Cathy Crowe

 

 

 

Newsletter No. 29,  November  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.  Bring the Troops HOME Now! War and Housing – making the connections
2. 
Winnipeg and Kenora – “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”
3.  Mr. Harper’s Calgary
4.  Blueprint to end Homelessness in Toronto

 

1.  Bring the Troops HOME Now! War and Housing – making the connections.

Beric German is a long-time anti-war and anti-poverty activist. We have worked together on many homeless issues - the inhumane shelter conditions, tuberculosis and disease outbreaks, homeless deaths, and Tent City which was the largest and longest act of civil disobedience by homeless people in Canada since the Depression. Beric has co-founded numerous anti-poverty initiatives including the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. 

He is the author of an article called Spring Offensive, which critically examines Canada’s role in Afghanistan.  (Click here to download "Spring Offensive")

The following is a portion of Beric German’s speech on the Pan-Canadian Day of Action against the war held on October 28.  The Toronto component of this Day of Action was called Bring the Troops Home Now!  A march through Toronto ’s downtown ended with a rally in a public park called Moss Park.  Beric spoke facing the crowd but also facing the Moss Park Armoury which was being protected by hordes of police officers including the Toronto Police Mounted Unit.  

“So we know why we’re here.  Just over there we train young people to go to Afghanistan .  And so we come here to support them, to call them to come home again. (cries of COME HOME!)

Many people in this country don’t have a home.  (cries of SHAME!)  And many of the troops, many of our young troops are poor people.  They won’t have a home either.  It becomes our job to ensure that the people of Canada have the right to housing, the right to a home.  Let’s bring our troops home.  Let’s make this a place where they can have a home, where all people can have a home. (applause)

I have worked here in this area for over 25 years.  Where the armouries is, is an area where we have the largest number of people who are absolutely homeless in Canada .  Just across from the armouries, down Jarvis Street we’ve got a place where hundreds of people live in the Salvation army, just behind these buildings over here we have a women’s shelter, just down the road down Queen Street we have another men’s shelter, just along Sherbourne to the north another men’s shelter, just to the north at Dundas and Sherbourne the largest day shelters for homeless people, further up Sherbourne a large women’s shelter, just over here the largest shelter in Canada – Seaton House – all near to where we train people to go to war.  (SHAME!!) We put a lot of money; we put a lot of money into this war – to kill some of the people who are the poorest people in the world.

The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee calls on the federal government to give yearly, to cough up yearly for all of us - $2 billion to save the lives of our people to ensure they have the right to housing across this country.  That money today is going towards the murder of friends across the world, on the other side of the world.  And we send our poor people after them.

On November 22 the TDRC is going to do something new.  Our demonstrations have always been cold on National Housing Day, freezing for people who are homeless and so, we’re going to have a car rally.  Now we don’t want to be too un-eco friendly so we’ll only drive for a couple of hours.  Please get a hold of us – look at our web site www.tdrc.net. Please come out.  Let’s drive through the streets with our message – HOUSING FOR ALL.  We need federal dollars for housing.  We need them and we don’t need war. (applause and chanting HOMES NOT BOMBS! )

I want to say one more thing because there is something we should remember that happened here. Just over here, a few months ago people were out here training.  Young soldiers training with rifles.  That was bad enough, but if you look over here behind the ball diamond - it’s not long ago that we had a homeless man, a 59 year old man Mr. Paul Croutch, who was murdered, who was beaten to death right over here.  Let’s create us all a home. Bring our troops home.” (applause)

Beric encourages us to make the connections between war and housing.  If you would like to learn how to participate in anti-war events in your community go to

 www.acp-cpa.ca

Did you know that Canada’s housing history is directly linked to our military history?

I have been examining that history and I have learned that hundreds of thousands of units of good housing were developed in what is now our defunct National Housing Programme.  Many World War II vets and seniors will know about this - that one of the great social benefits achieved after the war, which was quietly taken away from us in 1993, was our National Housing Programme

Most people know the Tommy Douglas story, how we achieved our Medicare programme, but I have learned in my travels across this country that not many know the history of how we got our national housing programme.

