns People Away
Vigil Outside The Peter Street Referral Centre
129 Peter Street |

Shelters and respite centres are failing to meet the needs of the homeless in the midst of the City’s worsening housing crisis. This summer shelter occupancy rates have exceeded the highs of last winter and even respite sites, which provide cots, chairs or mats on the floor for people to sleep on are at capacity. The Peter Street referral centre is intended to be a last resort for those in need of a shelter bed. On a nightly basis dozens of people are forced to spend the night in chairs and on the floor in the centre’s waiting area because there is nowhere to refer people to. When the waiting area is packed to capacity others who have travelled to the centre in hopes of securing safe shelter are being turned away and told to come back later.

On October 5th the body of Kevin Dickman was pulled out of the Don River. Despite repeated efforts and extensive support, he was unable to access shelter or a safe space to go. We do not know why Kevin was by the Don River. We do know that the shelters are full and for many who are homeless or in crisis there is nowhere to go and no hope for housing. The outcome of the shelter and housing crisis is tragic and deadly. Kevin is only one of many lives we are losing to homelessness.

The shelter system is already at a breaking point and as the winter approaches the need will only intensify. The abandonment of homeless people this winter will have deadly consequence.

On November 7th community members will gather at a vigil to remember lives lost to homelessness and demand that the City immediately:

-Open 2000 shelter beds to replace the inadequate accommodations provided in respite sites and meet the growing need for safe shelter

-Publicly call on the Provincial and Federal governments for urgent assistance to begin the immediate construction of social rent-geared-to-income housing

Join us.

Build Solidarity: Rally For Dundas & Sherbourne

Thursday, October 24 | 6pm-7:30pm | Dundas and Sherbourne
Meal Provided | Facebook Event

The downtown east belongs to all its residents. The healthcare and homeless services here serve a critical need for the area’s poor people and save lives. But some wealthier neighbours, organized through the local residents’ association, are agitating for their closure and are opposed to any new services opening. The resulting tensions are turning the neighbourhood, and Dundas and Sherbourne in particular, into a battleground.

Toronto’s deadly housing crisis and severe shelter shortage are responsible for escalating homelessness. Attacking the people suffering its worst consequences or the services they rely on doesn’t solve the issue. It only shows a vicious disregard for poor people’s lives.

We can build a vibrant neighbourhood by choosing solidarity over bigotry. United, we can fight to turn 214-230 Sherbourne into affordable rent-geared-to-income housing, build adequate shelters, and expand health services for all.

Join us for a rally to demonstrate that solidarity and build the fight for housing and shelter.

Response to the Toronto Sun & Sue-Ann Levy’s Cease and Desist Letter

By A.J. Withers for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

Last week, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) put up posters in the city’s downtown east neighbourhood calling Sue Ann Levy – Toronto Sun’s columnist – a “bigot.” The posters were a response to a series of articles in which Levy disparages homeless people at Dundas and Sherbourne and agitates against critical services they rely on. The posters depict a photo of Levy, made to look somewhat like a mug shot, with the word “bigot” underneath. The imagery follows the tradition of satirical protest posters that name the offences of public figures. The posters describe Levy’s bigotry and encourage readers to “Build Inclusive Communities” and “Say yes to services, no to bigots.”

On Saturday, October 12, the Toronto Sun and Levy sent a cease and desist letter via their lawyer to OCAP. The letter claims that the “poster contains a number of false and seriously defamatory statements” without specifying what they are. The letter also claims the poster “impl[ies] she is a criminal.”

On September 27, Levy told me in an email interview that “Bigot has become yet another label tossed around by ‘special interest groups’ to try to silence those with a point of view different from their own.” The irony seems lost on her as she and the Sun demand that all of the posters be destroyed and OCAP not “state or imply that Ms. Levy is a bigot” in the future, including at our public meeting on October 17th.

Levy’s reaction is noteworthy because she is known to hurl insults. She’s called the leader of the federal Green Party “looney Liz,” referred to provincial opposition members as “the nuts in Horwath’s caucus,”[1] called fellow journalists “asshats,” and routinely calls homeless advocates, including OCAP, “poverty pimps,” and even called OCAP “poverty terrorists.” But Levy’s response to having her bigotry being named is to claim defamation. But it isn’t defamation if it is true. Merriam-Webster defines “bigot” as “one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.” OCAP argues this is what Levy does.

