Cathy Crowe

 

 

   

Newsletter No. 24  June  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. “National Emergency” says United Nations
2. Hate, prejudice, discrimination on the rise
3. Thunder Bay – homelessness and the housing crisis ignored in the north by Queen’s Park and Ottawa

 

 

1. “National Emergency” says United Nations

 

On May 22nd 2006 , the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated the obvious.  They called Canada ’s homelessness disaster and housing crisis a “national emergency.”  Paragraph 62 of their report states:

 

62. The Committee reiterates its recommendation that the federal, provincial and territorial governments address homelessness and inadequate housing as a national emergency by reinstating or increasing, where necessary, social housing programmes for those in need, improving and properly enforcing anti-discrimination legislation in the field of housing, increasing shelter allowances and social assistance rates to realistic levels, and providing adequate support services for persons with disabilities.  The Committee urges the State party to implement a national strategy for the reduction of homelessness that includes measurable goals and timetables, consultation and collaboration with affected communities, complaints procedures, and transparent accountability mechanisms, in keeping with Covenant standards.

 

The United Nations is today calling homelessness in Canada a national emergency.  Eight years ago, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) declared homelessness a national disaster.  While the problem of homelessness in Canada is obvious, so too is the solution.  What the United Nations calls a “national strategy” to end homelessness, TDRC calls the 1% solution and the reinstatement of our national housing program.  

 

Only days after the UN Report, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty described Canada in a New York speech as “open for business… We’re a country on the move."  It was shameful that at a press conference later, he reportedly said there were numerous areas where Ottawa might rethink its activities.  “I’ll give you one example that I think one level of government or the other should do – and not both – and that is housing.”

 

Would we allow Medicare to operate without national standards and a national programme?

 

 

2.  Hate, prejudice, discrimination on the rise

 

It’s hard to imagine a more inhospitable climate for homeless people in Canada : new laws against the homeless, programs to ‘out’ homeless people and move them on, and senior levels of government who deny any responsibility for finding real solutions.   Instead, and alarmingly, we are witnessing an increasing climate of hate against the homeless.

 

We now know that it is wrong to discriminate against someone based on the colour of their skin, it is common sense, but it was a fight that took well over 300 years and that fight continues.  We now know that it is wrong to discriminate against women, and that too is common sense, but that was a fight that took well over 100 years and that fight continues.  The idea that it is wrong to discriminate against someone based on their poverty or their circumstance is no less an equally common sense idea, but our politicians, the media, police, and even some local community leaders continue to allow and to perpetuate what amounts to the acceptance of a growing hate against the homeless.

 

In the last few years there has been a rise in reported hate crimes towards homeless people, more archaic and regressive public policy measures that are introduced to deal with homelessness, more discriminatory and public commentary by politicians - all fueled by certain media that have a voracious appetite for nasty political commentary.  All of this has prompted me to write about hate and discrimination in this issue of my newsletter. 

 

I can’t help but think that we should be using the word apartheid when describing our response to the issue of homelessness in Canada .  As Nelson Mandela said to world leaders in 2005:

“Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.  And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity.  It is an act of justice.” 

As John Ralston Saul notes, “Mandela was referring to the massive poverty in Africa .  But we have our slice of this scourge.”

 

Snapshots of hate: a growing violence against the homeless

 

Canada appears to be in the same league with the United States when it comes to hating the homeless.

 

“There’s an alarming increase nationwide in homeless beatings,” says Michael Stoops, acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington .  ‘They’re the one remaining group that people can target.’ … In the Fort Lauderdale case, it’s baffling to see a teenager on a security video beating a homeless man with a baseball bat ... Three teenage boys – one from Fort Lauderdale, two from Plantation – have been charged with the murder of Norris Gaynor and with aggravated battery.  The attacks left two other homeless men hospitalized with deep bruises and broken bones … Stoops puts some blame on national anti-homeless prejudice.  ‘Would this happen with any other group? Gays or African Americans?  There would be a national outcry.’ …Stoops also blames a series of videos called Bumfights sold in shops and online in which the homeless are paid minor sums or given beer to fight each other.  In Los Angeles last year, two 19-year-olds who saw such videos were charged with beating homeless men with baseball bats.  They told police they wanted to do some ‘bum bashing’ of their own.  

