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 CITY’S SHELTER INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN AND SHELTER-HOTELS

On Thursday, October 21st, the Economic and Community Development Committee of Toronto voted to close 13 shelter-hotels in April, 2022[1]. The City claims that Shelter Support and Housing Committee will be working with shelter-hotels to transition residents into permanent housing. We say- what housing?! Social housing in Toronto is completely full, with the general wait list taking 12 years or more for people to get accommodations[2]. The average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $1431[3], while Ontario Works shelter allowance is $390[4]. Homelessness in Toronto will not end in April. Currently shelter-hotels are providing protection from the elements for 2,647 people[5]. There are only 110 beds available in the shelter system right now[6]. We will not let people be pushed from shelters onto the streets, we will fight with and alongside shelter-hotel residents by any means necessary!

Toronto’s shelter system is bursting at the seams. The City of Toronto has failed to live up to its own mandate of maintaining shelter occupancy rates at below 90% capacity since the adoption of this mandate in 1999[7]. As of today, 24-hour respite centers are operating at 100% capacity, single people shelters are at 96.2% capacity, and emergency family shelters are at 100% capacity[8]. With shelters this full, people without homes may not have access to shelter beds that are appropriate for them, resulting in people being turned away and left out in the cold[9]. Many shelter spaces are inaccessible and/or inadequate for peoples seeking space[10], many do not offer wheelchair or mobility devise accessibility, accessible washrooms or accessible laundry facilities. On any given night an average of 38 people seeking shelter space are turned away[11]. This is an emergency; the shelter system is in crisis.

Shelter-hotels provide rooms for residents, mediating risks of COVID-19 transmissions overcrowded shelters and respite centers. While shelter-hotels have been an improvement over the rest of the shelter system, significant program and policy changes are needed to increase safety and accessibility.

The existence of these shelter-hotels has been used to justify the clearing of encampments[12]. Across the system, approximately 80 rooms are consistently held open to support encampment evictions. While 80 rooms sit empty, other homeless people, including those who are sleeping rough elsewhere than the targeted encampments, are denied access to the shelter-hotel system, even when directly requesting to move indoors. Shelter-hotels have a policy that disqualifies people from being admitted shelter-hotels if they have accessed shelter services in the last 30 days[13]. Encampment residents may briefly access shelter services for a variety of reasons[14]. Last week 17 names were added to the Toronto Homeless Memorial[15]. People who are homeless are dying and these restrictive policies will contribute to the mounting deaths we see.

Many shelter-hotels take people far away from the supports they require, significantly impacting safety and wellbeing of peoples that use drugs and leading to increased lethality[16]. The tireless advocacy efforts of harm-reduction workers has seen the implementation of Shelter Housing Overdose Prevention Program (SHOPP); however, this program is not offered in every shelter-hotel, and residents are not permitted to transfer shelters on their own accord[17].

Shelter-hotels are inadequately accessible. For example, the Bond Hotel does have a wheelchair ramp but that ramp is designated as an exit. People using mobility devises are denied access to the building through use of the one available ramp. The Bond Hotel has set up a designated smoking area for residents however that smoking area is not accessible for people using mobility devises and the smoking area structure physically blocks access to the ramp. Staff must physically move the smoking structure to allow access to the ramp for people using mobility devises. This is unacceptable and a serious safety risk in the event of an emergency. Shelter-hotels must make an accessible fire and emergency plan. People with mobility devises are given rooms on the top floors of the building, there is no way for them to exit the building in the event of a fire or another emergency that disables use of the elevators.

Shelter-hotels have insufficient and/or inappropriate staff. There are simply not enough case workers for the amount of people that reside in hotels. Hotels have up to 270 residents and as few as 3 case workers, resulting in many residents being left to try to navigate the system on their own. Additionally, shelter-hotel locations have 1 personal support worker staff for the entire facility. This PSW staff does not provide bathing and hygiene services, despite bathrooms being physically inaccessible. Shelter-hotel residents state that there is a policy barring outside social service workers and agencies from entering the shelter-hotel locations. This policy denies people access to their basic care needs. Every person deserves access to appropriate services, if the shelter-hotels cannot provide it residents should be supported in accessing external services.

