#35 - Early Summer 2007 Newsletter
I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 18 years. I have received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues. In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.
Further information about subscribing to the newsletter is found below. I want to hear from you - about the newsletter, about things that are happening in the homelessness sector (what a sad term!), and about good things which will provide inspiration for all of us.
1. Philip Mangano (aka Bush’s ‘Homelessness Czar’) – ‘On tour’ in Canada
2. ‘Dying for a Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out’ – Book tour update
3. ‘All Our Sisters’ – A new book on homelessness by Susan Scott
1. Philip Mangano (aka Bush’s ‘Homelessness Czar’) – ‘On tour’ in Canada.
Philip Mangano, appointed by President George Bush in 2002 as the Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, is not content to contain his work to the United States’ problems of epidemic levels of homelessness; instead he is spending an unusual amount of time in Canada promoting the American method of dealing with the ‘chronic homeless’. Mr. Mangano has recently been in Vancouver, Calgary (three times since winter), Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa (he’s returning in August) and Montreal, preaching the notion of a ‘Ten Year’ plan to end homelessness with the seemingly positive message of ‘housing first.’ The underlying principles of ‘housing first’ however are insuring a reduction in reliance and dependence on shelters and emergency services, targeting the ‘chronics’, and creating a business plan with measurable and cost-effective outcomes.
In response to my February 2007 Newsletter entitled “Dismantling Downtown”, Mr. Mangano sent me an email where he modestly noted, “Your recent reference to my potential impact in Toronto, I fear, is a bit exaggerated. While I have spoken there and met briefly with the Mayor, as of this date I am unaware of any jurisdictionally led, community based ten year planning effort there”. He went on to say, “I am sorry that apparently your city, like Los Angeles, has not yet adopted a Ten Year Plan or engaged in Project Homeless Connect which are the innovative initiatives that we have disseminated across our country”.
Mr. Mangano shouldn’t be so modest. He recently spoke to 2,000 people in attendance at the Big City Mayors Caucus (BCMC) of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. BCMC member cities include Vancouver, Surrey, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Brampton, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Mississauga, Ottawa, Windsor, Toronto, Gatineau, Montréal, Laval, Québec, Longueuil, Halifax, and St. John's. The City of Toronto has just announced it is developing a 10-year Affordable Housing Action Framework: 2008 – 2018.
Michael Shapcott and I had a chance to hear Mr. Mangano in Calgary earlier in May. He really is a remarkable speaker, you could almost say evangelical, preaching the issues of health, economics and the social evils of homelessness. The trouble is that the American approach is obviously not working. It’s a game of smoke and mirrors. So why on earth are our municipal and national leaders looking to the United States for solutions on homelessness?
As Michael Shapcott explains:
“So, what’s wrong with this picture? While Mangano has been piling up frequent flier points visiting every part of the U.S. to convince state and local governments that they need to take up the responsibility for a “housing first” policy for the homeless, his political boss - President Bush - has been gutting the U.S. federal government’s funding for housing. This year alone, there are massive cuts to seniors’ supportive housing and disabled housing funding. The U.S. federal housing program for people with AIDS will help about 67,000 people this year - yet an estimated 500,000 people living with HIV / AIDS desperately need housing help.
The problem is so bad that even the rather staid Joint Centre for Housing Studies at Harvard University has proclaimed in its latest annual State of the Nation’s Housing that affordable housing and homelessness have reached their worst levels ever, and funding cuts by the federal government are the chief culprit.”
While Canadian cities are looking at the Bush administration’s approach to homelessness, the fact that the Bush administration is cutting funding to housing seems lost on Mangano’s Canadian hosts. American homeless advocacy organizations in the U.S. such as the National Coalition for the Homeless report this decade as being worse than the Great Depression for homeless people. In addition, the United States is increasingly relying on what has been coined ‘Weapons of Mass Displacement’ – policies and funding decisions that limit necessary life-saving supports and spaces for people who are homeless. For example ‘no-feeding laws’ in some American parks, increased policing and ticketing measures in downtown cores, street sweeps, removing public benches, closing public parks at night, using public works trucks to hose sleeping people down, fingerprinting homeless people who use certain shelters, all practices that create further hardships and worsen displacement.
