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.
poverty, homelessness, housing, social assistance, ontario works, odsp, anti-poverty. ocap. ontario coalition against poverty, shelters,
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Connecting Our Struggles: Online Rally

Thursday July 9th, 2 pm – 3:30 pm.

As the status quo is crumbling – people are making a new world. This zoom rally says, enough is enough – we will connect our struggles and build a better world. Hear from activists in Grassy Narrows, from those supporting homeless encampments and undocumented folks, from sex worker organizing and from the movement against racist policing.

To register and get the zoom link, email digitalrally@protonmail.com. Bring signs for the rally, and be ready to yell at your computer. Or simply watch on this Facebook event page. The pandemic has given us more reason than ever to connect our struggles.

Speakers:

Greg Cook or Doug Johnson Hatlem will speak from the Encampment Support Network

Nigel Bariffe is a community organizer and an elementary teacher with the TDSB, Nigel is Board chair of the Urban Alliance on Race relations, board member of the Toronto Community Benefits Network and is trying to make the world a better place.

Elene Lam is the Founder and Executive Director of Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Networks). She has been involved in sex workers, labour, migrant, gender and racial justice movement for over 20 years. She is a PhD candidate at McMaster University.

Chrissy Isaacs is from Grassy Narrows Nation.

Mac Scott is an anarchist who works in the law go figure. He is currently organizing during Covid around migrant justice and access to health care for migrants. He has had 6 clients test positive and one die from CoVid. He works with OCAP and NOII and in his free time loves his family, cider, science fiction and bad suits not necessarily in that order.

At the end of the rally, we encourage those of you who can, to support these struggles in some direct way – call your councillor, poster your neighbourhood, send funds, chalk a wall, rally, march or scream out your window. We will add campaign links to the page.

Housing Stabilization Fund Casework Victory!

Last week we called for an emergency phone/email/tweet action in support of Adam. Adam had had bedbugs and was denied the Housing Stabilization Fund because he had gotten funds within the last two years. Adam has chronic leg and back pain and is recovering from shoulder surgery. Nevertheless, Toronto Employment and Social Services refused to accommodate him as a disabled person and said he had to keep sleeping on his concrete floor until at least October.

Instead, Adam called OCAP. The cheque for the maximum amount for soft furniture under the Housing Stabilization Fund policy is in the mail!

Thanks to everyone who took a couple of minutes to make this happen. Direct action gets the goods!

Adam Needs A Bed! 2 Minute Call/Email/Tweet Action

Contact the Mayor & General Manager of Toronto Employment & Social Services Today/Tomorrow!

1. Tell them to give Adam Nordin Housing Stabilization Fund money for a bed now.

2. Tell them to implement a disability accommodation for the Housing Stabilization Fund

Mayor Tory: 416-397-2489 – mayor_tory@toronto.ca@JohnTory

Tom Azouz (General Manager, TESS): 416-392-8952 – Tom.Azouz@toronto.ca@TorontoESS

Adam Nordin is a disabled man who lives on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Recently, Adam had a bad bout of bedbugs and had to get rid of his bed. Because he barely gets by on the low ODSP rates, he applied to the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF) for money for a bed. The HSF is supposed to be for situations exactly like this.

Adam has chronic leg and back pain and is recovering from shoulder surgeries he had in February 2020 and December 2019. Sleeping on the floor makes things much worse for him. Even though Adam is disabled and Toronto Employment and Social Services is legally obligated to consider this in his application, there is no evidence they did. Adam has medical documentation saying he requires a bed and not having one “has exacerbated his underlying medical condition.” They denied his HSF application for a bed.

Adam was told he won’t qualify for money for a bed until October. This is because Adam had previously been unlucky enough to have had bedbugs within the past 2 years. His punishment: extreme pain until the entire 24 months passes. This is an inhumane policy.

But, Adam would be denied in October too. You can only get the HSF for bed bugs if you apply within 60 days of a treatment. Adam shouldn’t have to hope to get bedbugs again to be able to meet his basic needs.

Adam needs a bed and he needs it now.

Call/Email/Tweet Mayor Tory and the General Manager of Toronto Employment and Social Services Now! #BedForAdam #HSFJustice

Mayor Tory: 416-397-2489 – mayor_tory@toronto.ca@JohnTory

Tom Azouz (General Manager, TESS): 416-392-8952 – Tom.Azouz@toronto.ca@TorontoESS

 

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.

Supporting Black & Indigenous People & De-funding Police

Anti-Black racism, condoned by the settler colonial state, is a life-threatening systemic assault against the lives of Black people. It urgently requires robust and broad-based resistance.

The murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, of D’Andre Campbell in Brampton and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet while alone with police presence, are just a few of the most recent examples of policing’s deadly impact on racialized people. Uprisings in response to their deaths call for our racist society to be restructured into one that is just.

As an anti-poverty organization we know how anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism are is often reflected in the attacks on poor people., Disproportionate numbers of homeless people living in shelters and in encampments are Black and Indigenous. Poverty is racialized. The 2016 Census showed that 20.8% of peoples of colour in Canada are low-income compared to 12.2% of non-racialized people. Over 90% of Toronto’s Indigenous population lives in poverty. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour are far more likely to experience homelessness, food insecurity, and incarceration than white people. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour living in poverty bear the brunt of this violence. The police are a weapon in this war, and so, we support defunding the police. OCAP would ideally like to see the institution of police replaced with one that would best serve all of society, but for the time being would at the least like to see the police significantly defunded.