Shelter-hotel residents are subjected to dehumanizing and unnecessary restrictive policies. Shelter-hotel residents report that workers complete room-checks up to five times a day[18], including in the middle of the night. Regardless of the needs of the resident, room checks are completed 3 to 4 times a day, with the last room check being at 11 PM. For residents deemed high risk, room checks are completed every two hours. Residents state that these room checks are invasive and lead to sleep deprivation. Room checks, especially evening and night room checks, can be significantly triggering for people who have lived through traumatic experiences, worsening trauma symptom severity. It is a patronizing practice that is not appropriate for all residents.

Toronto is in a housing crisis. SSHA claims that they will be working with shelter-hotel residents to transition them into housing, but currently they have only placed 8% of shelter-hotel residents into permanent housing[19]. SSHA says they will open 2000 supportive housing spaces to house both shelter-hotel residents and the chronically homeless, this is double promising an already inadequate number of spaces[20]. We will not stand by while the city evicts shelter-hotel residents onto the street!

OCAP will fight for hotel-shelters to remain open; we will fight for safe and secure shelter spaces; we will fight for right of dignity for all peoples; we will fight for deeply and truly affordable social housing. We will fight with and alongside community members, and we will fight to win.

 

[1] Toronto City Council, “Economic and Community Development Committee – October 21, 2021”, 2021 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59r-T50AYvM&t=25s>

[2] City of Toronto, “Rent-Geared-to-Income Subsidy”, 2021

[3] City of Toronto, “Current City of Toronto Average Market Rent and Utility Allowances”, 2021

[4] City of Toronto, “Monthly Ontario Works Amounts”, 2021.

[5] City of Toronto, “Daily Shelter & Overnight Service Usage”, 2021

[6] City of Toronto, “Daily Shelter & Overnight Service Usage”, 2021

[7] SSHA, “Staff Report on the Capacity of the Emergency Shelter System”, Community and Neighborhood Services Committee, Toronto City Council, March 24, 1999

[8] City of Toronto, “Daily Shelter & Overnight Service Usage”, 2021

[9]  Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 19.

[10] Shelter Housing Justice Network, “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan”, pp. 25, 2021

[11] Fact Check Toronto, “Shelter Capacity”, 2021

[12] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 26.

[13] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 39.

[14] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 39.

[15] Holy Trinity Toronto, ”Toronto Homeless Memorial”, 2021.

[16] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 23.

[17] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 24.

[18] Fact Check Toronto, Shelter hotels, 2021.

[19] Beattie, “Only 8% of Encampment Residents Have Made It into Permanent Housing since April 2020, Toronto data shows”, CBC News, Sep 12, 2021.  Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-encampment-residents-housing-1.6167173

[20] Withers, A.J. “RE: EC25.6 2022 Shelter Infrastructure Plan, Community Engagement Review and Amendments to Contracts and Purchase Orders to Support Shelter Services”, Oct 20, 2021, Retrieved from https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2021/ec/comm/communicationfile-137704.pdf

In solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders

We, a coalition of organizers from Tkaronto, have arrived in Wet’suwet’en Territory! In the past months Coastal Gas Link, with government and RCMP support, have continued to build a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en Territory, demolishing ancient sites and threatening the sacred waters of the Wedzin Kwa – all without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. We have responded to the invitation from Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders, and we are here to show our unequivocal support. As a coalition representing Neighbourhood Pods TO, Movement Defence Committee – Law Union of Ontario, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, World Beyond War, and CPT – Turtle Island Solidarity Network we add our voices to their demand that CGL halts all construction on Wet’suwet’en Territory.