As my friend, and documentary filmmaker Laura Sky notes,
“Mangano is charismatic and compelling in naming our own collective wish - a home for every resident. At the same time, his solutions are part and parcel of the conservative federal, provincial and municipal policies that brought us the problems we're experiencing right now. The mantra of those policies is: cut services, they're inefficient; cut supports, they're too expensive; eliminate shelters, they're a blight on our cities. We need housing instead, the argument goes - at the expense of support for those who will be swept into that housing. All this without addressing the economic and social conditions which create the need for shelters.”
In Canada it’s the same thing. We are witnessing an almost fetishized emphasis on research, including street counts and investigations into panhandlers’ needs, new by-laws against panhandling and by-laws restricting where homeless people can sleep, reduction of funding to programs that do outreach to people who are homeless, and a withdrawal of funding for emergency day and night shelters. Toronto alone has lost over 300 shelter beds just this past winter and it continues to rely on its Streets to Homes program as an answer to visible street homelessness. There are many reports that people who are housed through this program suffer greatly from hunger and isolation and remain at great risk of becoming or do become homeless again.
The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee recently held a press conference to release new findings on Toronto’s Streets to Homes program including the findings of their investigative trip to New York City which was hosted by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Excerpts from the press conference can be found at http://storywordspics.blogspot.com/ courtesy of John Bonnar.
Journalist Linda McQuaig, in a recent Toronto Star article titled ‘Wrong way to end homelessness’, compared the Bush-Mangano model of weaning people who are homeless off temporary shelter and food supports and moving them into housing to Toronto’s Streets to Homes program which emphasizes focusing energies on the visible street homeless without the supports to make the housing work.
For more on Mangano and the U.S. housing scene, check out the Wellesley Institute backgrounder posted in the housing and homelessness section at
2. ‘Dying for a Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out’ – Book Tour update.
In May I took ‘Dying for a Home’ on a seven city Canadian tour. While it is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share with you a few of my impressions.
First stop: Regina. I was in Regina to speak at the S.O.S. Medicare Conference, where over 600 people from across the country had come together to determine how to keep Tommy Douglas’ dream alive and move to the next natural stage of Medicare. Should it be Pharmacare? Homecare? Housing?
While in Regina, a Toronto newspaper called me to ask what I thought of a new mobile outreach team in Toronto that would include a doctor. At the end of our conversation I said “Well thanks, I’m at the S.O.S. Medicare conference and I think you’ve just made me realize that we do indeed have a two-tiered health care system in Canada.”
This may sound obvious, but for me it was a ‘nursing epiphany’ moment. I realized that as long as we have the need for mobile outreach programs, and nurses with knapsacks filled with duct tape, socks, underwear and other health supplies, who provide necessary health care to people in ravines, store doorways, parks, church basements and emergency day and night shelters – then we in fact already have a two-tier health care system, one for the housed and one for the displaced, and we really should be doing something about it.
When I spoke at the podium I was conscious that I stood in front of a large promotional conference sign, which displayed the logos of the conference funders. I was also conscious of how few of those sponsors lent any support or funding to homeless/housing advocacy groups like the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. My panel remarks were titled ‘S.O.S. In Canada! People are Dying for a Home,’ and it’s on my web page
Second stop: Vancouver: My book was launched in downtown eastside Vancouver at Gallery Gachet. Vancouver is undergoing a major transition. I was fortunate to be given an insightful walking tour of the downtown eastside by Jean Swanson, a well known anti-poverty activist and author of Poor-Bashing (Between the Lines, 2001). It is evident everywhere that the Olympics are coming to Vancouver. There is a massive construction boom, housing and rental costs are exploding, and the early signs of condos in the downtown eastside and boarded up hotels suggest the gentrification to come. On Hastings Street, and in the nearby agencies, the poverty, fatigue, hunger and the despair was painfully apparent.
Third stop: Calgary. Like Vancouver, Calgary is booming and I mean booming. There is a shortage of workers and a shortage of housing. 100 people move to Calgary for work and settle each day. Tim Horton’s pays its workers over $15/hour. A 1 bedroom apartment rents for $1550 to $2500 a month. It takes 2 people earning $15 an hour just to be able to afford a 1 bedroom apartment. Calgary desperately needs 15,000 new affordable housing units right now.
