Speakers Series: I, Daniel Blake – Movie Screening

OCAP - May 1, 2017 - 4:20pm

Thursday, May 18 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Watch the Film Trailer

Join us for our monthly speakers series focusing on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

This month we are excited to screen I, Daniel Blake, the newest movie by the renowned film-maker Ken Loach. The film chronicles the calculated brutality of the social assistance systems in the UK, which parallel those in place here in Ontario.

Stay for the post-film conversation, details to be announced soon.

Categories: Community Feed

New Report: Toronto Robs from the Poor

OCAP - April 25, 2017 - 3:32pm

Download the Report | Media Coverage: CTV, CP24  
[High-Res Print Version] | Our article in the NOW

This morning we launched Toronto Robs from the Poor: The Misuse of the Housing Stabilization Fund. The report documents how the city has siphoned away or otherwise withheld nearly $18 million dollars from programs tackling homelessness over the last four years – all during an escalating crisis of homelessness and the shelter system.

Categories: Community Feed

Pay it Back: Post Sleep Out Delegation to City Hall

OCAP - April 24, 2017 - 8:01am

Tuesday, April 25 | 10:30am | Toronto City Hall (Bay/Queen)
Meet by giant ‘Toronto’ sign in the square

Join us on Tuesday to deliver the Toronto Robs from the Poor report to Mayor John Tory. In addition to revealing how the city has siphoned away or otherwise withheld $18 million dollars from homelessness programs, the report also documents a troubling pattern of misreporting by the City. We will demand that the money diverted away from homelessness programs be returned immediately and be used to provide much needed respite to the homeless.

The stakes for people on the streets are high, one homeless person is dying every 10 days. Tory’s response to the crisis has been appalling and the threadbare denials and excuses that he and his administrators have put forward convince no serious observer. It’s clear that unless public pressure forces them to do otherwise, they will continue to serve the needs of austerity and upscale redevelopment.

That’s why over 200 people gathered outside the ‘Tower of Power,’ the Mayor’s multi-million dollar residence, this past Saturday to bring the crisis of homelessness to his door-step. Many slept out there through the night. It has been made clear to the Mayor that unless the very basic demands that have been put forward to tackle the homeless crisis are met, we will continue to escalate the fight. Contrary to the position that the city lacks resources to meet these demands, the report we will deliver on Tuesday makes clear that the City has immediate access to at least $18 million it can use to address the crisis.

Join us on Tuesday to take the fight forward.

Note: Our delegation clashes with another action called by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, a group we are in allied with. Since our delegation will conclude before their action does, we encourage you to attend that action afterwards.

Categories: Community Feed

Bringing the Crisis of Homelessness to John Tory’s Door-Step

OCAP - April 21, 2017 - 1:56pm

Is OCAP Really Being ‘Unfair?’

On Saturday, April 22, at 7.00PM, OCAP will be back in front of Mayor John Tory’s luxury condo at Bloor and Bedford to challenge the homeless crisis in Toronto. This time, we will bed down and stay for the night. Tory has previously accused us of being ‘unfair’ by bringing the fight to his private residence. At least two City Council members have taken the same position publicly. Sections of the media have been aghast that we would behave in this way. This being so, we wanted to put the following points on the record.