During World War II, the Wartime Housing Corporation built 46,000 units of housing, mostly for war-workers and they also helped repair and modernize thousands of existing units.  But, when the war ended, more than a million Canadians in the armed forces were ready to return to peacetime life, creating a housing demand that was unprecedented. 

 

  • In 1945, the federal government declared Toronto an “emergency shelter” area, forbidding people from moving there unless they were starting a job deemed essential.
  • In 1947, Toronto Mayor Saunders put an ad in newspapers saying “Acute Housing Shortage in Toronto – do not come”.
  • In 1946, 600 homeless veterans protested and took control of the vacant Hotel Vancouver as a protest.  They held the building for more than two weeks and due to enormous public sympathy, it was turned into a hostel for up to 1,200 vets until 1948.
  • In 1946, when Ottawa Mayor Stanley Lewis refused to promise housing for Vets, the Vets’ leader Franklyn Edward Hanratty ordered an occupation of the barracks.  Eleven vets, their wives and 18 children took over the Kildare Barracks, unloading a truck with beds, stoves and washing machines to set up house.  More families followed.  Later that year, buildings on the site were leased by the City of Ottawa from the federal government for rental housing.
  • Finally, Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation was born (now called Canada Mortgage and Housing)

When our soldiers returned from war they demanded a place to call home.  Housing became a right that was worth fighting for, a basic right for all Canadians.  From the end of World War 2 until 1993 our national housing program built 650,000 units of affordable housing, housing 2 million Canadians to this day.  That is our legacy.

 
2.  Winnipeg and Kenora – “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”

In October I visited both Winnipeg (at the invitation of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Nursing in partnership with planners, architects and the community) and Kenora (at the invitation of Pete Sarsfield their Medical Officer of Health).  I delivered a number of speeches, attended meetings of local groups, met with aboriginal housing providers and had a first hand look at homelessness and housing solutions in each community.

Not surprisingly, both communities face their own unique issues around homelessness but they do share similarities.

 

  • Neither community has enough emergency shelter.
  • Neither has a dedicated emergency shelter for families with children.
  • Neither has a harm reduction shelter or a managed alcohol program.
  • Both have an extremely high rate of aboriginal homelessness, poverty, racism, and NIMBYism (not in my back yard).  In addition, policies of exclusion abound in each community.

However, both have unique opportunities – they have energetic communities and leaders who want to tackle the problem, they have land and they have extensive experience developing, renovating and restoring housing.  In addition,Winnipeg is home to a large inventory of mostly empty military housing on the Kapyong military base providing a ready and obvious solution.  All that’s needed is political will and support for community mobilization.  I was fortunate to be able to join an early morning picket of the Kapyong base with the Winnipeg Right to Housing Coalition.  I saw street after street of neat and tidy and empty bungalows, all being heated to prevent damage from the cold and wet.  I saw larger military buildings surrounded by green space and I could picture what could happen here if there was a ‘wind’ and I don’t mean a chinook.

Beric German, who I mentioned earlier, describes the wind we need to create in order to make things happen.  The wind that is necessary for the mobilization of people - for social change.  The wind has to stir people, it has to energize and warm people, it has to compel people to gather, to be vocal, to insist and to fight for what is right.

I describe this in more detail in one of my talks The Wind That Shakes the Barley” 

 

3.  Mr. Harper’s Calgary  

I have to qualify that I have never been to Calgary but I am keeping a close eye on it through personal contacts and the media.  I hope to visit soon to examine first-hand the housing crisis that people are up against.  It’s critical that we examine Calgary because in a relatively short period of time, more than any other community in this country, Calgary has become representative of the hotspots related to homelessness and it also includes the riding represented by Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister. 

This year Calgary’s homeless population reached 3,436 people, an increase of 32% since 2004.  Calgary ’s vacancy rate has dropped to less than 1.6 per cent and housing prices have risen dramatically.

Numbers never tell the whole story.  A number of shocking situations are unfolding.  They include a colossal shortage of shelter beds for singles.  There is a rapid growth in the number of families and children, working poor and disabled people who cannot find accommodation.  Evictions continue against those people who have been forced to sleep outside.  There is an increase in the number of homeless deaths, including more violent attacks and the murder of a homeless man.