            (Fred Tasker, Miami Herald, January 22, 2006 )

 

“A homeless man sleeping in a park was attacked early yesterday by two men who kicked him in the stomach and set him on fire, police said … He drifted back to sleep after the assault, but the men returned, drenched him with flammable liquid and set his legs on fire, police said … Last August, a 40 year old homeless man died in Boston after he was beaten.  Two teenagers have been charged with manslaughter.” 

(Associated Press, reported in the Toronto Star, March 6, 2006 )

 

Attacks on homeless people in the US have been well documented in Florida , Alaska , Wyoming , California and Massachusetts .   Baseball bats are a favored weapon along with rocks, bricks, fists and feet, pellet guns and knives.  Across America the National Coalition for the Homeless has documented 386 attacks on the homeless over the past six years, including 156 deaths.  The real numbers are probably much higher due to the fear of reporting and a lack of an investigative database. 

 

In Canada , the headlines and the stories are no less vicious.

 

“Two Calgary men were convicted of senselessly beating and urinating on a homeless bum.   
( Edmonton SUN, July 6, 2003 )


Toronto police announced yesterday they have charged two people in the death of a homeless man whose body was found last week near the Rogers Centre.  An autopsy found the victim … died of a blunt force trauma to his head.”
(Globe and Mail, Toronto in Brief, April 25, 2005 )  


“Two teens are accused of assaulting a homeless Edmonton man outside a downtown shelter early Monday in an unprovoked attack that was believed to be videotaped by the assailants.  City cops were looking for a third suspect in the rare assault that has left staff at emergency shelters disgusted …”

( Cary Castagna, Edmonton SUN, May 17, 2006 )

  

On August 30, 2005 a group of Canadian soldiers were at a social gathering at the Moss Park Armoury in downtown Toronto .  They were attending with British and German troops who had participated in war games from August 19th to the 28th at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.  The party broke up at 10:30 pm and soldiers went their separate ways.  In the early morning of August 31, Mr. Paul Croutch, a 59 year old homeless man sleeping in the park beside the armoury was brutally attacked and beaten to death.  Three Canadian reservists from the Queen’s Own Rifle Regiment have been charged with second degree murder.  They also face charges of assault against a woman who attempted to intervene.

 

What qualifies as a hate crime?

 

Michael Shapcott of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee tried to convince Ontario ’s Attorney General to charge the three army reservists under the hate crime provisions in the Criminal Code.  The Crown declined, he told me that “Mr. Shapcott was wrong.”

 

According to the Province of Ontario’s Crown Policy Manual on Hate Crime and Discrimination (March 21, 2005): “Hate crimes are offences that involve the intentional selection of a victim based on the offender’s prejudice toward a ’group’ characteristic of the victim such as [but not exclusive to] race, ethnic background, religion, gender, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.” 

 

The Crown actually suggested that it is not a hate crime if you pick your victim based solely on their poverty or their circumstance.  It would appear like an obvious hate crime to me, but it does become harder to argue with the Crown when you start looking at the legislation that is being both proposed and passed, when you start hearing what politicians are saying about the homeless and when you read what some media keep reporting.  It is often subtle, but in many circles, at least for the moment, it seems to be okay to hate the homeless.  Have a look at this brief chronological background. 

 

A chronology of (the growing) hate against the homeless

 

1999 - the province of Ontario introduces the Safe Streets Act, essentially criminalizing homeless and poor people who might be sleeping outside or panhandling for additional survival income.  The law is currently being appealed by lawyer Peter Rosenthal on behalf of complainants, via the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and Mary Birdsell a lawyer with Justice for Children.

 

2000 – at least five homeless people were reported murdered on the streets of Toronto .  A phenomenon usually associated with American cities, the murders coincided with heated and inflammatory public statements by media, police and politicians about the homeless situation.