  1. We are not challenging some inconvenience or mild injustice but the lethal abandonment of homeless people to the streets. The shelters are bursting at the seams, the City is failing to implement its own policies with regard to occupancy levels and the back-up warming centes and volunteer-run Out of the Cold facilities have closed for the year. Homeless people have died this winter for lack of adequate shelter, they have suffered hypothermia on the cold streets, and their health and dignity have been assaulted. City Council has cut homeless services in the midst of this situation and made it clear that the needs and survival of homeless people are valued much less than the objectives of austerity and upscale redevelopment.
  1. John Tory can’t plausibly deny that he is fully aware of the reality of the crisis on the streets of this City. The threadbare denials and excuses that he and his administrators have put forward would convince no serious observer. Homeless people and their advocates, front line workers, medical providers and religious leaders have all provided him with abundant and compelling evidence of the gravity of the situation. He knows but chooses not to act.
  1. If we were dealing with a Mayor who, in good faith, was seeking to find solutions and take vitally necessary actions to deal with the crisis, we would be taking a very different approach. However, we have learned from bitter experience that ‘going through the proper channels’ is to disappear into a maze of political evasion and bureaucratic delay. Those who tell us we should be going the route of polite discourse and restrained tactics, may be prepared to accept the suffering and misery of the homeless but we are not. We look to maximize the pressure on the Mayor and, if our home visits make him uncomfortable, so much the better.
  1. We think that coming to the front door of Tory’s luxury dwelling is far from ‘unfair’ and that, in fact, it is entirely fitting and just as a course of action. The building he lives in is known as the ‘Tower of Power.’ If he and his well-to-do and well-connected neighbours are mildly inconvenienced by the actions, the discomfort is nothing compared to the impact on human lives of the failure to provide basic shelter from the elements or shelter conditions that are remotely humane and decent. If Tory wants us to be more ‘reasonable,’ he can tell his political co-thinkers and developer friends that he will meet the very basic demands we put forward in response to a desperate and worsening crisis of homelessness.

We will be bedding down in front of John Tory’s condo on April 22 and we make no apologies for our actions. In this wealthy City, the fact that people lack even shelter space, is a shame and a disgrace and we intend to challenge that even in the face of high placed disapproval.

Categories: Community Feed

What Basic Income Means for Disabled People

OCAP - April 12, 2017 - 2:22pm

by AJ Withers and John Clarke

Disabled people in Ontario are much more likely to experience poverty than non-disabled people. Many have to live on sub poverty payments under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or the even more wretched income provided by Ontario Works (OW). Those that are in this situation are confronted by an ongoing process of surveillance, invasion of their privacy and moral policing. Those disabled people who are working, because of systemic discrimination, are less likely to be receiving living wages and are far more likely to be precariously employed. As anti poverty organizers, we fully understand the anger and desperation that such a situation generates.

On this basis, it is easy to see how, at first glance, there are aspects of a Basic Income (BI) approach that could be found attractive by disabled people. The promise of a somewhat higher payment, provided without the kind of intrusive element that presently exists, would seem to represent a step forward. However, we think it’s important to ask why the Liberal Government would suddenly support a new approach that would mean considerably increased costs. Why would a Government that has driven down the adequacy of benefit rates and cut programs for disabled people want to reverse course so dramatically? BI can look very alluring but we are convinced that, In reality, it will mean a degrading of the already inadequate ‘social safety net’ that will make things dramatically worse for disabled people. The Ontario Government’s adviser on BI, Hugh Segal, has proposed a pilot project under which a small sampling of people on OW would have their income raised to $1.320.00 month. A group on ODSP would be paid $500 more than they are at present. In both cases, the money would be provided without much of the scrutiny and intrusion people presently have to put up with. There is no doubt that the small number of people who became part of such a project would be better off for as long as it lasted. However, it is unlikely that the Ontario Government will run at test at income levels as high as their advisor suggests. Moreover, while a small minority of people are being tested in this way, over a period of several years, far greater numbers will be living as in deep poverty as before on OW and ODSP. There is also no reason to assume that any Province wide system of BI that was eventually adopted would provide the same income as under the pilot project.

Why Basic Income?