OCAP stands in unequivocal solidarity with the current uprising and the Movement for Black Lives that has helped to mobilize it. We emphatically affirm that Black Lives Matter. Until all of us are free, none of us are.

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/.

Remembering Al

There are over a thousand names on Toronto’s Homeless Memorial. Imagine for a moment the magnitude of grief that list of names represents – the family and friends who lost someone they cared about.

We want to take a moment to remember one person who many of us cared about and who meant a lot to OCAP. Al Honen was a 51 year-old Anishinaabe man, a father and a friend.

Al was a member of OCAP for many years and, about 10 or 12 years ago, was on our Executive Committee – the elected leadership body of our organization.

Al first got involved in OCAP during the Mike Harris years. Another OCAP member, Brian, and Al were both staying at Seaton House, Canada’s largest homeless shelter. At that time, Brian was fighting a lot with Seaton House about the conditions there and he recalls “Al was on my side.” So, Brian invited Al to join OCAP.

Al wasn’t afraid to be publicly named when Seaton House refused him a bed when he had flu symptoms in 2009. Seaton House was acting against Toronto Public Health’s advice. Al was concerned for others who would be turned out into the cold and wanted to take action. He had a tough life on the streets, but he always had compassion for other homeless people.

Al was often smiling and cracking jokes. Brian and Al would often panhandle in Yorkville together and Al liked panhandling from famous people. The two of them would tell the stars jokes. Brian would tell jokes about people from Newfoundland – like himself. Al would tell Native jokes. Brian remembers one he would often tell: “you know what the best nation is? A donation.”

Al’s smile always grew biggest when he talked about his daughter.

Over the years, things got harder for Al. He had been on the list for housing for many years but had no hope of getting it. Al told one OCAP member “I’m going to die on the streets.” Al died homeless in a hospital ICU of non-COVID related pneumonia. His daughter was with him in his last moments.

Al, you are missed.

Breaking: Homeless advocates, doctors, nurses, and frontline workers staging physically-distanced protest

Primary livestream: facebook.com/OcapToronto/
Backup (in case primary doesn’t work): Zoom | Meeting: 959 1291 4833, PW: 011150

Toronto: With at least 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Toronto’s overcrowded and under resourced shelters, respites and drop-ins, the time to prevent catastrophic consequences for homeless people and shelter staff is running out.

“In a span of two weeks since the first case surfaced, we’ve seen the virus spread to at least seven different homeless facilities, most with congregate living arrangements. Photographic and testimonial evidence from existing facilities indicates that operators cannot implement public health standards necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Over two weeks ago, the City proudly announced that they had procured 1200 hotel rooms but they have filled less than half of those to date,” says Jessica Hales, nurse practitioner who works with homeless people in the city’s downtown east end.

A memo from the City to shelter operators sent following the latest outbreak of COVID-19 at the Willowdale Welcome Centre, indicates that the City still has no clear timeline for when it will move homeless people into hotels. It also states the City has not even tried to procure unused student residences at shuttered colleges and universities (see here and here).

“The City has nearly 5,000 people crammed into existing homeless facilities. Thousands more are sleeping outside in tents because they can’t get into shelters. But the City’s goal this week–a full month after this crisis began–is to have just 550 rooms filled. Thousands of rooms are needed to move homeless people out of danger. Board of health chair Joe Cressy agrees, saying we need ‘one person, one room, one home,’ but the City isn’t anywhere near that and has no discernible plan to get there,” says Cathy Crowe, street nurse and homeless advocate.

“The situation is at a breaking-point. Over 300 doctors and nurse practitioners are calling for immediate COVID-19 outreach testing, physical distancing in all shelters and respites, and the rapid movement of people into hotels, housing and residences. Without this we fear there will be preventable deaths and outbreaks with broad public health implications,” says Dr. Michaela Beder, one of the 313 doctors and nurse practitioners who released an open letter to the Mayor yesterday demanding immediate and rapid action.

“We’ve tried polite persuasion, we’ve produced evidence of dangerous conditions, we’ve held news conferences, but the City still isn’t taking it seriously. So now we’re putting ourselves on the line to demand the City rapidly move homeless people into hotels or housing. Time is not on our side and we can’t just watch homeless people get sick and die. The city must act now,” says Yogi Acharya, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

The City must commit to a rapid and reliable timeline to accomplish the following:

1. Move all homeless people into hotel rooms or housing.

2. Open day shelters to provide access to food, washrooms, showers, laundry, telephones and service referrals.

3. Implement regular and accessible sentinel surveillance mobile or onsite COVID-19 testing at all shelters, respites, and at daytime and 24 hour drop-ins.

4. Connect all homeless facilities to health care workers to ensure effective and accurate screening.

5. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to shelter residents exhibiting symptoms and all staff working at homeless facilities.

6. Enable harm reduction services, including witnessed injection, within all hotels and isolation sites.