Newsletter No. 18, December 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.
1. The Federal Election and Housing. Please!
Even birds have homes. I was reminded of that when Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, ironically, presented me with a birdhouse earlier this year after a presentation to their Board of Directors.
Will housing make it on the agenda in this federal election? That’s the question to ask your candidates, your favourite newspapers, and television and radio stations.
So far in this election the political parties and media coverage have addressed Medicare, child care, education, the environment, softwood lumber, crime – every issue under the sun except housing – the one thing that we all need to live and survive in a community. Housing is not yet on the agenda because we have not been loud enough, angry enough, or dare I say supported enough in our advocacy efforts for a national housing program.
There are things that you can do to get our point across. May I suggest making an icehouse outside an all candidates meeting in your community? Let the politicians know that housing is an issue they can’t afford to ignore. Keep me informed of what you or your group is doing to put housing back on the political agenda.
2. The situation is getting worse.
“We know for example, that the distribution of income continues to be skewed in favour of the wealthy. Despite all our welfare services, there continues to be a real need and even suffering in our midst. Without food banks in Toronto many people would not have enough to eat. Adequate housing is beyond the reach of low-income families and the situation is getting worse.”
Beland Honderich, 1989, in a speech at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“What attention do these subjects deserve in our newspapers?” Honderich asked.
Beland Honderich (1918-2005) was a journalist, social justice campaigner and perhaps best known to the public as publisher of the Toronto Star for over 20 years. I never had a chance to meet him but these words, uttered in 1989, the same year I became a Street Nurse, as well as subsequent stories I’ve read about him since his death, make me think we would have a lot to talk about.
Beland Honderich had a kind face, and an especially nice smile. I have the feeling that he would be very interested in what I would have to say to him, and during our talk I’m sure his smile would fade.
Since Mr. Honderich uttered those words at Carleton University in 1989, and since my first year as a Street Nurse, the situation has worsened. If I had a chance to meet Mr. Honderich today I would probably tell him that I predict this will be the worst winter ever for people who are homeless and poor in Toronto. In addition to the usual seasonal threat of wet and cold weather, crowded shelter conditions, and an inadequate City response to one of our most basic human needs - this year brings the added burden of closures of shelter beds and Out of the Cold programs. Along with a loss of shelter spaces, new City funding rules prohibit street outreach workers in agency vans from providing survival supplies such as sleeping bags and food to people living outside. Agencies are dreading the proposed cuts to homeless funding by the United Way and the City of Toronto. Additionally, there will not be enough food this winter. Food banks can no longer meet the growing hunger needs of low-income Ontarians. That is why we need to support the province-wide campaign for the Special Diet Allowance and an across the board increase in social assistance rates.
I would also add that this situation is far from being just a Toronto problem. On a recent visit to Sarnia-Lambton I was very concerned at what I witnessed: an entire region with no adult shelter beds, no transitional housing units, no SCPI funding, more than 13,000 people in core housing need and a waiting list of 1.5 years for affordable housing. Over 300 people including families with children needed to access emergency shelter this year and were forced to use an emergency motel/shelter system where a meal equates to micro-waved canned food from the food bank and the potential for a forced relocation from their home community. I was so moved by the stories I heard, that I wrote to Minister Fontana and asked him to take a closer look at the housing needs in that community and to tour the situation with their local political representatives and community leaders.
3. ‘The Mayor of Tent City’
A new film called "The Mayor of Tent City" by Rosalie Bellefontaine was released this fall. It features Karl Schmidt, a former Tent City resident, along with Pierre Berton and Jack Layton. It is an engaging and fun movie that chronicles Karl’s life at Tent City. The movie comes with a teaching guide. For more information or to order, visit: www.belladonnaproductions.ca
4. It’s a House Party!
Can you name one famous Canadian who is a champion for housing? Is there a Canadian version of Bono when it comes to housing and homelessness? It could be a hockey player, a musician, an author, a poet or a painter. When I ask this question to groups I’m speaking to there is always silence. People are stumped. We have to change that.
Musician and activist Lorraine Segato of the Parachute Club has become my newest hero. She is a popular musician who has stepped into that void. Lorraine has been working tirelessly to produce ‘House Party!’ a large-scale music and cultural event that will focus a different kind of attention on homeless and under-housed people. The kind of attention that will challenge stereotypes about homelessness and speak directly to the solution – housing. This event will be held on December 13 in Toronto – in the middle of the federal election. House Party! is a collaborative project that has teamed housing advocates and homeless people with musicians and creative artists for a celebratory night of music, multimedia art and photography. www.houseparty2005.com
Let’s hope other prominent Canadians follow Lorraine’s lead and step forward to fight for people’s basic human right to housing.
Keep up the fight, and have a safe and healthy holiday season!
|Photo: Birdhouse - Cathy Crowe|
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