It seems curious that the Liberals are ready to offer the promise of long term improvement by way of Basic Income while they flagrantly ignore the glaring problems with the existing system of social assistance and other poverty causing factors that they could deal with immediately. Raising social assistance rates and the minimum wage, building more affordable housing, ensuring that homeless people at least had basic shelter, developing free or low costs pharmacare and dental programs, expanding disability related benefits for all low income people and eliminating the long waiting lists for things like attendant care and supportive housing are all things that they could act upon now to make a real difference in peoples’ lives. If they won’t do things why should we believe that they want to redistribute wealth and alleviate poverty but way of a system of BI

The Ontario Liberals have established a long and very ugly record of imposing an agenda of imposing austerity and attacking public services. We might ask ourselves if there is a danger of BI being implemented in such a way as to deepen, rather than reverse, that agenda. During the years of they have been in power, the Liberals have driven down the adequacy of social assistance and, apart from the money this has saved them, this has created a situation where people are more desperate and ready to accept even the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs. By making ODSP ever harder to get onto and, by allowing the rates to fall lower against inflation, they have ensured that disabled people are frequently forced to be part of this scramble for the worst jobs on offer. Indeed the reference to setting up a pilot project that was contained the last Provincial Budget actually stressed that there was a hope that Basic Income could ‘strengthen attachment to the labour force.’ The real danger with a BI system, as it might actually be designed by an austerity driven government, is that it could be a basis for making things even worse.

The right wing US political scientist, Charles Murray, advances a version of BI that calls for a wretchedly inadequate payment of $10,000 a year to be provided but, Murray stresses, it is essential that this payment replace all the other elements of social provision. At a time of mounting austerity, with public services at acute risk of privatization, this is exactly the way in which BI could further a regressive agenda. Even a payment that is somewhat higher than under the present social assistance rates would still be a step backwards for disabled people and poor people in general if it was used to justify and increase the attack on public services and other benefits. Things like the Special Diet, medical transportation and the child care benefit might be targeted. What good would a slightly higher payment be if, as part of the new arrangement, people now faced exorbitant costs for things like hearing aids, wheelchairs, prosthetics, medical supplies and respiratory devices? If BI opened the door so such regressive measures, it would lead, not to reduced levels of poverty, but to a very much worse situation.

The kind of Basic Income we might expect the Ontario Liberals to design would turn the social safety net into a tightrope. The network of present systems is undoubtedly inadequate but a system of universal payment would be even more vulnerable to austerity and the impact of allowing it to fall against inflation or of reducing the level of the benefit would be enormous.

For all the talk of a ‘no strings attached’ system of income provision, governments that are looking at BI or designing pilot projects are very focused on issues of how the system might serve to prod people into low paying jobs. Linked to this, are the old notions of molding poor people into becoming ‘productive’ conforming workers and consumers. This is why coded language around the reconstruction of people can be found in BI literature. For example, the Manitoba Liberal Party supports the implementation of a guaranteed income on the grounds that it would help in ‘the building of self-reliant, taxpaying citizens.’ Similarly, Ontario’s report on BI argues that behavioural changes and increased independence are important goals. The old moral assumptions have not really disappeared.

 Basic Income and Disability

There are different ways that a BI could be implemented. The Ontario Report suggests that disabled people get $500 extra in recognition that the ‘costs of living with a disability’ are higher than those faced by non disabled people. However, this isn’t true in the same way across the board. The expenses of someone having to pay the daily cost of a service dog, someone who needs special dietary items, someone who must pay for attendant care, someone who has to pay for ASL interpretation or someone who has to replace a $40,000 wheelchair are all very different. If BI were used as a pretext to eliminate other systems of support, there are a whole range of needs that different disabled people have that would be placed out of range for them.

Importantly, who gets the disabled top up will revolve around how the Government defines disability. Lots of those who are disabled will not be accepted as such. The definition of disability is very limited in terms of accessing ODSP and it’s likely that the vast majority of disabled people will not qualify for the additional payment under a BI system. Governments are presently working to narrow the concept of ‘disability’ and the introduction of a new income support system would likely offer an opportunity to take that further.

 Imagining the future

Right now, we are being told that we are at a crossroads and there are two possible futures. One in which things remain the same with inadequate social assistance rates and rampant poverty or one in which everyone gets a BI payment at 75% of the poverty line in Ontario, making it supposedly easier to escape from poverty altogether. The second, BI future will require study, public consultations and several years to put into place but we are told it’s the best possible outcome.

