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#38 - October 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.    Lily and the Paper Man -  a children’s story
2.    Films and War
3.    Election Time – again

1.    Lily and the Paper Man - a children’s story

It’s pretty easy to love this newly released first book by Rebecca Upjohn, inspired by an experience with her son when he was four years old.  Renee Benoit’s illustrations are engaging. 

I was pretty much hooked by the second line where Lily, the protagonist, tells her mother “Let’s walk. I like the rain.” And later “I like the snow.”  Lily’s route home from school with her mom leads her to encounter a homeless man selling papers.  Never mind that the story focuses on certain stereotypes of who is homeless: male, scruffy, scary, shaky – it’s hard to deny that this is what many children do see at street level.  Like most children Lily is observant, curious and compassionate.  She’s also smart.  What evolves is a pretty lovely response that I hope will inspire teachers and parents to take the story to the next step, which is to ask “Where does the ‘Paper Man’ go each night?” and “Why doesn’t he have a home?”  My experience is that children are way smarter than adults and can handle this type of discussion.  In fact, this is the type of book that can counter the nonsense coming from politicians and right-wing media outlets who insist on perpetuating fear and loathing about people who are homeless or forced to beg. 
My only caution to teachers using the book is to imagine ways that their students can move beyond collecting socks and warm clothing.  The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has been developing curriculum in this area and may be of assistance. (in particular see Danny, King of the Basement).

Lily and the Paper Man, by Rebecca Upjohn, Second Story Press, 2007
Recommended ages 4-8

2.    Films and War

Yes, once again I went to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Surprisingly, of the 22 films I saw, five depicted nurses in a range of films from history to drama and musicals.  Watch for Salma Hayek in the singing nurses role in ‘Across the Universe’ by Julie Taymor!

I saw two older films that I believe need to be screened more widely given the current world situation.  Both were in the Dialogues: Talking With Pictures program, where film artists, usually directors, are asked to show and talk about a film that changed their lives. 

The first was by English director Ken Loach who showed Czech director Jiri Menzel’s ‘Closely Watched Trains’ (1966).  This film is set in WW II and shows the impact of the ever present war on the lives of ordinary people at a provincial railway station in German occupied Czechoslovakia.  It is both a delightful and moving film.  As an aside, I should add that Loach also screened his new film ‘It’s a Free World’, which addresses the layers of issues in the global economy that impact on migrant and exploited workers.  It is a must see for the performance of Kierston Wareing as ‘Angie’ who starts her own recruiting agency.

The second film was ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ (1969) by Sir Richard Attenborough.  This was the first film the actor had ever directed.  It is a musical based on Joan Littlewood’s beloved stage play, employing satire, song and absurdist humour to show the callousness and stupidity of the leaders who bring us to war.  It has only recently come to DVD. In the Q&A session Sir Attenborough lamented the diminished use of film in recent years to build compassion and tolerance, in contrast with Hollywood’s heightened fetish for guns and vengeance movies.

To view some of my past movie picks from TIFF go to:

3.    Election Time – again

Facing an Ontario election with political platforms remarkably void of social issues, an amazing coalition of over 100 groups calling themselves Toronto Anti-Poverty (TAP) recently marched on our provincial legislature.  The Queen’s Park rally called for action on social issues including housing, welfare rates, minimum wage, and rights for people who are disabled and for those without status.

Here is the brief speech I made on that day:

“When a few people in a community have no housing due to a fire or some other tragic event, or when hundreds of people become displaced because of some disaster, the community mobilizes.  To do otherwise is unthinkable.

When many people are unhoused we have a community-wide crisis.  When the numbers are allowed to grow, and when all reasonable analyses point to even more homeless people every day, we have a disaster – a situation requiring emergency relief and prevention measures.  In the same way as when a flood or a storm leaves many people homeless.  All people must be protected from becoming homeless, from having inadequate food, and from being exposed to life and health-threatening circumstances.”

This is from the State of Emergency Declaration, TDRC, October, 1998 – nearly nine years ago!

In that State of Emergency Declaration written 9 years ago we declared homelessness a disaster in Toronto and a national disaster.  Over 400 organizations across the country signed on to the declaration.  Some of you are here today.

Yes, our mobilizing together brought relief.  It brought in the SCPI money, it brought in emergency shelters like the armouries, and the shelters in the armouries and old empty hospitals like Princess Margaret and Doctors.  It brought in more food relief for drop-ins; it brought in donations for sleeping bags.  It brought a housing victory for the Tent City squatters in Toronto.  But it still left people homeless.

Yesterday, I finished reading a new health report on people in Toronto.  It had these words in it: violence, fatigue, pain, stress, rape, despair, death, depression, tuberculosis, bedbugs, killer heat.  In a health report!  Well you probably know I’m referring not to a health report on people living in Forest Hill, but the Street Health Report.

The Street Health Report found:
•    ~40% were unable to get a shelter bed at least once in past year
•    56% had experienced serious depression in the past year
•    One-third had been homeless more than 5 years
•    78% cited economic reasons for why they remain homeless

Remember the words “When many people are unhoused we have a community-wide crisis.”

I often say that THIS is our Katrina.  This is our Katrina because like those hurricane victims our political leaders are leaving people languishing in hellish conditions because they will not deal with the question of right to housing and build the infrastructure.

Shortly after the election the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari is coming to Canada to investigate our conditions.

What will he see and hear?

•    that there is no proper shelter in Kingston or Cobourg,
•    that there is no designated family shelter in Sault Ste. Marie, in Thunder Bay, or Sarnia,
•    that no new affordable housing is being built in northern Ontario,
•    that we now have palliative care programs set up for homeless people, 
•    and that women suffer greatly, like Heather, age 48 who in the Street Health Report says: “I WILL NOT live on a park bench any more, or in a tent like I was doing. They should have a lot more housing for us. Because it’s terrible.”

What is terrible, what is criminal really is the lack of heroism, the lack of courage, the lack of political will, the lack of determination, the lack of imagination, the lack of empathy by political parties to put housing and homelessness and hunger and poverty onto their election platforms.  And to the media, many of you here today, many of you have covered these issues for years, you know the issue.  Where is the coverage of our Katrina during this election?

We, the people affected and the agencies and unions and churches have come together today.  We must stay together to speak out, to protest.  It is the right thing to do.


Thanks to Dave Meslin for layout and Bob Crocker for editing.



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333 Sherbourne Street, Toronto, Ontario M5A 2S5.