These are huge contradictions inCanada ’s richest city.  Known as the ‘Heart of the New West’, Calgary is described as a “cosmopolitan city of more than 1 million people with breathtaking outdoor adventure in pristine wilderness.”  Yet homelessness and poverty have burst onto the scene, onto the streets and through the doors of social agencies. 

Several weeks ago a homeless man, Edward Aszbach died.  His body was found about 25 meters from a tent in a field.  He was 43 years old.  His death was a homicide.

CBC called him a street person.  The Calgary SUN - a drifter.  When I called staff at a Calgary shelter they were upset.  They had posted his picture on the walls hoping to learn more about him and what had happened.

A few days before Thanksgiving weekend, the City of Calgary evicted at least a dozen squatters from a tent city.  Meanwhile, the Calgary Drop-In Centre, which has a capacity of 1,100, has been turning away approximately 125 people a night.  That number is expected to more than double to 300 people per night now that the cold has arrived.

Calgary agencies report a frightening increase in homeless families.  There is no dedicated family shelter in Calgary.  Agencies have ‘glued’ together ‘emergency shelter beds’ through churches, synagogues, community halls and motels.  This was flagged as a crisis as early as February of this year but there was no political response.

The good news today is that more than a dozen community agencies and leaders came together to insist on action.  Senior staff from essentially all the organizations assisting homeless people were at the table.  The theme was collaboration not competition.  They met with both the City of Calgary and the Alberta government and argued this was a life and death situation requiring immediate action.  They asked the City to identify available city owned space and they approached the Board of Education for space.

The Alberta government has now allocated $1million, and the City of Calgary $.5 million, for the Winter Relief Program.  Mustard Seed will open and operate a temporary emergency shelter in a former Brick store for up to 300 people this winter.  Inn from the Cold is hoping the Calgary Board of Education will allow them to use a vacant school for families.  Media continue to responsively cover the crisis.

Emergency shelter will of course save lives but it is a band-aid.  Homes are needed, and Calgarians need an affordable housing strategy. 

Perhaps attention to the Calgary crisis will motivate Prime Minister Stephen Harper to tour the local disaster and see for himself.  If 3,436 people were homeless from a tornado, Calgarians and the rest of Canada would expect that.  We would also expect federal disaster relief monies to rehouse people.  Hopefully Mr. Harper’s government will renew ‘SCPI’ (the homeless emergency program) funding which only has 4 months left in it and ensure a federal re-engagement in a national housing programme. 

PS:  Mr. Harper in the past has represented Calgary West (1993-97 as a Reform Party member), Calgary South West (2002 to present for the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative Party). Click here to send him a message! 


4.  Blueprint to end Homelessness in
Toronto

The Wellesley Institute has launched the Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto – part of an ongoing initiative to focus on housing solutions.  The primary researcher on the project is Michael Shapcott, a long time housing advocate and TDRC co-founder.

A key component of the plan is to reverse the funding cuts and the downloading that occurred in the 1990s (federal housing cuts in 1993 and downloading starting in 1996; Ontario housing cuts in 1995 and downloading starting in 1998).

Local communities are in the best position to assess local needs and implement solutions, but they need the funding and program tools from senior levels of government.  I think it’s terrific this report was initiated at the local level.  Rather than a punitive approach to homelessness it offers an array of clear solutions, all with the critical numbers attached and the designation of responsibility.  A ward by ward mapping of units built (or not!) since the federal-provincial housing agreement in 2001 will undoubtedly dog certain politicians for years!

For more information, an e-copy of the Blueprint, the more detailed Framework document, action tips and other materials, log onto www.wellesleyinstitute.com/theblueprint

 

Cathy

 

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I plan to publish this newsletter regularly. If you receive this newsletter directly, then your address is already on our mailing list; otherwise, to subscribe or unsubscribe, send a note to crowenews@sherbourne.on.ca . For more information on my work including this and other editions of my newsletter please visit my web page at ccrowe@sherbourne.on.ca or c/o the Sherbourne Health Centre, 365 Bloor Street East, Suite 301, Toronto, ON, M4W 3L4.


 

 

 

 


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