One of the main arguments for BI is that social assistance is deeply flawed: the rates are too low and it is punitive and degrading. However, it isn’t necessary to pin hopes on BI to fix these things. The Government could raise social assistance rates to decent levels but it has made the deliberate choice to perpetuate the suffering of the poorest people in Ontario. The Government could eliminate the policies and structures that make social assistance so punitive. It could make the system fair and respectful and expand benefits to all disabled people but it chooses not to.

A lot of people who promote BI have very good intentions. This isn’t the case, however, for Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and other governments that are investigating BI. They intend more cuts and to increase pressure on people to scramble for the worst jobs. Rather than pin our hopes on the flawed concept of BI, so easily implemented in ways that further a regressive agenda and harm disabled people, we suggest fighting for adequate income, living wages, improved, expanded and accessible public services and income support systems that are adequate and free of surveillance and moral policing. This won’t be won by trusting governments to do the right thing but through strong collective struggle.

Categories: Community Feed

Basic Income: A Way Forward for the Left?

OCAP - March 29, 2017 - 10:47am

Thursday, April 13 | 6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors Open 6pm) | OISE Auditorium
On Facebook | ASL Provided | Wheelchair Accessible | Next to St.George Station
Free & open to the public

The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been championed by both progressives and conservatives. Not everyone on the left, however, is behind the idea. Is the UBI a means of redistributing wealth, attacking poverty and protecting workers from technological displacement? Or will basic income serve to advance an agenda of austerity and privatization?

Join us on April 13th as we begin to debate these important questions. The debate will feature two speakers speaking in favour of the left support for Basic Income and two against.

John Clarke, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)
Josephine Grey, Low Income Families Together (LIFT)
Jessica Sikora, President, OPSEU Local 586
Final Debator to be announced soon

Moderator: Avi Lewis, The Leap
Opening remarks: Kikélola Roach, Unifor Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice & Democracy, Ryerson University

In the spirit of The Leap Manifesto’s call for ‘vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic income,’ this interactive event is for anyone trying to figure out whether basic income should be a priority demand for progressives.

Hosted in partnership with: OCAP, OPIRG-Toronto, OPSEU Local 586, Ryerson Centre for Policy Innovation and Public Engagement, The Leap, Unifor Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy.

Categories: Community Feed

Speakers Series: The Trouble with the Housing Bubble

OCAP - March 21, 2017 - 4:12pm

Thursday, April 20 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]

Join us for our monthly speakers series focusing on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

April’s topic is: The Trouble with the Housing Bubble

– What are the reasons behind the current housing crisis?

– How are people fighting evictions and exploitative landlords?

– What are our rights as tenants?

Join us for a conversation over good food as we strategize around these and other questions to build the fight for public and affordable housing.

Speakers to be announced very soon.

Come for the meal at 6pm and stay for what promises to be a a very informative and engaging session!

Categories: Community Feed

Sleep Out at John Tory’s: Shelter Now!

OCAP - March 17, 2017 - 1:28pm

Saturday, April 22 | 7pm-7am | Bloor & Bedford [Outside St.George Station]
Dinner, Rally & Performers: 7pm – 9pm | Breakfast served at 6am
Don’t Miss the Beginning, Stay As Long As You Can
[ASL Interpreter on-site from 7pm-9pm, St.George is an accessible station]
Video Trailer:

It has been a terrible winter for Toronto’s homeless.  The shelters have seen appalling levels of overcrowding and even the warming centres and drop ins have been hard pressed to deal with the numbers seeking a place of refuge.  The overcrowding has caused four deaths and homeless people have been hospitalized with hypothermia.