In Calgary, my book was launched at the Canadian Housing and Renewal Conference and at the University of Calgary. I covered a lot of ground in Calgary. I was joined by filmmaker Laura Sky for research on our film about homeless families and children. In three days, we visited and met with people at 10 different agencies that work in the area of homelessness.
Two visits stood out. First, I toured the Calgary Drop-In Centre which provides emergency shelter for over 1100 men and women each night. I was provided with graphic reminders of what the scene looked like when shelter users and staff were sick and quarantined on site during a Norwalk virus several years ago.
Second was a visit to Inn from the Cold. An estimated 170 families with children are forced to move nightly from church basement to church basement in the faith based and volunteer driven Inn from the Cold program. It is the only place I know of in Canada where families and children must endure such conditions.
Let me describe to you what this means.
Every day, in the late afternoon, families enter the reception/greeting area at the Inn from the Cold office. Once registered, they wait. They wait to see if there will be space for them in one of the churches that will open its basement for that night. Over 70 churches take part in this expansive program that has been in existence for many years. Buses then transport the families to the church site. They are provided with dinner and cots. Bedtime is fairly early because morning comes very early. Waking time is often 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. In many cases, one parent goes to work and children of school age are bused to school. The entire process repeats itself the next day and the next and the next, each night to a different church.
Meanwhile, there is no designated emergency family shelter in Calgary.
Fourth stop: Ottawa. At the invitation of the Alliance to End Homelessness and the Canadian Nurses Association I launched my book at a press conference where long time Ottawa Street Nurse Judy Taylor also spoke. In Ottawa I saw a sophisticated network of people and organizations that make up the Alliance to End Homelessness, led by the creative and determined Lynne Brown. Some of the most innovative and necessary programs for people who are homeless have been nurtured in this community – a managed alcohol program or ‘wet’ shelter, a hospice in a shelter, partnerships between the university and community, in large part due to the work of nurses like Judy Taylor and Wendy Muckle. In May, when their municipal politicians decided to try to use the recent federal housing monies to bolster the City’s general revenue, this group fought back successfully and they got the money reallocated back for housing!
Fifth stop: Kingston. I was invited to my hometown of Kingston by the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty. I used the opportunity to tour local agencies and see and hear first hand from local activists and poor people about their issues. Compared to other communities I have visited, Kingston is really struggling as a community with the issues around poverty, homelessness, hunger and discrimination. Despite longstanding poverty in Kingston and significant housing needs, the City has not been overly attentive to the issues, with the exception of a number of diehard individuals and groups such as the Sisters of Providence who continue to this day to call for justice in the issues of poverty, hunger and homelessness. The huge turnout to my talk and book signing event and the media interest that continued for weeks after my visit, suggests a real opportunity for activists, low-income people and other community voices of interest to unite and send a message to the Mayor’s Task Force. In my speech I cautioned Kingstonians on a number of trends I see occurring across the country, and I urged them to keep those concerns in mind as they moved forward. (Add LINK to speech).
Sixth stop: Ridgetown/Chatham. I made this visit to southwest Ontario at the invitation of the London Conference of the United Church. This stopover allowed me to contemplate the challenges of homelessness and housing needs in small town and rural Ontario - communities that might not have a shelter, social housing units, let alone jobs. The United Church has taken a strong stand on housing and works with the National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.
Seventh stop: Sault Ste. Marie. My first visit to the Sault was thanks to the invitation of the Algoma Health Unit, Community Quality Improvement and Community Supporting Citizens. I was struck by how cohesive a small community can be. Northern Ontario has been severely affected by restrictions on the use of housing monies. Unable to use the monies for new construction, Sault Ste. Marie now faces a 1% vacancy rate in housing, making it a high risk community for anyone facing job loss, personal crisis or eviction. This community is added to my growing list of communities that does not have a designated family shelter or a designated homeless women’s shelter.
3. ‘All Our Sisters’ - A new book on homelessness by Susan Scott
I am so happy to have recently met Susan Scott, a Calgary writer and freelance journalist who accomplished something quite beautiful and powerful. She has given voice to approximately 70 homeless women from across the country in her new book ‘All Our Sisters: Stories of Homeless Women in Canada’ (Broadview Press, 2007). I urge you to pick it up. We both hope that you will use our books to fuel your passion, your rage and your commitment for change.
Thanks to Dave Meslin for research and layout and Bob Crocker for editing.
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