Cathy Crowe

 

 

   

Newsletter No. 20 February 2006

 

I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 17 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.

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In this issue:

 

1.  Housing post-election

2.  National Housing Day 2004 - Trial Update

3.  Hunger – Toronto Fights Back!

 

 

1.  Housing post- election

 

Two days after the federal election Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Willis wrote:

 

 “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now established a pattern of being underestimated, then overdelivering. Think about what that trait implies when considering what lies ahead for the Street.”

 

Well, I don’t think Mr. Willis was writing about the street that I know and think about, but if he was, then “overdelivering” is what Mr. Harper will need to do.  The Conservative government’s housing platform, as it stands today, would potentially fund one project in Toronto – period. That project might provide housing for 120 people. Meanwhile, the waiting list for social housing in Toronto is over 70,000 households.  The wait for a bachelor unit can take up to 5 years, while a one to five-bedroom unit will take up to 10 years.

 

The Conservative Housing Platform (253 words) is stated below.  I have bolded the key words.

 

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced that a new Conservative government will work with the provinces and municipalities to develop tax incentives for private-sector builders so that low-income city dwellers will have improved access to affordable housing.

 

On an experimental basis, a new government will establish a tax credit to encourage developers to build or refurbish affordable rental units for low-income Canadians. The plan includes $200 million annually in the form of federal tax credits to encourage developers to build or refurbish affordable rental units. Affordable units are defined as those in which at least 40 per cent of the occupants earn less than 60 per cent of the local median income. The funding will be distributed among the provinces on a per capita basis, but smaller provinces will be guaranteed a minimum amount of funding; and the credits will be administered by the Canadian (sic) Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

 

According to its policy on Housing and Homelessness passed in March 2005, the Conservative Party believes that all Canadians should have a reasonable opportunity to own their own home and have access to safe and affordable housing. Specifically the Party will:

 

·        Make home ownership and rental accommodation more attainable and accessible through a policy of broad based tax relief, income support programs, and tax incentives.

·        Address homelessness by helping provide shelters as well as seeking solutions to contributing factors of homelessness.

·        Partner with governments, business, social agencies and non-profits in dealing with housing, homelessness, social infrastructure and related support services.

 

With the Conservative Party now in power, many national housing advocates are worrying about the following:

 

  1. How safe is the 1.6 billion dollars passed by the House of Commons with Bill C-48 (the Layton-Martin budget)?  Will it still be allocated for housing? What type of housing? How?
  2. Will the provinces now change the way they deliver housing? The BC Housing Minister has already made a statement about no new social housing.  Several Conservative MPs elected in Ontario originate from the former Mike Harris government that cancelled the province’s housing program.
  3. How will an emphasis on tax credits create the badly needed 20,000 new units per year, without a national program and the necessary dollars?
  4. Will the SCPI (Supporting Community Partnerships Initiatives) monies be renewed?
  5. What will happen to RRAP (Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program)?
  6. Will the federal government release the federal monies needed to continue the Regent Park redevelopment project?

 

There are many more questions and worries.

 

 

Where did the issue go?

 

Despite tireless efforts by people who care about homelessness and the housing crisis, the issue of housing did not make it to the agenda in the federal election – not with the parties and not with the opinion makers.  During slow news time between Christmas and New Year’s I was inundated with media requests for interviews about homelessness and my thoughts on the election.  Many journalists were responsive to my question “why isn’t housing an election issue” and admitted they wondered the same thing themselves.

 

The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP released their housing platforms late in the election cycle, all in the second last week of the election and all with little fanfare. The media by and large persisted in reporting and identifying election issues as the economy, ethics, crime (after the Boxing Day Toronto shooting death of a young woman), the Charter and national unity.  Media outlets that analyzed party platforms in full-page newspaper spreads covered the issues as: the economy, taxes, defence/foreign affairs, aboriginal issues, ethics and governance.  One of the free daily Toronto newspapers limited their two-page spread to: promises, environment, Canada-U.S. relations, gun violence, education, employment and health care.

 

Certainly childcare did get featured in this election but even it did not rank equitable coverage along side defence or even crime.  I commend childcare advocates like Kira Heineck and Jane Mercer and the groups like the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada and Campaign 2000 for persistently inserting the issue of safe and affordable housing as a necessary building block for children and families into all their work on childcare.

 

Next steps and hope

 

With the Conservative government now in power, we must renew our energies and begin to move forward strategically.  It’s important to remember that over 180 MP's, a strong majority, belong to the three opposition parties, each of which have strong housing platforms. The votes are there to make progress if we succeed in mobilizing housing advocates across the country.

 

It’s also important to note that a minority government will want to win a majority mandate in the next election so they have to respond to the huge affordable housing crisis in cities like Toronto , Montreal and Vancouver .  The crisis also exists in most regions throughout the country and we shouldn’t forget that.  I think every single MP, regardless of party affiliation, will be worthy of lobbying on the housing issue.  