Throughout these dreadful months, Mayor John Tory and the bureaucrats at City Hall have refused to open additional space. Now, the warming centres and volunteer-run ‘Out of the Cold’ facilities will be closing for the year. There will be even fewer options available to people trying to survive on streets. The City must open enough new spaces immediately to ensure that the policy of not running the shelters above 90% occupancy is actually in effect. They must ensure that enough low barrier and harm reduction spaces are available so that people can actually access the shelter system. At this critical time, we are going back to John Tory’s multi-million condo home for a sleep out to drive home the need for shelters for the homeless in a City that drips with wealth. We will set up at 7.00 with a meal, speakers and entertainment. Come out and stay for as long as you can to help us win the right to shelter for those Tory and his friends are abandoning to the streets

What to bring: If you can, bring blankets, sleeping bags, and other things to keep yourself warm through the night. We’ll have sleeping bags with us for those who don’t have them. There will also be warm drinks and snacks throughout the night.

Contact us at ocap(at)tao.ca or call at 416-925-6939 for other accessibility concerns.

Categories: Community Feed

Speakers Series: Fighting Back in the Age of Trump

OCAP - March 1, 2017 - 1:44pm

Thursday, March 16 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]


Join us for our monthly speakers series focusing on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

This month’s topic is: Fighting Back in the Age of Trump
– What does the Trump victory mean for poor people’s struggles here?
– How can he be defeated?
– If Trump is our enemy, is Trudeau our friend?

Join us for a conversation over good food as we strategize around these and other questions to build a movement of capable of stifling the rise of Trump and all that his ilk stand for.

Speakers: John Clarke, organizer at the OCAP, and another speaker to be announced very soon.

Come for the meal at 6pm and stay for what promises to be a a very informative and engaging session!

Categories: Community Feed

A Response to John Tory’s Continued Denial of the Homeless Shelter Crisis

OCAP - February 23, 2017 - 1:31pm

Last week, a twenty eight year old homeless indigenous man perished in Toronto, after staff at a drop in had to tell him that the facility was too overwhelmed to provide a place of shelter for the night.

For months, homeless people, advocates and service providers have been telling Mayor John Tory that the shelter system is hopelessly overcrowded and that a death was all but inevitable. We were so sure of this horrible reality in OCAP that we had a contingency plan to hold a memorial at Tory’s luxury condo in the event of a death. Last Sunday, we had to do just that.

Unbelievably, the response of the Mayor’s office to the tragedy has been to double down on the evasions. Rather than to open the federal armouries or some equivalent location, as the community had demanded, to try and save lives, Tory and his entourage have ducked and weaved to try and deflect the blame they can’t escape.

A statement responding to our action at the Tory residence, sought to focus attention on the ‘dangers of fentanyl.’ The young man did, indeed, die of an overdose that occurred in the context of a crisis across Canada that all levels of government need to be held accountable for. However, there is simply no denying that the he was put back out on the streets because this City fails to provide even the most basic shelter from the elements.

The statement also peddled the old line that there were beds available that night and claims the men’s system was ‘only’ at 95% capacity. Never mind that the City’s own policy is based on the notion that occupancy levels of above 90% render the shelters impossible to endure and drive people out. Even the shameful 95% figure is understated and attributable to the timing of the bed count and is obtained by ignoring all those who have been turned away when they tried to find a space and by disregarding all those who have been barred from the shelters because the overcrowding creates unbearable tensions that lead to outbursts and incidents.

The young man was offered a referral to a warming centre in another area of town, the Mayor’s Office is anxious to point out. It would not have opened until later that evening and is notoriously hard to access. The fact is that, denied a spot in a place where he knew the people and could feel some sense of security, he left and shortly thereafter lost his life. Behind all the prattle about all the ‘available options,’ is the simple reality of what took place. The shelter system is in such crisis and so utterly overwhelmed that the man who died and nine others beside him could not be taken in by a facility that operates (through no fault of its dedicated staff) in violation of the City’s own shelter standards. It provides 34 mats on the floor and 16 ‘additional spaces.’ If you don’t get a mat, then a chair or bare floorboards are what you’re looking at. We have reached the point where people have to go on a waiting list in order even to obtain shelter under such inhumane conditions.