 

2001 – officials did not make public a serious tuberculosis outbreak in the City of Toronto ’s emergency shelter system.  The City allowed crowded and unsafe conditions to continue, with some of the shelters later exposed as not meeting basic United Nations Standards for Refugee camps.

 

2002 – over 100 people were evicted from Tent City on Toronto ’s waterfront. Coordinated by Toronto Police and Home Depot’s ‘hired gun’ security, the eviction occurred swiftly and without any warning.  This was despite extensive efforts by a committee of leaders that included members of TDRC, Architects Alliance and former Toronto Mayor John Sewell to relocate the community to non-contaminated land. 

 

Only months later, despite confusion over ownership and strong labour support with both money and the promise of the construction trades to renovate the building, the City of Toronto orchestrated a raid to evict the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty squat at a King Street building.  This was known as the Pope Squat.  Both activists and homeless people were evicted from a building that could have housed up to 20 people.

 

2003 – the City of Toronto restricts hours of winter warming centres for the homeless from 24 to 12 hours a day.  Cots and food in the centre are restricted.

 

2004 – the Bathurst Street bridge eviction.  City by-law officers raided this site and evicted about a dozen homeless youth.  Similar raids on other outdoor sleeping squats continue to this day.

 

2004 – the government of British Columbia approves legislation cracking down on aggressive panhandling, which paves the way for an increase in police harassment.

 

2005 – against the deputations and the reasoning of many homeless advocates, City of Toronto officials quietly and quickly introduce a package of programs that Council immediately and enthusiastically embrace.   I was shown a copy of the secret plan on the Friday afternoon before it went to committee on Monday.  This package of programs included:

 

1)     a new by-law which essentially criminalizes sleeping outside at any of the City’s squares, most prominently Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall .

2)     a program called “Streets into Homes” that targets all its resources into moving people off the street and into housing (without adequate supports).

3)     a Street Count, which I wrote about in my April newsletter.

 

2005 – Hunger March.  A very broad coalition of 40 agencies and homeless people faced unprecedented police presence for a peaceful march on the issue of hunger.  I’ve talked to police leadership, and they continue to insist it was an ‘OCAP’ march and therefore they needed heavy reinforcements including the use of police horses.

 

2006 – research by Sherrie Golden of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee uncovers that most street outreach services are no longer able to deliver sleeping bags, blankets or food to homeless people sleeping outside.  Agencies have advised the TDRC that funding restrictions prevent them from delivering ‘survival supplies’ because it enables homeless people to remain outside.

 

2006 – City Councillor Jane Pitfield introduces motion J40 to City Council:

 

Protection of Individuals at Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square

 Moved by:         Councillor Pitfield
 Seconded by:    Councillor Stintz

"WHEREAS Councillor Michael Thompson and his assistant were aggressively approached by a panhandler at Nathan Phillips Square on April 26, 2006, at approximately 6:10 pm; and
WHEREAS Councillor Thompson was assaulted; and
WHEREAS panhandling is increasingly becoming a problem throughout the City;

 NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT City Council:

(1)  request the Chief Corporate Officer to report to the next meeting of
City Council, through the Administration Committee, on measures that can be implemented to discourage panhandling at Toronto City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square and other Civic Centres;
(2)   request that the City Manager, in consultation with the Toronto
Police Service, determine ways to ensure the safety and security of
Toronto residents, businesses and tourists across the City and to
discourage panhandling and report the findings, through the Policy and
Finance Committee, to the next meeting of City Council; and
(3)  request the City Solicitor, in consultation with the appropriate
staff, to report to next meeting of City Council, through the Policy and
Finance Committee, on the possibility of a 'quality-of-life' by-law that
would include a provision that 'no person can impede any other person's
reasonable enjoyment of day-to-day activities through panhandling, such
report to also include a communications strategy to notify residents,
businesses, tourists and panhandlers of such a by-law, as well as an
enforcement strategy;

 

All of the above are not simple altruistic measures designed to help homeless people, as we keep hearing from city, provincial and other officials.  They need to be seen in the broader context, as an intolerance of homelessness that is fuelled by ignorance and hate.  Just look at what some of our politicians have had to say on the subject and what some of our media is reporting.

