Newsletter No. 16, October 2005
I've been a
street nurse in Toronto for 16 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 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.
October is my favourite month. I love the fall, the smell, the feel and the colours of the fall – particularly orange. I don’t like the fact that October is a reminder of the harsh Canadian winter to come, which brings so much hardship for people without adequate shelter. This winter we can expect rising fuel costs that will be an added financial hardship for many people, which may lead to economic evictions.
October is also a huge month for housing and homelessness. The United Nations designated the first Monday in October every year as World Habitat Day, to reflect on the state of human settlements and the basic human right of adequate shelter for all. The day is intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat. That includes a reminder for us in Canada.
This October also marks the 7th anniversary of the birth of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and the Declaration that homelessness in Canada is a National Disaster. On October 8, 1998 Professor Ursula Franklin joined the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee at TDRC’s press conference at the Church of the Holy Trinity in downtown Toronto and proclaimed “Homelessness is a man-made disaster and we have the legal and technical means to end it.” The State of Emergency Declaration, issued that day, highlights Canada’s many broken promises to the United Nations. See it on www.tdrc.net
You can come to your own conclusions on how responsible we as Canadians have been in responding to the state of “habitat” in our country. In previous newsletters I’ve outlined the repeated failures by both the provincial and federal government to build much needed housing units. The latest National Housing and Homelessness Report Card on the TDRC web site www.tdrc.net grades these failures with marks ranging from “D” to “F”.
Sojourner Truth maybe said it all in her Ain’t I a Woman? speech, which she delivered at the 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron Ohio. If you’re not familiar with it:
Perhaps, you can imagine a homeless person standing up at the next convention or conference you’re at, pleading “Ain’t I a Person?” demanding to know why our governments are not meeting their basic human right to housing.
The obvious answer to Sojourner Truth’s question “Ain’t I a Woman?” and a homeless person’s question “Ain’t I a Person?” is of course a resounding YES! Then why does the question still have to be asked? One answer is the underlying and frequently overt pathology of discrimination. This discrimination shows its ugly head in many ways.
Witness the growing number of Canadian city by-laws and provincial laws that have been developed in recent years which make it illegal to pan-handle, squeegee, or even sleep outside in certain places like Toronto’s City Hall square;
Witness municipal and provincial funding decisions that determine what services outreach programs can, or cannot, provide to homeless people, including stipulations that some outreach workers can no longer give sleeping bags or even food to homeless people;
Witness Toronto City bureaucrats who recently created additional bureaucratic hurdles for poor people attempting to access provincially legislated Special Diet allowances;
Witness how no level of government, anywhere in the country, but particularly in Toronto, is responsible or accountable for tracking homeless deaths. Imagine that same death rate occurring in any other community (Rotary Club members, Anglicans or High School students) - it would be cause for panic;
Witness Durham Region’s recent attempt to discontinue paying for paupers’ funerals for “indigents”;
Witness the brutal beating death of Paul Croutch, a 59-year-old homeless man, while lying in his sleeping bag in a Toronto park. Murdered, seemingly for no other reason than his state of homelessness;
Witness the vicious organizing tactics in our communities against the introduction of new social housing units, particularly if they are developed to house people who need mental health supports.
I could go on and on and shockingly, the list seems to be growing rapidly in recent months.
We name homophobia for what it is – discrimination.
We name racism for what it is – discrimination.
We name ageism for what it is – discrimination.
What should we call discrimination against homeless people? You tell me.
I will be away for the rest of October to work on a special project, a book that will give homeless people a voice. I am hoping to come back with new and fresh ways to help counter the growing discrimination against homeless people and continue the fight for a fully funded national housing program.
In the meantime, stay tuned for events in your community marking National Housing Day, November 22nd. We plan to host a series of music and cultural events in Toronto, celebrating and honouring homeless people and their talents. TDRC is working with Lorraine Segato, formerly of the Parachute Club, who is producing what Ed Sullivan would call “a really big show.” We are hoping to “Rise Up” and have some fun with a rock concert that will feature big name bands and the very remarkable talents of homeless people. I hope everyone has a good October and I will be in touch when I’m back, in November.
|Photo: Cathy Crowe at the Federal-provincial-territorial meeting in Gatineau with members of FRAPRU; Photo by Danielle Koyama|
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