The Mayoral statement points out that the death was not connected to budget cuts that were, ironically, being voted on the very night the man died. That’s not untrue in that the death took place before the system was eroded even further but it’s not much to boast about. While the statement crows about 290 beds that will ‘come online’ sometime this year, it is silent on the fact that the system lost 169 beds between October of 2015 and the same month the following year. Other City documents tell us that the shelters will provide 4,154 beds each night in 2017 while Toronto’s homeless population was put at 5,213 in 2013 and this has certainly grown. Indeed, calls to central intake looking for shelter space increased by 13% from 2015-2016, and the number of individual refugees and families looking for shelters more than tripled.

The shabby evasions and distortions coming out of the Mayor’s office can’t overcome the reality of a shelter system that is in a state of utter crisis. If Tory fails to open space and take pressure off the system, there will be more deaths. We intend to prevent that and hold this Mayor accountable. Stop pretending things are under control and open the armouries immediately.

Categories: Community Feed

John Tory Tip Line

OCAP - February 22, 2017 - 3:52pm

Is the Mayor of Toronto visiting your community? Call the John Tory Tip Line! 

Last week, a homeless man died after an overwhelmed drop-in was not even able to offer him a mat on the floor. The place was so crowded that nine others could not be taken in that night.

Toronto’s shelter system is bursting at the seams and homeless people and their allies having been telling that to Mayor John Tory for months. He was warned that the level of overcrowding was life threatening and urged to open up the federal armouries to take the pressure off the system. He failed to act and a human life was lost. The lives of many others are at risk.

Despite this grim situation, the Mayor is still not taking the emergency action that is needed. Last weekend, we held a memorial for the man who died at Tory’s luxury condo. He didn’t like that much and he wasn’t supposed to. We want to increase the pressure and force him to open space.

We intend to confront John Tory as he goes about his round of Mayoral events, cutting ribbons and kissing babies. If he is coming to your community or you learn of a function he will be attending, please call OCAP at (416) 925-6939 or email us at ocap@tao.ca

Thanks for any and all tips and information.

Categories: Community Feed

Memorial for Another Life Lost to Shelter Overcrowding

OCAP - February 17, 2017 - 7:02pm

Sunday, February 17 | 5pm | Mayor John Tory’s Condo (1 Bedford Road)
[Bedford and Bloor, Outside St.George Subway Station] | Facebook Event

After months of ignoring the alarm bells raised by homeless people and their allies, and on the same night that Mayor John Tory pushed through a further 2.6% cut to the shelter system, a deadly tragedy people fought so hard to prevent was unfolding on the streets. On Wednesday night, as City Council passed a budget that further gutted a system already bursting at the seams, a 28 year old indigenous man was trying to get into a warming centre in Kensington Market. He was told the centre was, yet again, full and that he could only be placed on a waiting list. Denied even the most basic shelter from the elements, he died a few hours later in what may have been a fentanyl overdose. We know, however, that this young man, whose identity is not being revealed at this time, died because he had been driven out onto the streets because of official negligence and by the City’s utter disregard for the lives of the homeless.

One homeless person dies in Toronto every ten days. Yet, the City continues to under-fund and under-resource shelters and boards up thousand of public housing units. It refuses to meet occupancy targets that allow homeless people even the most basic assurance of survival. In a city with sky-high rents and declining social assistance rates, the misery of the poor and homeless is not a surprise but has been willfully created and must be ended.  

On Sunday, we will gather in front of John Tory’s $2.4 million luxury condo to remember the man whose life was taken so cruelly and needlessly. Our tribute to him will take the form, though, of fighting for the living and demanding that no one else be allowed to perish through the kind of the shameful neglect that caused this death. Please bring flowers, candles and other symbols of respect and mourning. We will lay them where they deserve to be laid, at John Tory’s doorstep.

