Cathy Crowe

 

 

   

Newsletter No. 25  July  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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1. Canada ’s Military and Defense Budget is a Threat to Housing.
2. Housing and International Human Rights.
3. The Count is In!
4. Motion J-40 or F-1.  Call it for what it is – hate.
5. Failing the Homeless: Barriers to Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
6. Update on the ‘hotspot’ of Heat. 

 

1. Canada ’s Military and Defense Budget is a Threat to Housing

 

Last week the federal government announced an additional $16.3 billion for defence shopping – helicopters, aircraft, trucks and ships.  Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor told CTV’s Question Period that the Conservative Government considers these purchases to be a first step.

 

The cost of the 1% solution, the long awaited and urgently needed national housing programme, is $1.6 billion per year.  There is now every indication that the recent $1.4 billion announced for affordable housing, to be spent over a three-year period, will dry up and will not be renewed.  Period.

 

Armine Yalnizyan, an economist and the first Atkinson Economic Justice Award recipient, gave a speech entitled “The Ask” at the March 2006 National Conference on CED and the Social Economy.  She reported on the two other major areas of federal spending besides health.  The first is new investments in research and development.  The second, spending on national defence and security which almost doubled between 1996 and 2006.  Defence spending grew from $8.4 billion in 1996-97 to $14 billion in 2004-5.  Last year’s federal budget gives Defence a $20 billion budget by 2010-11. 

 

Quite simply we have to face this formula:

 

Increased military and defence spending = reduced social program spending. 

 

Beric German addresses this concern in his article ‘Spring Offensive’.

 

It is true that outdated military equipment will need to be replaced, but the fact remains that less than 10% of the new money recently announced for the military’s shopping spree could have implemented the 1% solution and recreated our national housing program.  It really wouldn’t take that much for the federal government to bring about an end to the homeless problem and housing crisis in Canada .

 

 

2. Housing and International Human Rights

 

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime when I joined with other Canadian women’s housing advocacy groups for an informal 4 hour meeting with Miloon Kothari, the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Rights.  Canada has signed on to many international covenants declaring housing to be a human right, so Miloon Kothari was very interested in hearing about the human rights violations that are continually taking place throughout this country.  The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation and the National Working Group on Women and Housing hosted the June 7th meeting at the YWCA.  Click here to view my slide presentation and informal comments. 

 

3. The Count is In!

 

On Friday June 23, ironically the same day the City of Toronto ’s Homeless Count was released, I was in Kingston at a conference of economists who were discussing the recent federal budget.  Not one of the numerous powerpoints, charts and graphs or the analysis presented by these esteemed minds seemed to take into account the real needs of ordinary Canadians.  In fact, one economist pronounced that there was “nothing in the budget of interest to economists.”  It would seem that most economists don’t concern themselves with childcare, the environment, the working poor or the viability of social programmes.

 

So I was somewhat relieved to be drawn back into the real world by the endless stream of media calls asking for my comment on the City’s Homeless Count.   Past experience tells me that when a Government report is released on a Friday it is meant to be buried.  This report will not be!

 

How many homeless people did the City count on April 19th?  The magic number is 5052. Here’s a breakdown of a few of the numbers in this one-night ‘point in time’ survey:

 

5052 – the estimated number of homeless people in Toronto

3649 – the number in emergency shelters

818 – the estimated number who slept on the street (575 were determined to be in the downtown core)

275 – were in health and treatment facilities

171 – were in shelters for abused women

139 – were in correctional facilities

 

Are these new numbers?  Not really, but they did cost us $90,000.

 

On any given night the City’s Shelter Housing and Support Division can tell us how many of the City’s 4000 shelter beds are filled, how many of the over 150 shelter beds for abused women are filled, and how many homeless people sleeping outside are seen by city funded outreach programmes. 

 

The good news is that the City was encouraged to ask a number of key questions like:  Would people like permanent housing?  A resounding 9 out of 10 homeless people repeatedly said yes - helping to dispel the myth that people ‘choose’ to sleep outside.  Without a doubt the City will use many of these findings to lobby for the continuation of the SCPI funding and for more funding for affordable housing from senior levels of government.

 

The bad news is that methodological flaws continue to plague this study.  Only half of Toronto was covered by the counters, there was no clinically based assessment to determine the real health or social needs of people, the hidden homeless were entirely ignored and the role that drop-ins and outreach play in providing safe space and necessary services was not explored.

 

I knew that certain statistics, like the 575 people determined to be sleeping in the downtown core and the 5 per cent apartment vacancy rate in Toronto , would fuel some kind of backlash.  It didn’t take long:

 

The Toronto Star on June 24 reported that Councillor Jane Pitfield said the city’s 5 per cent apartment vacancy rate could provide an opportunity to close shelter beds.