 

Here are 4 key priorities in the upcoming Parliamentary session:

 

1.      complete the roll-out of the Affordable Housing Program;

2.      complete the allocation of the C-48 housing dollars ($1.6 billion);

3.      renew and extend homelessness (SCPI) and rehab (RRAP) programs, which are due to expire at the end of the 2006 fiscal year;

4.      ramp up federal funding and programs to create a fully-funded and comprehensive national housing and homelessness strategy (the One Percent Solution - $2 billion annually).

Newsflash!!!!  The new federal minister responsible for housing (and CMHC) is Diane Finley, who is also Minister of Human Resources and Social Development.  Diane Finley was first elected to Parliament in 2004, representing Haldimand-Norfolk ( Ontario ) and she was re-elected in 2006. Since her election, she has served as Critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food. It’s not clear exactly how extensive her mandate might be or her familiarity with housing and homelessness. 

In a January 23 media release, Glen Grunwald, President and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade congratulated Stephen Harper on his election and said that a federal action plan should include “starting the long-overdue development of a national housing strategy”.

 

Across this country there is support for housing – it is in our places of worship, it is in our factories and agricultural centres, it is in our colleges and universities, it is even on Bay Street .  I hope you will do everything you possibly can to keep pointing out the needs in your community. 

 

 

 

2. National Housing Day 2004 - trial update 

 

On November 22, 2004 along with 5 other housing advocates I was charged with trespassing at Queen’s Park in Toronto (the grounds of the Provincial Legislature).  We had erected ‘makeshift tents’ and intended to sleep out overnight as part of an event called The Great Sleep-Out.  Ironically, after we were charged and removed from Queen’s Park, over 100 people were allowed to stay overnight, albeit without any ‘tent like structures’.  It was good it didn’t rain or snow.

 

The Great Sleep-Out was meant to bring attention to the enormous shelter and housing needs of people who are homeless and under housed in the province of Ontario .  We felt this type of action was necessary given the Ontario government’s own audited statements for 2002, 2003, and 2004 which indicated that the Province of Ontario delivered only 63 units of housing since signing the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Housing Agreement.  How many units were promised?  In total over the three years, the Province promised 46,332 units of housing.

 

Bob Rose, an advocate for psychiatric survivors, who was also charged with trespassing, said, “There’s this endless waiting for housing.  We continue to wait and see nothing of substance done to make a difference in people’s lives.  The housing issue seems to have been put to sleep – even during the election. Meanwhile, there is nowhere for people to sleep and we continue to bury our friends.”

 

Anyone who works in social services knows that court proceedings can take forever.  However, even I was surprised when full disclosure of evidence from the Crown had not occurred for our December 19, 2005 court date – over one year later, and arresting officers did not even show up.  What evidence could there have been except that we put up little blue tent like structures with tarps?  On January 16, 2006 our lawyer David Berg was notified that the Crown had withdrawn all charges. Too bad. We had some stellar witnesses lined up.

 

Meanwhile, we continue to hear reports of increased police presence in the Don Valley and along the waterfront.  Homeless people sleeping outside are always asked to ‘move along’.  Their belongings are confiscated and signs of squats are destroyed.  It remains illegal to sleep at Toronto ’s Nathan Phillips Square and most city funded outreach vans no longer supply sleeping bags to people sleeping outside.

 

 

 

3. Hunger – Toronto fights back! 

 

Apart from the impending pandemic flu (which I will write about next issue), I believe hunger is the most current and serious threat to poor people’s health.  For some years now Street Nurses have been seeing signs of hunger and malnutrition.  During the Special Diet Campaign, the growing extent of hunger was made very visible. Thousands of people were assisted in that campaign, putting real food and real food choices literally on their plate.  The Province has since clamped down and changed regulations.  The Health Care Providers Against Poverty continue to work on advocacy strategies to achieve more money for poor people for food.  I will have more to say on this in a future edition of the newsletter.

 

Drop-Ins have been one of the traditional places to obtain life saving food if you are poor.  For many, drop-Ins provide their only real meal each day.  Toronto Disaster Relief Committee co-founder Beric German recently brought together homeless people, poor people, and drop-in operators to speak out about the growing hunger problem in Toronto .  They want the City to fund a new emergency food program for Toronto ’s Drop-In Centres.  Their presentation to the City’s Homeless Advisory Committee led to a motion that went to the City’s Budget Advisory Committee asking for an emergency food fund.  That day, the group issued an invitation to politicians on the Budget Advisory Committee to sample ‘drop-in’ food over their lunch break.  Only one of the seven took them up on the offer. 

On February 16th the group will be back at City Hall to speak to the Policy and Finance Committee and they will be demanding money to end the City’s hunger problem.  The question remains -  will City Councillors find the money to spare for food or instead, will the money once again go to top up the police budget?

Stay tuned.

Cathy

 

 

 


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