The construction of the pipeline is part of the roadmap of colonialism carried out by both corporations and the Canadian government that seeks to violently displace Indigenous Peoples for settler industry and capital gains. In recent weeks, we have witnessed the RCMP harassing Land Defenders, dumping their drinking water, and torturing an ally. This colonial violence seeks to force Indigenous Land Defenders and their supporters into submission. Yet the Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders have continued to resist and stand their ground.

Across so-called Canada, violent displacement for the profit and comfort of the rich is not new, but rather common practise. This summer in Toronto, encampments were demolished as the Toronto Police beat, pepper sprayed, arrested, and displaced the residents and their supporters. Encampments have been safe spaces for those who are unsheltered to build community and organize. The demolishing of the encampments was a clear message from the city – Toronto is for the rich, and those that challenge this notion will face violence at the hands of the state.

Our solidarity also extends internationally to comrades who are resisting colonialism. In Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinians have been defending their land against Israel’s attempts to remove them. In Tamil Eelam, Tamils have been resisting Sinhla occupation and the take over of their lands. And in Colombia small scale farmers are fighting back as palm oil companies displace them.

Today as we arrive in Wet’suwet’en Territory, we join the Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders and demand an end to the CGL Pipeline and the state violence that accompanies it. As a coalition of organizers we are committed to decolonization in Tkaronto, across Turtle Island, and around the world.

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Letter to Merrilee Fullerton

Dear Merrilee Fullerton,

We, the members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), are requesting a meeting to discuss the blatant disregard and ongoing neglect of poor and disabled people in Ontario.

It is your responsibility as Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development to immediately address the inadequacy and degradation of peoples relying on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

OCAP has a long history fighting to protect the rights of the poor, and we see that the current “improvements” to these programs do nothing to improve the lives of the poor and disabled. OW and ODSP are woefully inadequate and are at the root of poverty in this province. As the cost of living continues to rise at a rapid pace and the housing crisis persists, more and more people are being forced out of their homes and into encampments, shelters, and other subpar alternatives.

In the government’s latest policy paper, “Recovery and Renewal: Ontario’s Vision for Social Assistance Transformation,” it is evident that there is a thinly-veiled attempt to further coerce and marginalize those struggling the most, while further contributing to the surveillance and disrespect they are already over subjected to.

As you are aware, the current monthly entitlement for a single individual on OW is $733.00 and $1169.00 on ODSP. This includes a shelter allowance of $390.00, leaving a mere $343.00 for basic needs for OW recipients and $672.00 for individuals on ODSP.

Calculations show that the average single individual requires on average $1513.35 in order to meet basic shelter and nutritional costs, leaving OW recipients receiving $733 monthly short of meeting essential needs. For ODSP recipients the shortfall is a minimum of $562.00. This does not include clothing, transportation, phone, internet and other expenses required to meet and maintain everyday needs. Income security for OW and ODSP recipients has plummeted over the last 25 years, and we have had enough!

While your government avoids addressing this crisis – downplaying its severity, overtly privileging the corporations and wealthy elite, our people continue to suffer every single day.

The Canadian government proved its understanding of the minimum amount required to survive economically in 2020, with an Emergency Response Benefit in the amount of $2000 (before taxes). Even at this rate, which is almost three times that of Ontario Works, we saw many working-class families struggle, Yet, people with disabilities are forgotten, pushed to the margins and invisibilized, expected to be silent and complacent in their oppression.

We have inherent value despite our social position. We deserve better. We will not be left behind. We will continue the fight for higher benefits, accessibility, and respect for our right to survival.

We call on you to lend yourself to real solutions, and we demand you act immediately. If we do not receive a timely response, we will consider public action.

With all due respect,

The members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

A Housing Platform for Poor and Working people

OCAP denounces all federal parties’ insufficient attempts at prioritizing ‘affordable’ housing in the upcoming election.

“Affordable” is a misnomer, it is weak-willed political jargon, intended to be vague. What we need is more not-for-profit housing: safe, quality social housing, a serious investment in the housing co-operative model, and the deprivatization of long-term care. We need housing designed for people, not profit.

