Newsletter No. 11, May 2005
I've been a street nurse in Toronto
for 15 years. In the spring of 2004 I received the Atkinson Economic Justice
Award which permits me to pursue, for up to three years, 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
This week marks Nurses Week in Canada. As a Street Nurse, over the years my career has increasingly moved from working one-on-one with people who are homeless to working on bigger picture issues, like lobbying all levels of government for better social conditions, income and housing. For anyone doing this work, it’s been a struggle, sometimes like banging your head against the wall. That’s why I want to highlight some of our recent successes in this newsletter. As you will see, our work has started to result in victories at the municipal, provincial and national levels. Since this is Nurses Week, I hope you will indulge me when I make special mention of some of the creative work being done by nurses today and share with you some of my own thoughts on nursing.
Toronto Emergency Shelter Win.
In April the Street Nurses Network, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee sponsored a joint press conference, rally and a meal outside of Toronto’s City Hall. One of the demands was that the City reverse its decision to close the emergency shelter at 110 Edward Street in May. The City finally saw the light and we now expect this shelter to remain open at least until the end of the year. Photographer John Bonnar captured the spirit of the day: http://johnb.smugmug.com/gallery/500962
Sign OntariO Now!
For many months, federal and Ontario housing ministers kept promising that “soon” the housing agreement would be signed. Intense lobby efforts by Ontarians included hard to obtain meetings with Ontario Housing Ministers Gerretsen and Caplan, and an appropriately named letter/email campaign called Sign OntariO Now (SOON). These efforts resulted in SOON becoming NOW. The housing deal was signed April 29 and includes a total of $602 million dollars directed towards the creation of 15,000 new units, 5,000 rent supplements, and an affordable home ownership program. Details are still sketchy and with 160,000 Ontarians on social housing waiting lists this is only a beginning. The deal is good for momentum, both federally and provincially. At the national level, the affordable housing program had become critically stalled largely due to the logjam in Ontario. Excitement about housing will hopefully fuel people’s energies to fight for the passing of the federal Liberal-NDP budget deal that includes an additional $1.6 billion for housing. It is not quite the 1% solution but it’s definitely closer!
Federal Liberal-NDP Budget Deal
In my last newsletter I wrote about my huge disappointment with the federal government’s February budget, which despite promises, had no new money for housing. In early May, Federal NDP leader Jack Layton negotiated a budget deal with Prime Minister Paul Martin that calls for $1.6 billion in new housing spending. There is no requirement for matching funding from the provinces, which eliminates a major barrier in a number of parts of the country, including Ontario. If the deal holds, then Layton will have secured more money for new social housing in one day than the current federal government has delivered over the past dozen years.
The NDP budget deal also calls for new spending in other priority areas, including childcare and the environment. The new social spending - which most Canadians support, according to recent opinion polls - will be funded through a reduction in corporate tax cuts. Canadian corporations already pay a lower rate than corporations in the United States, so the budget deal is a fiscally responsible package that makes sure that there is revenue to pay for this critical spending.
However, there is plenty of work to be done to make sure the deal sticks and the budget is passed. In early May, I moderated a press conference sponsored by People Before Politics, where both Toronto Mayor David Miller and Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell called on all parties to pass the federal budget so that important action on the environment, housing, child care and infrastructure can continue.
The situation in Ottawa is volatile and who knows what will have happened by the time you read this newsletter. Please contact your networks, Member of Parliament, and local media and urge that the deal be passed as quickly as possible. Use the example of local projects and local needs to support the call to immediately commit the $1.6 billion in new housing funding.
Nurses Play Key Role in OCAP’s Diet Campaign
Nurses know that poverty is the foremost social determinant of poor health. For years, the cuts to social assistance rates and the stripping away of social programs have left social assistance recipients with immense health challenges. I still remember the day about 8 years ago when a patient of mine, an elderly Native man, was admitted to St. Michael’s Hospital. His primary diagnosis was malnutrition. Current social assistance rates force people to choose between paying rent and buying food. In response to this most basic human need, as part of The Raise the Rates campaign, OCAP initiated Special Diet Clinics. Their goal is to see the Ontario government raise social assistance rates by $250 per month! See www.ocap.ca for more details.
Nurses, like Kathy Hardill and Pat Larson are playing an important role in these special diet clinics. In health centres and at outreach sites they assess people and assist them to obtain what is known as the Special Diet Allowance, which they are eligible for. Clinics are taking place in community settings including drop-in centres and in social housing buildings. Although primarily in Toronto, the diet clinic work has expanded to other communities including a small Native community near the base of James Bay.
The result is immediately measurable - additional income for special food needs. A doctor, an extended class nurse, a dietician or a midwife (for pregnant women only) must fill out the form, and the special diet requests are divided into categories worth different amounts of money. For example, a diet for iron rich foods provides a monthly increase of $30.00; a diabetic diet is worth $42.00; vitamin/mineral and herbal supplement is valued at $40.00. The maximum amount of money granted by the Special Diet Allowance is $250.00. Through their diet clinics alone, OCAP has generated an additional $2 million for people on OW/ODSP.
“Notes on Nursing. What It Is and What It Is Not.” by Florence Nightingale
As I’ve noted, this is Nurses Week and like so many of my colleagues I have a lot to thank Florence Nightingale for. Over the years during difficult times in my work, when I was campaigning with nurses and non-nurse colleagues for better shelter conditions or for inquests into tuberculosis deaths or for toilets down at Tent City, I would turn to Notes on Nursing and the words of Florence Nightingale to help me figure out if I was on the right track as a nurse.
Ms. Nightingale is considered the originator and founder of modern nursing. She revolutionized the care of the sick and was considered outspoken on the needs of the sick. She became known as the ‘Lady of the Lamp’, during her period in military hospitals, tending to the injured. She is widely considered to be one of the most famous healers, who helped to alleviate human suffering in the nineteenth century.
In honour of Nurses Week I again turned to Notes on Nursing, and as I was reading through the pages at the Church of the Holy Trinity, I began to apply the answers she had so long ago to the questions I am still struggling with today. Please indulge me as I interview one of my great heroes.
As nurses, and all of us can be nurses, we must continue to drive public opinion and continue to pressure our leaders to build homes, improve social conditions and create opportunities for all. Happy Nurses Week.
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|Picture: Matisse Nasturtiums and the Dance|
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