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#36 - Late 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. She said, he said, she said

2.  Premiers’ Summer Book Club



1. She said, he said, she said:

 

She said…

 

“The message is simple: People deserve housing” (below is an opinion piece I wrote for the Toronto Star that was in the July 16, 2007 paper - Cathy)

I am a street nurse in Toronto, but over the past three years I have visited more than two dozen Canadian communities facing an equally severe housing crisis.

These communities invited me to examine their homeless situation and suggest strategies to make their political leaders listen up. I toured shelters, drop-ins, soup kitchens, food banks and outreach programs. I met with front-line workers and heard directly from homeless people. I met with charitable foundations, faith groups, university leaders and public health experts.

In each community I took pictures of their wartime housing and asked to see their affordable housing units built in the '70s and '80s. Sadly, there were very few affordable housing units built in the last 15 years for me to tour.

Why? Because our federal housing program (yes, we once had one!) was destroyed in 1993. Imagine if that happened to medicare. Since the demise of our housing program there have been only piecemeal, sparsely funded and minimalist programs.

Take
Northern Ontario
, for example, where the meagre mix of federal-provincial housing dollars doesn't allow new affordable housing units to be built. Instead, the money can be used only for renovations or retrofits - despite a 1 per cent vacancy rate in communities like Sault Ste. Marie.

The result? Families are living in untenable, mould-filled houses in the countryside, in tents, trailer parks or relying on "Greyhound therapy" - they leave town by bus for another community that might have a shelter.

There is no question that circumstances today, compared with 1998, when hundreds of organizations declared homelessness a national disaster, are more catastrophic. Homelessness is our Katrina, but it wasn't caused by the weather. Perhaps because the problem is now so visible, some unexpected groups of people are demonstrating political literacy. They get it.

Take the Grade 4 students in
Toronto
who made cards for homeless people on National Housing Day. The crayoned images showed homes, happiness, food, friends and family. Their messages emphasized home, "I hope you will have a home again some day soon."

Simple, right? The messages went beyond fear, beyond blame, right to the point - people deserve housing. Their common sense challenges the usual class assignment of collecting socks and hygiene products for "the homeless."

Then there is the Ontario Chamber of Commerce which, recognizing the importance of long-term and sustained funding for the province's social housing stock (co-op, non-profit and public housing), recently passed a series of motions calling for more affordable housing, and that full responsibility for social housing be uploaded back to the province.

Community leaders in the cities I have visited realize that it is negligent, and harmful to children's health, that their community has not responded to growing family homelessness by opening designated family shelters. They all know the facts: the number of years a family must wait on the housing list, the low vacancy rates and the negative impact of moving a family into an isolated motel away from the downtown core and support services, or forcing families to sleep in church basements.

These community leaders are now angry that families and children are being used as pawns in the negligent fiscal fight between federal and provincial governments. A growing number of people are starting to ask: "Where's the housing?"

Community organizations in
Thunder Bay
held a day-long forum on housing that had standing-room-only attendance. Despite invitations from the organizers, not one federal, provincial or municipal politician (nor any of their staff) from that region made even a token appearance. I've witnessed this same scene more than once and I'm happy to report that these communities are getting angrier.

The S.O.S. Medicare national conference recently held in
Regina
made housing an issue. That was significant. It recognized that with 300,000 Canadians homeless and 2.7 million people spending too much of their income to keep a roof over their head, we already have a two-tiered health-care program: people susceptible to tuberculosis living in shelters, street nurses delivering care in ravines or under a bridge; people sickened by living in stifling rooming houses without windows that open; people facing hunger by the third week of each month; people receiving palliative care in shelters or, worse yet, dying alone.

This is the reality, so what has been the political response? Federal and provincial politicians are raising their salaries, proposing tax cuts, breaking promises and blaming each other. We are still waiting for a national housing program. In this leadership void, George Bush's homelessness czar Philip Mangano is helping to dictate Canadian social policy, and it is not pretty.

Where are our great Canadian politicians? Housing needs a Tommy Douglas.

 

He said…

  

Government hasn't forgotten the homeless (Toronto Star July 17, 2007).

 

The MINISTER responds to my article in a letter to the editor:

  
“The federal government has a practical plan to provide affordable housing and combat homelessness. Our new $270 million Homelessness Partnering Strategy is a program with provincial and municipal governments and the not-for-profit sector to provide local solutions to local problems.

In the 2006 budget, we also invested $1.4 billion for housing trusts for the provinces and territories to be used to address their immediate housing needs. As well, through the Affordable Housing Initiative, we invest $1 billion annually for affordable housing across the country.”

Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development 
Canada, Ottawa

 

SHE SAID:


Here are the facts:


Minister Solberg, in his response to my opinion piece suggests that the federal government has a "practical plan to provide affordable housing and combat homelessness". He has forgotten to mention relevant history and facts:

 

the $270 million the Minister cites as monies for the homeless is only funding for two years and is a continuation of a previous program; 

the $1.4 billion housing trust the Minister mentions was authorized by the previous 2005 Parliament and only lasts for two years. Minister Solberg's Conservative Party actually voted against it. 

Minister Solberg refers to the Affordable Housing Initiative as "$1 billion annually", but it is a one-time only allocation made in 2001 ($680 million), then topped up in 2003 ($320 million) - again, by a previous government.

 

As I wrote in my original article - Canadians are still waiting for a national housing program. It is pretty evident that what the Minister has offered to date is not enough: a renewal of an old program that funds homeless programs and zero for housing. What is practical about that?


What do you say?
Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet shuffle leaves Minister Solberg with responsibility for housing and I’m sure he’d like to hear from you. No stamp required if you write him in Ottawa



2. 
Premiers’ Summer Book Club


For some months now author Yann Martel, inspired by the notion of ‘stillness’ has been sending Prime Minister Stephen Harper free books.  On his web site Martel reflects on the Prime Minister:

Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts. But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness."

Some of the books Martel has sent to the PM to inspire stillness include: ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ by Leo Tolstoy, ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Agatha Christie and ‘Candide’ by Voltaire.  (Note- I sent a copy of ‘Dying for a Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out’ to Mr. Martel and asked him to send to the Prime Minister but perhaps it is not a stillness inspiring book.)

I think we have perhaps all together too much stillness in both our national and provincial capitols.


In early August Canadian Premiers met in
Moncton to discuss issues of national and provincial importance. However, poverty reduction, health care and homelessness were NOT on the agenda. In the absence of a meeting with the Premiers, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), also meeting in Moncton, provided the Premiers with some summer reading to hopefully inspire action – yes, you guessed right - ‘Dying for a Home’, which CFNU points out “emphasizes how important social determinants of health such as access to health care, clean water, safe housing, and nutritious food are for good health.” CFNU President Linda Silas adds “We must stop focusing on the health privatization debate and focus instead on achieving optimal health for all Canadians, especially children and First nations. In some parts of Canada, it is cheaper for children to drink pop than milk. That is not healthy.”


Maybe you will have other ideas of books to send your Premier?


Cathy


Thanks to Dave Meslin for editing, design and layout.
 

 

 

 


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