Categories: Community Feed

Picket Challenges Mayor John Tory and his Austerity Agenda

OCAP - February 10, 2017 - 12:16pm

On February 9, Mayor John Tory came to the pro-business CD Howe Institute to tell them all about the austerity he is imposing on poor and homeless people in Toronto. A strong OCAP picket was gathered outside to give him the welcome he deserved.

As this City faces a wide array of cutbacks and service reductions, as they prepare to board up desperately needed public housing for lack of repairs, as services for homeless people are gutted and, as the conditions of overcrowding in the shelters go beyond the level of a crisis, John Tory will be pocketing a 2.1% increase in his ample salary. He is a Mayor who is building a neoliberal city in which all but his rich friends are pushed to the margins and in which a war on the poor is ramped up.

Our picket was loud and not to the liking of the business crowd trying to make their way in to hear Tory’s speech. Some managed to get through and others gave up in dismay. Tory himself delayed his entry but was finally rushed in through a side entrance with a strong force of cops to clear his path, pushing someone down in the process. A Mayor who talks of ‘inclusiveness,’ came out to address rich people with an escort of cops to protect him from the poor.

The days when John Tory could pose as anything other than a political representative of the developers and moneybags are over. Our picket was an indication of the movement against him and all he stands for that is emerging in Toronto. Our fight against his agenda of poverty and his abandonment of the homeless will continue. Fight to win!

Categories: Community Feed

John Tory’s Lies Cost Lives

OCAP - February 6, 2017 - 2:43pm

80 people have died in the last two years as a direct result of homelessness in Toronto. That’s one homeless person dying every 10 days. In 1985, people fighting homelessness started keeping track of these senseless, and entirely preventable deaths. Since that time, they’ve recorded over 800 deaths—lives sacrificed in service of a perverse economic logic that demands ever more cuts from the destitute and grants ever more comforts to the rich. Talk to anyone who has used the City’s emergency shelter system, or anyone who works with people using shelters, and a grim picture emerges of chronic overcrowding, bug infested dormitories, the recurrent spread of contagious diseases, and the perpetual lack of sufficient beds.

The City’s own ‘Daily Shelter Census,’ which provides a nightly count of occupancy rates in shelters, documents the sorry state of affairs. In 1999, City Council set a target of keeping occupancy levels in shelters at a maximum of 90%, in recognition of the fact that anything above that level in practice meant people could not get beds. The target has been acknowledged, and then ignored by the city for 18 years straight. A ‘Street Needs assessment’ conducted by the city in 2013 pegged the homeless population in Toronto at just above 5000, a number that has only grown since then, owing to ever-rising rents, a decreasing stock of social housing, and below-inflation increases (effectively cuts) to social assistance year after year. A recent Toronto Star article reported that the number of homeless people calling the City’s central intake line in need of a bed rose by 13.2% in 2016. The number of individual refugees and families looking for shelter has more than tripled in the same time. Yet, the city only provided an average of 4,122 beds each month last year, significant below the need. Those unable to get a shelter bed are left to hunt for survival spaces like the volunteer-run Out of the Cold programs or warming centres (which only opened after a fight by homeless advocates), which have no beds or lockers, and lack adequate washroom and storage facilities. Even these overflow facilities fill up, leaving many with no option but to risk death out in the cold. The conditions are bad enough that over 30 organizations, many of which receive funding from the city, decided to speak out publicly, risk losing their funding, and call on the Mayor to add desperately needed shelter capacity and open up the armouries as an interim measure.

Mayor John Tory’s response to this crisis of human suffering is to offer platitudes, misleading numbers and bold-faced lies. In a response to the letter submitted by the agencies, Tory wrote one to the Toronto Star, a longer version of which he published on his own facebook page, telling people to essentially keep calm and carry on. He tells us he really cares about poor people, he tells us that he has visited shelters himself, that spaces are being added and that things are going to be all right. To understand just how dubious his claims are and how disconcerting his actions are, let’s take look at the four statements he makes in his letter to the Star.