 

The Globe and Mail on June 24 reported that Councillor Holyday said, “I’m glad they did a count” but he is suspicious about over counting those living outside. “As opposed to people being missed, there is a greater opportunity for double counting.”  The Globe also reported that Councillor Pitfield said the City should start to phase out shelters.

links: 

Read the full City report

Toronto Disaster Relief Committee reports and analysis
My April 2006 newsletter:  ‘Counting the homeless – 67,041 reasons not to’

 

 

4. Motion J-40 or F-1.  Call it for what it is – hate.

In an election year, the atmosphere at City Hall becomes charged.   This year it is charged with fear and charged with foolish and frequently dangerous shenanigans.  The most recent example is Councillor Jane Pitfield’s controversial motion J-40 (renamed F-1); originally tabled at the April City Council meeting, less than 24 hours after fellow Councillor Michael Thompson was assaulted by a man, reportedly homeless.

 

I wrote about J-40 in my June newsletter:

The motion is essentially one more attempt to criminalize poor and homeless people – despite the existence of the Criminal Code and the harsh Safe Streets Act, which is now being challenged in court by lawyer and TDRC member Peter Rosenthal.

 

As Rosenthal wrote in a Toronto Star opinion piece May 15, 2006 :

 

“To use the allegation of an assault by one panhandler as a vehicle to increase repression of all panhandlers is similar to racism: a wrongdoing by one member of a group is used to attack the entire group.  Pitfield’s motion slanders all those people in our city who are so poor that they must resort to panhandling.”

 

I wondered if City Council would have the moral strength to defeat this motion outright or take the safe route by referring the motion to committee.  On June 28, they did neither.  To the dismay of housing activists in council chambers, councillors chose a more aggressive path for the motion, matching the spirit of its mover.  Councillor Pitfield rose and ‘called the question’ and council overwhelmingly voted yes - ensuring no debate and no questioning of staff.  The motion passed. 

 

City staff will now have to allocate resources towards measures to discourage panhandling at City Hall and other Civic Centres, involve the police in such endeavours, and work towards developing what would be a new City anti-panhandling by-law. 

 

Only 3 working days after the release of the City’s Homeless Count, Council gave a shot of testosterone to the notion that homelessness, poverty and circumstance can be criminalized and they gave their tacit consent, allowing for the continuation of the hate that exists to snake its way through City Hall corridors. 

 

5. Failing the Homeless: Barriers to Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

 

In June, Street Health released the findings of its report ‘Failing the Homeless: Barriers in the Ontario Disability Support Program for Homeless People with Disabilities’. 

 

85 homeless people were interviewed to learn about their personal histories of disability, employment, housing and attempts to access disability benefits.  The report exposes a litany of barriers and patterns of seemingly intentional discrimination that homeless people with disabilities face as they attempt to obtain ODSP.  With the steerage of long time activist and TDRC member Beric German who works at Street Health and lawyer Sarah Shartal, the stories from the street, long known to many who work in this field, became quantified and exposed.  100% of the homeless participants were eligible for ODSP but 0% were receiving benefits when they became involved in the study.  100% of the 85 participants, whose ODSP applications were successful with the aid of the research team, were able to secure housing.

 

 As Shartal noted at the press conference: ODSP=housing=health.

 

It could not have been more clearly stated than in the report’s dedication on the inside cover:

 

“This report is dedicated to the five study participants who died during this project for reasons related to their health conditions and disabilities.  Three of these participants were still waiting for decisions on their ODSP applications when they passed away.  Two participants had recently secured ODSP benefits, but their health and well-being had already deteriorated so significantly that the benefits came too late.”  

Click to view the Failing The Homeless report:
Summary with highlights and recommendations
Full report

 

6. Update on the ‘hotspot’ of Heat

 

In my July 2005 Newsletter I wrote about the ‘hotspot’ of heat.

 

Sadly, a year later, there is little that is positive to say about the City’s response to the heat and smog emergency.  This year, heat and smog conditions began plaguing the city as early as May.  Despite the deputations and recommendations from community health and housing experts about the risk of extreme heat to vulnerable populations: the elderly, people who are homeless or living in rooming houses, there is minimal progress on an improved emergency response nor any real steps toward a longer term solution.   Heat alerts are being declared, but the complicated formula used to escalate a heat alert to an emergency, which opens up public cooling centres, is a rare phenomenon.  The City still has no central registry of vulnerable populations, no air conditioning loan programmes, no maximum temperature by-law introduced, at least not YET. 

 

Let your City Councillors know if you think they should pay more attention to solving this issue.  Click here to contact your Councillor.

 

 

Cathy

 

 

 


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