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#42 - February 2008 Newsletter

I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 19 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.


1.  Breaking News!!!

2.  “A right delayed is a right denied.”
       Martin Luther King

3.  Cross border trafficking

1.  Breaking News!!!

GENEVA (IP) - A team of top scientists from several countries, collaborating under an international project, announced today a breakthrough in the form of a radical technology that will make great strides in solving the problem of global homelessness.

The audience of mainly journalists fell silent as the device was unveiled at the crowded afternoon news conference in this western-most Swiss city.

"What do you call it?" shouted one reporter, as the crowd surged forward to overwhelm the stage.

"An affordable home", the team leader replied.

2.  “A right delayed is a right denied.” Martin Luther King

In January, I attended a provincial budget consultation with Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, attended by a wide variety of interests including social agencies, unions, the film industry, chartered accountants and truckers. One activist described the event as being like serfs coming to beg the king for what each needed. I was pleased that so many groups called for funding for housing as a cornerstone in the provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy. The following was my presentation to the Minister.

Don’t delay! Budget for human rights!

Today is Martin Luther King Day and people in Canada will join Americans to honour and celebrate his life.  King once said: “A right delayed is a right denied.”

Today, I do not doubt that Martin Luther King would declare poverty a human rights violation. I also do not doubt that he would sign the Housing Not War declaration that calls for the Canadian federal government to redirect its exorbitant military spending to social programs like housing and child care.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” (Martin Luther King)

Poverty, hunger and homelessness.

What can I tell you that I believe is new this year that you must consider, as you develop the budget?

1.  Poverty, hunger and homelessness is now entrenched in every community in Ontario.  It is recognized as a crisis; an emergency, a public health hazard and communities are outraged and feel abandoned by senior levels of government. Mayors, such as Mayor Rosen in Kingston have created task forces to examine the issue, and reports galore have emerged from communities including Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Kenora.

2.  The United Nations has come to view it.  Miloon Kothari, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, in his preliminary observations at the end of his two-week fact-finding mission to Canada two months ago stated:

"Everywhere that I visited in Canada, I met people who are homeless and living in inadequate and insecure housing conditions. On this mission I heard of hundreds of people who have died as a direct result of Canada's nationwide housing crisis. In its most recent periodic review of Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations used strong language to label housing and homelessness and inadequate housing as a `national emergency.'

"Everything that I witnessed on this mission confirms the deep and devastating impact of this national crisis on the lives of women, youth, children and men."

Kothari added: "The federal government needs to commit funding and programs to realize a comprehensive national housing strategy and to co-ordinate actions among the provinces and territories to meet Canada's housing rights obligations. Canada needs to once again embark on a large-scale building of social housing units across the country."

That necessitates provincial participation.

3.  People are protesting the poverty. The largest anti-poverty march and demonstration in over ten years took place last September and ended at Queen’s Park. Over 100 organization and social movements joined this coalition calling for specific policies to address poverty. Communities are organizing to send you a very big message that they want specific measures now, to minimize poverty. Such as a $10 minimum wage now, such as money for affordable housing, such as increases to social assistance that make a real dent in horrid living circumstances and will allow people to not go hungry.

4.  Media are tracking the issue.  Unprecedented media interest, analysis and persistence ranging from the Toronto Star to the Kingston Whig Standard to the recent article on poverty and immigrants in the Windsor Star means the issue is being tracked and the work of the Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction will be scrutinized. I believe the media will not let this go.

5.  Volunteers and the faith based charity sector are beginning to realize that it should not be their role to provide the main staffing energies and funds for endeavours that are life-sustaining such as church basement emergency shelters that for the most part, by their very nature, cannot even meet the UN Standards for Refugee Camps. They are increasingly calling on your government to address the issues.

6.  Last year’s budget left many wanting. It is pretty clear that last year’s budget increases to social assistance rates and minimum wage have not made a dent in poverty. Certainly the lack of housing money speaks for itself and sadly this past year we have witnessed a further deterioration in public housing and older social housing buildings including advancing mould, water damage, infestations which have included massive bed bug spread and sadly, fires that have taken several lives – both in municipal social housing and in empty buildings used as squats.

7.  The hidden nature of families with children. This will be the year that homeless families and children, and those on the risk of homelessness will take charge and speak out. It is no accident that the atrocious conditions of homeless families, shoved into scummy motels in communities like Sarnia is being exposed.  It is no accident that communities, driven by homeless crisis management issues, are now realizing that they have growing numbers of homeless families, no shelters for them and certainly no affordable housing being built for them.