Housing has been an issue for poor people for decades. As federal parties unveil a platform mainly supportive to help middle-income earners, it is obvious that poor and working people’s needs are not anywhere in mind. Most of the platform points from all major political parties focus on homeownership, once again leaving renters, under-housed, and unhoused persons out of the conversation.

Accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, there are hundreds of thousands of people at risk of being evicted and forced onto the streets. No federal party makes mention of any solution to this. Instead, all parties offer too little, too late, and fail across the board to center those in dire need. After years of neglect from all levels of government, we need emergency action, that prioritizes a safe place to live for every member of the country, including migrants and undocumented peoples.

This housing crisis has been manufactured by developers and governments who have, by design, allowed the slow supply of specific types of housing, and sustained a bubble of prices that only top income earners can perforate. Since 1993, the federal government has stopped investing in social housing across Canada. What we see today is the effects of a long-term and calculated effort to neglect and invisibilize our most vulnerable, consolidate profits into developer’s hands, and further the neoliberal agenda.

Condominium developers continue to run amok, while other models of housing are forgotten. Greedy landlords and real estate developers continue to profit at the expense of poor and working people simply needing a place to live. Shame on the federal government for allowing this crisis to happen in the first place and shame on their lack of action now.

We are in unprecedented times, with hundreds of thousands of people across the country behind in rent and eligible for eviction. Our shelter systems are full and overcrowded. After being sued, the government was forced to look to hotels and other interim solutions in response to the pandemic. We have thousands of people living in encampments across the country, being forcefully and violently evicted by police, with nowhere else to go.

The population in shelters is increasingly made up of migrants left without status due to huge problems based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in Canada’s immigration system. This population has special needs, none of which are even touched on in any of the platforms.

The housing platforms of all major political parties fall grossly short of the change that is needed to support the right to housing.

Our governments at all levels are complicit in this crisis, and we demand long-term sustainable solutions that secure the right to housing for people at all income levels.

Our Housing Platform Demands:

  • A commitment to 1 million new social housing units, nationwide, to be built by 2025
  • An ongoing funding commitment to municipalities comparable to rates adjusted for inflation before funding cuts in 1993 for the maintenance and creation of social housing going forward
  • The facilitation of new housing cooperatives in every city, in the amount to house all those waitlisted and meet ongoing demand by 2026
  • An increase in taxes for those who own more than two properties
  • A 20% vacancy tax for empty and unused properties for up to 3 years
  • The expropriation of empty and unused buildings sitting for over 3 years to create more not-for-profit housing options
  • Stronger policies that support the rights of tenants, including rent forgiveness for pandemic arrears
  • Redefine the term “Affordable” to reflect deeply affordable housing based on income and not in contrast to market rent
  • Focus on shifting the financialization of property to providing housing for all who require shelter
  • End the for-profit model for long-term care facilities and ensure dignified and safe housing for all, at every stage of life.

OCAP Statement regarding Encampment Clearing at Trinity Bellwoods

OCAP Denounces the Repressive Violence in Clearing Unhoused People from Trinity Bellwoods Park