“For a number of months there have been attacks against people who use services in the neighbourhood,” says long-time OCAP organizer, Gaétan Héroux. He tells me wealthy property owners, buoyed by Sue-Ann Levy, have been targeting homeless people and trying to close the services they rely on in an effort to push them out of the area. “It is discriminatory and prejudicial and there is a history of residents in this neighbourhood attacking these services going back to the 1990s and before,” says Héroux.

Levy has a penchant for using inflammatory rhetoric to sensationalize stories, often at the expense of poor and marginalized people, who are portrayed in ways that are that are dehumanizing, degrading or just plain inaccurate. She frequently denigrates homeless people as “transients” and “addicts,” and pits them as oppositional or even dangerous to “residents.” Further, she routinely calls refugees “(illegal) migrants,” especially those who are homeless. Levy uses stigmatizing terms to cast poor people as villains; but, generally she has no idea what the circumstances of the individuals she is writing about are, and she doesn’t seem to ask.

Levy’s work is demonstrably legitimizing and whipping up hate. One 2018 column by Levy decrying the City creating a new respite site for homeless people contained multiple comments calling for mass murder. “Cull the bums and the drug addicts” one person declared. Twenty-three people liked this comment which, not coincidentally, it would seem, uses language for killing animal populations rather than people. Levy’s August 13, 2019 article declaring Toronto is “a city of enablers” had a comment, also with 23 likes, calling for “tough love…if that doesn’t work, give them a safe injection of overdose.”

Screenshot of the first several comments from: Sue-Ann Levy, “City building 2.5M pre-fab for transients in public park,” Toronto Sun, Sept. 19, 2018.

Is Levy responsible for these calls to kill homeless people and drug users? No. Did she contribute to a climate in which dehumanizing these groups is okay? Absolutely. “If you’re already going pretty far towards dehumanization… its not a stretch to think some people might go another step further than that, however that might manifest,” says Jonathan Goldsbie, a journalist covering the media and News Editor for Canadaland.

When OCAP made Levy aware of the comments for the 2018 article (cc’ing the Deputy Editor), it appears she did nothing about it. It was only when OCAP contacted the Vice President of Editorial at the Sun that the comments were removed – 5 days later. Levy says she has “no record” of OCAP contacting her about the comments. She did not indicate she would take any action to address these hateful statements. The comment for the August 13 article remains up; she was made aware of it on September 25.

Let’s not forget her notorious October 2018 article in which Levy falsely claimed that homeless refugees staying in the Radisson Hotel were slaughtering goats in the public washroom of the hotel. This claim, evoking the racist imagery of Muslim “irregular (a.k.a. illegal) migrants,” was based on an unverified Trip Advisor review. The hotel was firebombed on the night of Oct 2. The National NewsMedia Council found Levy committed a “serious breach of journalistic standards for accuracy in reporting” for effectively publishing hearsay as news.[2]

Levy told me her goat slaughter “article was published on Oct. 3/18.” The Toronto Sun website also says this. According to this timeline, the hotel had been firebombed the night before. In actuality, the article was published October 2, the day before the arson attack (a discrepancy that was first noticed by Canadaland). Levy would not respond to my questions about the publication date change. When I confronted her with proof and asked for her to clarify, she stopped answering altogether, saying: “I’ve answered your questions to the best of my ability and have spent considerable time doing so.” It’s possible that the publication date was changed on the Sun’s website in error. It is also possible, but improbable, that Levy misremembers the publication date as well as her October 2nd tweet promoting the article. Levy has written that it is “contemptible” to try to link her article to the arson. Indeed, there is no evidence connecting the two.

But there is a profound hypocrisy in Levy and the Sun making the claim that there is no link between the arson and Levy’s article. On one hand, Toronto Sun Editor-in-chief Adrienne Batra told journalist Sarah Krichel that speculation of a direct link between the ‘goat slaughter’ article and the arson attack is “utter bullshit.” On the other hand, the cease and desist letter OCAP received claims that “it is foreseeable” that Levy, a public figure whose photo is all over the internet, “will be targeted and harassed… and such confrontations could result in Ms. Levy being physically harmed” because of the poster. While Levy and the Sun can speculate Levy may have negative interactions in response to the poster, it is indisputable that the arson did occur.

Levy has been writing about poor and homeless people for a long time but lately has focused on those in the Dundas and Sherbourne area and two essential services they rely on: the Margaret’s homeless respite site and Street Health clinic. Street Health’s overdose prevention site (OPS), the smallest in the city, saved about a life a week during its first year of operation. But the vocal residents’ association was successful getting its provincial funding terminated, even though Street Health says it has comprehensively responded to their concerns. In the midst of a deadly homelessness crisis caused, in part, by a shortage of shelter space, Margaret’s reduced its capacity from 50 to 35 to appease the residents’ association. The respite site now also plays classical music on the street to deter its own residents from using the space immediately outside the building (and, I’m told, for both the entertainment and pacification of those who stay). The result: fewer indoor places for people to stay and a more hostile outdoor environment.

