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.
1. “National Emergency” says United
2. Hate, prejudice, discrimination on the rise
3. Thunder Bay – homelessness and the housing crisis ignored in the north by Queen’s Park and
“National Emergency” says United Nations
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
Only days after the UN Report,
federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty described
Would we allow Medicare to operate without national standards and a national programme?
Hate, prejudice, discrimination on the rise
It’s hard to imagine a more
inhospitable climate for homeless people in
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.
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
“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
Snapshots of hate: a growing violence against the
an alarming increase nationwide in homeless beatings,” says Michael
Stoops, acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in
“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.”
Press, reported in the Toronto Star,
Attacks on homeless people in the
What qualifies as a hate crime?
Michael Shapcott of the Toronto
Disaster Relief Committee tried to convince
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
2000 – at least five homeless
people were reported murdered on the streets of
2001 – officials did not make
public a serious tuberculosis outbreak in the City of
2002 – over 100 people were
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
2004 – the
2004 – the government of
2005 – against the deputations and
the reasoning of many homeless advocates, City of
a new by-law which essentially criminalizes sleeping outside
at any of the City’s squares, most prominently
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:
of Individuals at Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square
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
“(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
think I speak for the majority of
Gray, The Globe and Mail,
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’.
Levy “We can end the homeless mess”
“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.’
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’.”
“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,
“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,
need to take a firm stand against
panhandling and street sleeping.” (Councillor
Pitfield, the National Post,
is time to take a stand and say ‘No’
to sleeping on sidewalks or panhandling.” (Councillor
“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,
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.”
(Mayor Miller) may have cleaned up the homeless problem on
the risk of sounding callous, it would be a simple matter for city council
to pass a by-law making
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
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.
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,’
(Kris Scheuyer, NOW,
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.
I have just returned from four
packed days in
Within an hour of arriving, I was on
a world wind tour of the ecological, political and social landscape of
I now know what it means when
communities in the north say they are neglected.
I toured several agencies in
What did I learn in
I spent my last day in the outdoors
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