June 22, 2021
On the morning of June 22, 2021, hundreds of Toronto Police Service officers (TPS) and privately contracted security officers descended on Trinity Bellwoods Park to remove houseless people living in tents with tenuous promises of shelter or by force if necessary. Residents of Toronto mobilized to prevent the unnecessary and heartless removal of those residing in the park without any other safe place to live. Police erected fencing around the perimeter of the park, boxing in residents and supporters, effectively “kettling” those in attendance and preventing further supporters from entering the area.
This was a planned coordination of excessive force on the part of the City of Toronto (CoT) and the TPS to demonstrate power and intimidate residents and supporters. The police used escalation tactics, threatened fines, arrests, and the removal of residents and supporters. Resources were at no shortage to the TPS as hundreds of mounted police, plain clothes officers, riot cops and corporate security were present to control the movement of 20-25 encampment residents.
Under the guise of “restoring” the park, the City of Toronto is faking concern for encampment residents by spreading misleading and unfounded anxiety such as “fire risks” and other threats to safety which could be mitigated by working with those living in encampments rather than by forceful evictions. The more likely motivation for displacing encampment residents who are seeking safe alternatives to the unsafe and overcrowded shelter system is to remove the visibility of poverty from increasingly gentrified neighbourhoods for the perceived comfort of those living in nearby luxury condo developments.
The show of force by the city in the effort to remove unhoused people from the only safe refuge they have found in the midst of a pandemic, as the housing crisis is not only unacceptable and callous but gravely contradicts public health standards. Displacing people while offering no true alternatives is cruel, traumatizing, and unnecessary. The tactics being used by the city and its police forces are not a solution to the issues that create these encampments and only serve to dehumanize residents and protestors alike. The city of Toronto must stop these violent and unwarranted evictions and focus on true solutions and alternatives in regards to safety and housing by working with the community rather than escalation of the ongoing war on the poor and unhoused. We applaud the resistance shown by the community, residents, and supporters, and condemn the predatory and discriminatory actions of TPS and CoT.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)


Defund, Disarm the Police
Stop Greedy Landlords – put an end to evictions
Demand immediate increase in Rent Geared to Income Housing
Demand and Enforce “Use It or Lose It” policies and by-laws
Expropriate Land and Buildings left for-profit and speculation
Demand Safe Injection Spaces and Safe Drug Supply
Expand Drop-In and Health Services in Our Neighbourhoods.

OCAP Denounces Expanded Police Powers: Overreach of Police Enforcement Will Not Solve the COVID Crisis.

Although the province has partially walked back it’s statement on empowering police to perform “random” street checks under the new covid restrictions, police powers to stop and question individuals have still increased under the guise of suspicion of participation in an organized public event or social gathering.
Any increased powers afforded to the police will be utilized to further harass and intimidate targeted individuals and communities with sanctioned impunity.

Doug Ford’s incompetence and negligence has resulted in a catastrophic rise in cases of COVID-19 resulting in the unnecessary illness and death of thousands of Ontario residents. Yet, the Ford government is determined to continue placing profits before people while refusing to enact public health measures which could aid in the reduction of Covid transmission and infections.

What we are seeing is the cumulative results of the Ford government failing to listen to health professionals and take the correct action necessary to curb the spread. In light of losing control of the situation, the Ford government has created more anxiety and confusion in the public leading them to misplace their fear and anger on individuals, instead of the factories, essential businesses, and congregate settings where the infection continues to run rampant because employees cannot properly isolate or take time off because they lack life-saving benefits and sick pay.

Restricting the basic rights and freedoms of residents is not going to improve this situation, it will only make matters worse. Police do not make communities safer, they serve to criminalize the poor, racialized and otherwise vulnerable and marginalized communities, including creating increased fear for those forced to be out on the streets, in transit, or unable to stay in one place during this time. Communities do not need more policing, they need labour protections and safe and adequate housing.

In order to avoid the inevitable abuse of police powers under the recent expansion of pandemic restrictions, we demand the Ford government immediately:
Remove the expanded overreach of police authority to stop, question, or card individuals under the new lockdown restrictions, regardless of supposed discretionary suspicion
Reallocate police resources to health and social services overburdened by the explosion of COVID cases
Implement permanent, seamless employer and provincially paid sick days for essential and vulnerable workers
Improve equitable vaccination availability and access in high-risk communities, including non status migrant and homeless populations

It is impossible to police ourselves out of this pandemic. Increasing punitive measures onto vulnerable and marginalized people will do nothing to improve public health outcomes. Shifting responsibility onto individuals without giving the necessary supports to follow public health guidelines is callous and offensive. The blame for the current state of public health lays firmly at the feet of the Ford government, not the people of Ontario.


Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
April 19, 2021