Still, Levy condemns Street Health for the “dizzying tsunami of drug addicts, sex workers and drug dealers” and Margaret’s for the people outside. She claims to have followed a woman off of the TTC to Street Health and posts photos of homeless people on her twitter, seemingly without their consent but with disparaging commentary.

Levy isn’t big on empirical evidence, but her stories are full of anecdotes from, as Goldsbie observes, “seemingly random people.” But, Goldsbie says, “She tends to place their comfort” – the comfort of property owners or ‘taxpayers’ “much higher than the health and safety of people involved on the street… that’s very evident in the writing.” While Levy often couches the concerns of these wealthier area residents talking about things ‘getting worse’ after respite sites or OPSs open up near them in the context of safety, Goldsbie says it is about making things “clean and pristine and not sullied by poverty.”

Levy blames homeless people for the situation they’re in and not the housing crisis. She tells me, for instance, that “the lack of affordable housing has been used as an excuse for street sleepers for 20 years.” Her ideological position is contradicted by the evidence which clearly shows that the housing crisis is driving homelessness. The great irony, of course, is that things will keep getting worse at Dundas and Sherbourne and in many other neighbourhoods in Toronto. This not because the neighbourhoods have OPSs or other essential, even life saving, services for poor people and refugees but because we are in the midst of a housing and shelter crisis coupled with disastrously low social assistance rates. Premier Doug Ford, who both Levy and the Sun seem to support, could alleviate these problems yet he, like Levy, scapegoats refugees and blames poor people for the conditions they are abandoned in.

Meanwhile, Gaétan Héroux says OCAP will continue to “fight to defend our communities.”

[1] While Levy expressed concern for people with mental health issues to me, she denigrates them through her use of this language.

[2] It also upheld a separate complaint against Levy for calling a homeless advocate a “poverty pimp.” Levy told me the complaint was “vexatious especially considering I’ve used the same term for years.”

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.

Poster Campaign: #BackOffBigots

OCAP has launched a poster campaign to encourage solidarity in the downtown east
Build Inclusive Communities | #BackOffBigots

Toronto: The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has launched a poster campaign encouraging residents of Toronto’s downtown east neighbourhood to support healthcare and shelter services for the area’s low income residents. The poster also has a message for the seemingly small but vocal group of wealthier residents who have been aggressively campaigning to have those services shut down: back off.

“The downtown east belongs to all those who live here. It is not the exclusive playground of the area’s wealthier residents, even though some of them want it to be,” says Gaetan Heroux, a community worker and OCAP member who has spent over three decades working with poor and homeless people in the area.

In recent months, the resident group, which controls the Cabbagetown South Residents’ Association, has escalated its campaign against two critical services homeless people in the area rely on: the Street Health community clinic, and the Margaret’s homeless respite centre.

The Association already successfully lobbied the Ford government to terminate provincial funding for the Street Health’s overdose prevention site. The site saved 52 lives in its first year of operation. Not satisfied, the Association is now collaborating with the notorious Toronto Sun columnist Sue Ann Levy in its campaign to have the clinic and the homeless site either shut down or relocated to another part of the city.

Sue Ann Levy has since published a series of columns denigrating poor and homeless people in the area and attacking the clinic and homeless respite as “enablers” of disorder in the neighbourhood. The articles feature anecdotal, and often unsubstantiated, claims from residents that caricature homeless people as dirty, drug addicted and dangerous. Levy also takes pictures of homeless people and posts them on Twitter, often with degrading commentary.

“Dundas and Sherbourne is in a crisis caused by Toronto’s deadly housing crisis and rising poverty. Its victims are not the property owners in the area. Its victims are the poor and homeless people who deal with the relentless strain caused by the shortage of shelter space, crushing poverty, and the hopelessness of the housing market. To attack the two life-support services they rely on shows a vicious disregard for their lives,” says Yogi Acharya, an organizer with OCAP.

“The City can transform Dundas and Sherbourne into a vibrant neighbourhood by building rent-geared-to-income housing and expanding social services. Such a transformation would include the area’s most marginalized people and result in a healthy inclusive community. Spreading bigotry and suspicion only escalates tensions and divides the community further. We’re asking people to choose the former,” adds Heroux.

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.