“A right delayed is a right denied.” – said Martin Luther King.

I urge you to not delay making decisions that will respect the human rights needs here in Ontario. The right to shelter, housing, adequate income and food. Your decisions will involve spending.

This afternoon you will hear some specifics from Michael Shapcott which I support. He will call for you to introduce in the budget:

•    $1.9 billion in new housing funding:

•    $600 million to upload housing back to the provincial level where it belongs;

•    $220 million for 45,000 rent supplements;

•    $830 million for capital grants for 8,300 new truly affordable homes;

•    $260 million for a social housing rehabilitation fund.

Recession - can poor people survive a major storm!

Everyone is now warning of a recession.  An economic disaster that will hit our communities that are seriously compromised since the 1980s – left without adequate social infrastructure! Our message is more urgent than ever. Ontarians will be left in a recession without jobs, without housing, without income, without adequate shelter. We must protect people. It more important than ever before.

We need a new deal. A new deal that will create construction jobs and create housing.

This is not the time for unnecessary research. It is time to act.

Make it known that you believe Ontarians have the right to safe, affordable housing, the right to food security and to sustain themselves and their family.

3.  Cross border trafficking

Canadian snowbirds are apparently also flying south to learn. I recently met several people who told me they were heading to Florida for a ‘homelessness conference’. (Note - seasonal temperatures are 74-76 Fahrenheit or 23-25 Celsius). Washington and New York are other ‘hot’ destinations for ‘homeless’ conference goers.

Meanwhile, Philip Mangano, America’s so-called ‘Homeless Czar’ crossed north over the US-Canada border this week to help Edmonton, Alberta Mayor Stephen Mandel and the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness reach the goal of ending homelessness in 10 years. (Edmonton temperatures will range from -20 to -25 Celsius during his visit).

According to the Edmonton SUN, Mr. Mangano is convinced Edmonton can wipe out homelessness within a decade. He acknowledges that most American cities that have made similar commitments have yet to be successful.  As I’m writing this I’m thinking I should write a comedy script for the Rick Mercer Report. (Note – for my American readers imagine Stephen Colbert making fun of a Canada that lets Americans in to tell us what to do – create free trade, make deep cuts to social services then privatize services, send troops to Afghanistan, end homelessness without building affordable housing, etc.)

I continue to be amazed that Canadians regard the American experience as wise, expert or informed when it comes to responses to homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.  A visit to any major American city will illustrate the ongoing crisis.  Look at America’s response to Katrina victims - many remain homeless today. The recent US subprime and foreclosure crisis is now lurching thousands more Americans into homelessness. My American colleague William Tinker from the New Hampshire Homeless Coalition sends me at least three US headlines daily that scream social disaster.

Here are just a few January 2008 examples:

 “Soup kitchen's numbers grow” - Home News Tribune, New Jersey

“News you can use: number of households on food stamps doubles since 2000” - Ap/Chicago Tribune

“Many homeless die before old age. The average age was 48” – KABC, Los Angeles

“Cities crack down on panhandlers” -  United Press International. UPI, New York

“Less aid, less food - MORE NEEDY: Cash-hungry food banks try to cope as growing numbers enter the ranks of near homeless” - The Patriot Ledger, Boston

Mr. Mangano’s visit to Edmonton ironically comes one month after the U.S. Conference of Mayors released its 2007 Hunger and Homelessness report in Washington, D.C.  The report noted growing food insecurity and homelessness across the United States.

Evidence in the U.S. Mayor’s report includes: an increase in homeless families with children entering emergency shelters and staying an average of 5.7 months; the most common cause of families with children becoming homeless was the lack of affordable housing; twelve cities reported being unable to meet homeless persons shelter needs and numerous cities turned people away from shelter some or all of the time. Several cities including Des Moines (Iowa), Detroit (Michigan), St. Paul (Minnesota), Trenton (New Jersey) all reported growing hunger and homelessness despite the introduction of ten-year plans.

For more background on Mr. Mangano see:

For made in Canada solutions to homelessness, just look around in your neighbourhood to see what was built and funded before the federal government cancelled our national housing program in 1993.  As our team of international scientists discovered in “Breaking News” at the top of this newsletter and the only way that I know how to end the homeless crisis is to build and maintain truly affordable housing.  The solution to the homeless problem really is that simple and we don’t need Mr. Mangano to tell us otherwise. 



Thanks to Dave Meslin for layout and design, Bob Crocker for editing and international correspondent Jon Alexander for ‘Breaking News’.


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