  1. “…In November, my council colleagues and I provided the city’s general manager of shelter, support and housing administration with an additional $2 million to implement the 2017 Winter Readiness Plan…”

The additional $2 million was approved by the City Council to fund some additional, though still inadequate, survival spaces following ongoing agitation by homeless people and their allies about the appalling conditions plaguing the system and a realization that unless something is done we were looking at a certainty of deaths this winter.

However, John Tory is now set to cut over $1 million from that same administration in his upcoming 2017 budget. The cuts will result in reductions in “front-line positions in shelters include client service workers, counselor, food service workers, program supervisors, registered nurse, street outreach counselor, social housing consultant.” The City will also eliminate the Emergency Cooling Centre Program, which provides heat relief to the homeless in the hot summer months.

  1. “The City of Toronto has opened 126 beds in the last month and, next week, a 96-bed shelter for families operated by Red Door will open.”

The City’s own reports document how by the last quarter of 2016, owing to three shelter closures in the downtown core, the city was actually 169 beds short compared to the total beds it had in 2015. That number does not include another 103 beds temporarily shut down at Seaton House resulting from a Strep A outbreak in September 2016, resulting from chronic overcrowding at that shelter. So, yes, while the new beds have been added, they don’t come close to making up the number of beds the City has lost.

Also, when new shelters are added to replace ones that are closed down, they are being opened away from the downtown core. Abandoned in the suburbs, without access to the critical support services (e.g. food banks, health centres, soup kitchens, etc.), and with prohibitively expensive transit costs, the homeless are simply expected to vanish.

Adding pressure to the homelessness crisis is the reality that the absence of repair funding in the upcoming budget means Toronto Community Housing will board up 425 units this year, and “a unit a day” in 2018.

  1. “The city has also extended the 24-hour cold weather drop-in service to mid-March. Availability of the 24-hour service was originally planned to end Feb. 28.”

Undoubtedly winters are far less harsh for residents of Tory’s luxurious “Tower of Power,” the downtown condo building Tory calls home, but for everyone else in Toronto the cold weather doesn’t end in February. So extending the 24-hour warming centres for two more weeks, especially when there is a crisis of insufficient beds, is far from praiseworthy. The fact that Tory expects our gratitude for the token extension, which still ends well before the cold weather does, is just shameful.

  1. “As to the ongoing suggestion of opening the armouries, city staff have advised against this as they do not believe those buildings provide adequate or appropriate shelter space.”

The hypocrisy of that statement is simply mind-boggling. The armouries are far from ideal, but they are better than the streets, and they have been used before—at least four times in the past 20 years—for the purposes of providing emergency shelter to the homeless. If the City was so concerned about appropriate and adequate shelter space, it wouldn’t abandon so many homeless to the Out of the Cold programs, where, infamously, basic shelter standards do not apply.

Mayor John Tory likes to talk about his “values,” which he claims include “inclusion and acceptance, honesty, fair play, decency and respect.” Much like his letter, polite, yet deceptive, misleading and untrue, his personal belief systems are laid bare by the track record of his actions. This is the same man who when running for the Mayor’s office in 2003 supported a ban on panhandling by poor people in the downtown core; the same man who doesn’t believe that our society has privileged rich white men like him; and the same man who continues to keep Toronto’s property taxes the lowest in Ontario—benefitting multi-million dollar property owners such as himself. Maybe a better gauge of his “inclusive” and “decent” tendencies is his long association with Nick Kouvalis, the racist bigot who ran his election campaign and was the person behind Kellie Leitch’s reprehensible ‘Canadian values’ dog-whistle politics.

Mayor John Tory is a liar, he is more sophisticated than the blundering Rob Ford, but his conservative tendencies and hatred of the poor are not masked by his smooth talking. Actions speak louder than words, and ours certainly will when we confront his hypocrisy and lies on Thursday, February 9th at 11am, when Tory is scheduled to speak at the C.D. Howe institute, a neoliberal policy think-tank. Join us there to demand a reversal of the cuts to shelters and housing in the upcoming budget, and the immediate opening of the federal armouries.

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