 

What some politicians are saying

 
“Miserly city councillor Rob Ford thinks staying in
Toronto ’s homeless shelters is a ‘four-star’ experience.  His logic, as usual, is twisted.  The budget-cutting kook thinks that since it costs $156 a head to house the homeless at Fort York , they’re getting the equivalent of a $156 hotel room.”

(NOW, April 22-28, 2004 )

 

“(Doug Holyday) the right-wing civic politician is tired of people sleeping outside, and this fall he’s going to try to convince council to take radical steps to force them into shelters and establish a computerized homeless registry to track vagrants.  The Etobicoke Centre councillor wants the city to implement a finger-imaging system – similar to one used in New York – so officials can easily track the progress of the homeless through the $170-million-a-year city shelter system … ‘ most of them couldn’t keep an apartment even if they had one.’ ” 

(Katherine Harding, the Globe and Mail, September 4, 2004 )

 

“I think I speak for the majority of Toronto residents and taxpayers who want this problem cleaned up”.  Councillor Doug Holyday (Etobicoke Centre) comments on homeless people sleeping at City Hall.

 (Jeff Gray, The Globe and Mail, January 20, 2005 )

 

“Councillor David Shiner moved a motion asking that the police and the city’s bylaws officers ‘more strenuously’ enforce bylaws against people causing obstructions on public sidewalks and that these people be asked to move.” … Shiner said he was also ‘really embarrassed’ that in the seven years since amalgamation the problem has become so much worse – even as the budget has increased.  ‘I don’t want to spend any more money,’ he said … Councillor Case Ootes had a similar motion.  He proposed that the Mayor ask the Police Services Board to ‘demand’ that the police, in a humane and civil manner, do everything legally possible to discourage people from panhandling, squeegeeing and sleeping on the streets. … Councillor Mike Del Grande ‘There are so many (homeless) fighting for corners downtown that they’ve set up great franchise locations where they park themselves in Scarborough’.

(Sue-Ann Levy “We can end the homeless mess” Toronto SUN, October 28, 2004 )

 

“There is a problem here and let’s get it under control before it becomes an epidemic, which it might already be”, said Councillor Rob Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), advocating the ‘tough-love’ approach.  ‘We have to ask them to move on and get them the help they need.’  Ford asked staff to look into drafting a nuisance by-law that would ban people from sleeping on city sidewalks.  Councillor Jane Pitfield (Ward 26, Don Valley West), who co-chairs the city’s homelessness committee, suggested panhandlers could pick up litter … Councillor Case Ootes proposed that the city urge the Toronto Police Services board to direct police to do ‘everything humanely possible to prevent people from panhandling and sleeping on the streets.’ 

(Catherine Porter, Toronto Star, October 28, 2004 )

 

Commenting on the National Housing Day sleep-out at Toronto’s City Hall, organized by the TDRC, “Councillor Frances Nunziata, who got no reply to her letter of protest to the mayor, thinks the idea of allowing the square to be used tonight is ‘totally disgusting … It really makes me sick that we’ve allowed this to happen when we should be cleaning it up’.” 

(Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto SUN, November 21, 2004 )

 

“She (Pitfield) added she would work to reduce the number of homeless on the streets, but stopped short of saying she would force recalcitrant individuals into shelters.” 

(James Cowan, National Post, January 6, 2006 )

 

“Pitfield plans to include policies to address aggressive panhandling in her [mayoralty] platform, but stopped short of saying she’d propose a bylaw banning begging.  She agreed, however that those panhandlers who aren’t homeless should be ‘exposed’.” 

(Sue Ann Levy, Toronto SUN, April 9, 2006 )

 

“We need to take a firm stand against panhandling and street sleeping.” (Councillor Pitfield, the National Post, April 18, 2006 )

 

 “It is time to take a stand and say ‘No’ to sleeping on sidewalks or panhandling.” (Councillor Pitfield, the Toronto Star, April 23, 2006 )

 

Public space is public space.  Nobody has the right to take public space and make it private space.”  Councillor Howard Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglington-Lawrence).

(Globe and Mail, January 20, 2005 )

 

What some media is reporting

 

“There is after all an entire poverty industry…”

(Christina Blizzard, Toronto SUN, Jan 8, 1999 - in an article about child poverty)

 

“…And all the other shopkeepers who wash away the filth of each morning and then face a day of belligerent panhandling, shoplifting and cursing – which certainly keeps paying customers away. They should go en masse to today’s committee meeting – and next month’s council – and give councilors a sampling of the garbage left behind by the tramps.  This anarchy, this thumbing of a dirty nose at other people’s property has to stop.” 

(John Downing, Toronto SUN, January 19, 2005 )

 

“( Toronto ) Sun columns and editorials support a bylaw to make sleeping on the street illegal.

(Zen Ruryk, Toronto SUN, January 20, 2005 )

 

“He (Mayor Miller) may have cleaned up the homeless problem on Nathan Phillips Square , but I’ve got news for him.  The hardcore street people are back on heating grates in their sleeping bags at downtown street corners begging for loonies.” 

(Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto SUN, October 27, 2005 )

 

“At the risk of sounding callous, it would be a simple matter for city council to pass a by-law making Princess Street off-limits to panhandlers.”

(Tony Houghton, Kingston Whig Standard, May 13, 2006 )

 

Canada ’s gangrene” – the title of article by John Ralston Saul, accompanied by a picture of homeless person on a sidewalk.

(MacLean’s, February 28, 2005 )

 

In a widely circulated New Yorker piece, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “The homelessness problem is like the LAPD’s bad-cop problem.  It’s a matter of a few hard cases, and that’s good news, because when a problem is that concentrated you can wrap your arms around it and think about solving it.  The bad news is that those few hard cases are hard.  They are falling-down drunks with liver disease and complex infections and mental illness.”  

(Malcolm Gladwell, “Million Dollar Murray ” New Yorker, Feb. 13, 2006 )

 

David Hulchanski, a founding member of the TDRC responded to the Gladwell article.  “How many homeless people are actually falling down drunks?  Very few – even among the long-time homeless.  The main analysis/argument used in the article uses the LAPD as an example.  Homelessness like racism and violence in the LAPD, is not a problem of just a few bad apples (or a few hard cases).  Both are systemic deeply ingrained problems which people who have the authority to do something about – choose to do very little … Conservatives like to define away serious, often structural/institutionalized problems/behaviour as a problem of a few bad apples.  This focuses the blame on individuals not institutionalized behaviours or outcomes.  Recently Donald Rumsfeld referred to those behind torture at Abu Ghraib prison as ‘a few bad apples’.”

 

The broader hate against the homeless

 

We continue to allow and to perpetuate what amounts to a hate against homeless people.  It becomes difficult for community leaders, the police and others not to respond negatively to the homeless from the not so subtle messages they keep hearing from our politicians and our media. 

 

 “John Wilson, chair of the City’s Task Force to Bring Back the Don, says vandalism, graffiti, garbage, ‘destructive partying’, and ‘occasional stressful encounters with hikers/bikers and homeless people’ are messing with the group’s good works and interfering with naturalists’ cyclists’ and walkers’ enjoyment of the valley.  ‘At some point I do think we need to start doing the eviction route,’ Wilson says. ‘I don’t know exactly what that point is, [but] we’re not doing people any favours by letting them live in the valley.’

(Kris Scheuyer, NOW, March 23-29, 2006 )

 

Ongoing police harassment of homeless people continues to be reported, and they are emboldened by the acceptance of the culture of hate we are seeing around us.  Like racism and sexism, it will ultimately come down to a real fight to overcome the idea that it is not wrong to discriminate against someone based on their poverty or their circumstance.

 

 

3.  Thunder Bay – homelessness and the housing crisis ignored in the north by Queen’s Park and Ottawa

 

I have just returned from four packed days in Thunder Bay .  A consortium of groups including the Thunder Bay Social Planning Council, the Thunder Bay Economic Justice Committee and Shelter House invited me to participate in a series of events during Homelessness Awareness Week.  While there, I gave 5 different presentations including a keynote address on “Income and Housing” to a packed community forum.  Several of my presentations are already available on my website: http://tdrc.net/Crowe_Speeches.htm

 

Within an hour of arriving, I was on a world wind tour of the ecological, political and social landscape of Thunder Bay , guided by Lakehead University political science professor Doug West.  I learned of the region’s rich natural resources and the recent decline in the pulp and paper, softwood lumber and transportation industries.  I learned of the Bombardier lay-offs and the changing nature of the workforce in Thunder Bay , with its increase in service industries.  Big box stores, new hospital construction and the new northern medical school were the visible and the recent additions to the community.  

 

I now know what it means when communities in the north say they are neglected.  I toured several agencies in Thunder Bay , I spoke with countless agency workers, and people connected to the consumer-survivor movement and those living in poverty.  Over and over I heard of the lack of food, the closure of services, serious substance use issues, and a heavy reliance on volunteers and donations to run essential programs.  On the other hand I witnessed over 150 people registered at a 2-day forum to discuss these issues - the growing poverty and homelessness.  Politicians were definitely lacking.  Only one of the two MPs (Liberal MP Ken Boschcoff who represents Thunder Bay - Rainy River) sent a staff person to one evening portion of the forum, and a student to the next day.  There was no other city councillor, school trustee, MP, MPP, city planner or any staff from Ontario Works or ODSP attending the forum.  Politicians were of course invited and follow-up contact was made by dedicated forum planning committee members.  The lack of any political leaders was a community wide disappointment.

 

What did I learn in Thunder Bay ?  There is an engaged, sophisticated network of leaders and agencies that have been working together for a long time on social justice issues.  They are very capable and they absolutely grasp that their problems are the end result of willful and intentional political withdrawal of support for things like housing programs. 

 

In Thunder Bay , homelessness is growing.  Poverty is growing.  Hunger is growing. Substance use, in particular solvent use (hairspray) is what I would call one of their local hotspots.  There is no dedicated adult shelter in the community for women only, aside from the assaulted women’s shelters. There is no dedicated family and children shelter.  Funding for basic programs appears to be non-existent.  For example, Shelter House provides over 300 meals a day using only volunteers and donations – there is no program funding.  There is a tense undercurrent in the City that suggests some community leaders, politicians and certainly bureaucrats, do not grasp the nature of what is happening to the social and economic fabric of their community.  Instead of leading, they are in hiding. 

 

I spent my last day in the outdoors at Chippewa Park at a 24 hour relay/fundraiser for Shelter House.  Cal Rankin of Shelter House has been working for years on a capital campaign for their new shelter building, which will open in September.  He has a Martin Sheen like demeanor – laid back and fun but politically savvy and with a heart of gold.  I had the opportunity to tour his new facility and was pleased to see the attention paid to space, air, and dignity.  The fundraiser itself reminded me of the small town Highland Games of my childhood – warm and friendly.   Hundreds of children and adults participated and everyone seemed to know everyone.  The day included entertainment, games and lots of food (I really enjoyed the First Nations fish-fry).  They had a tug-of-war contest, young girls Scottish dancing, fiddling, and face painting.  Meanwhile, everyone was dressed up in Halloween like team costumes.  Shelter House relies on this event for about 20% of its total funding.  Although the relay is a community-building event, it doesn’t seem fair that so much relies on its success.

 

Thunder Bay was allocated $4 million from the Federal-Provincial Affordable Housing Agreement for 200 new affordable housing units.  I wondered about that because no one I met mentioned any new units under development.  I later learned that the local housing authority couldn’t manage to move forward with an allocation of $20,000 per unit.  It is widely understood that affordable housing can’t be built for that price. 

 

People in Thunder Bay absolutely got the fact that the 1% solution is the campaign to support.  I have also been assured that we will now have a voice from the north, from Thunder Bay , joining us in the National Housing and Homelessness Network.  We sure need to hear their voice.

 

Cathy

 

 

 


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