Canada’s brutal decade of homelessness

Two men sit on a grate in front of Old City Hall in Toronto as passers-by make their way along Queen Street.

It’s been a brutal decade for homeless people in Canada.

In Toronto alone, approximately 3,000 more people are homeless than 10 years ago.

Shelters are full across the country. There are waiting lists for family shelters. Municipalities rely on motels for homeless families. Tent encampments are no longer just found in parks in major cities, like Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park. Encampments can now be seen in London, Kingston and Peterborough.

In Toronto, tent encampments are no longer confined to the Don Valley Ravine or the Rosedale Valley. Encampments dot major thoroughfares. Tents and tarps are now high on the wish lists of outreach and shelter workers — and these supplies must be distributed surreptitiously so agencies do not lose their city funding.

In Windsor, Christine Wilson-Furlonger, a long-time outreach worker with a local outreach organization called Street Help, reports that homeless people are forced to hide in wooded areas. The city does not tolerate tent encampments. The organization’s outreach workers frequently help house families with young children when a family’s motel or shelter is cancelled.

Moncton has taken a zero tolerance policy toward tenting. The city removed an encampment this spring, displacing approximately 80 people who dispersed and are now living outside, less protected from violence or injury. Similar reports are common across the Maritimes.

Shelters face overcrowding and the new norm is a second tier of shelters with lower standards. In Toronto, these second tier sites are called 24-hour respite sites; some are in Sprung bubble dome structures that shelter people in conditions that resemble post-disaster scenarios. Deadly new disease outbreaks, such as Group A strep, have emerged in shelters. Meanwhile, bedbugs and lice have re-emerged with a vengeance.

New efforts to protect lives, like a teepee in Winnipeg and an army tent on church property in London, have been met with backlash from neighbours.


Pastor Dan Morand and his Urban Haven Project have erected two heated tents in the backyard of Beth Emanuel Church where they planned to run a winter shelter for homeless men. Complaints fpllowed. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

The number of communities without warming centres — notably Winnipeg, despite the efforts of activist Nancy Chippendale — is shocking, especially given new research that shows the impact of hypothermia and death at more moderate winter temperatures.

Ottawa cleared an encampment this year, despite the encampment receiving support from Leilani Farha, the United Nations rapporteur on the right to housing, and Alex Neve of Amnesty International. That eviction, ironically, took place a day after Ms. Farha left Ottawa for a Toronto speaking engagement.

The year ended in Toronto with 995 names on the Toronto Homeless Memorial. At the annual memorial on January 14, the list will hold more than 1,000 names.

Is there any hope on the political or advocacy front?

In December, Ottawa Councillor Catherine McKenney started a petition to declare an affordable housing and homelessness emergency, which she plans to present to council in early 2020.

In November, the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, a network of activists in Toronto, launched a petition letter to Mayor John Tory, demanding the mayor declare the city’s homelessness crisis an emergency. It has surpassed 20,000 signatures and is still growing. Toronto city council responded to this advocacy effort with a three-page motion, using the word “emergency” but failing to take action: “City Council recognize that homelessness in Toronto is an ongoing critical and emergency issue requiring the Provincial and Federal Governments to commit on an expedited basis to build on the initiatives the city has taken to date.”

Toronto has still yet to take any real action on homelessness. The city has not opened more warming centres, nor have city leaders put an end to the removal of outdoor encampments or invited the Red Cross to assist with warming centre operations.

In the absence of a fully funded national housing program, recovery-oriented models have failed. In 2020, community members and activist groups will need to push Canada’s municipalities to declare an emergency and take real action. SOURCE

The left must stand against capitalism. Now.

Andray Domise: People who hold left-leaning ideals have to quit kidding themselves by believing that capitalism exists as a benevolent or even neutral social arrangement

Time for the left to quit capitalism

Norms are so warped that being forced to live in an RV is an accepted consequence of rising city rents (Photograph by Jen Osborne)

Late last year, I got an unusual request. A person identifying themselves as an environmental activist sent me a direct message asking if I would recommend a few books, as the organization they worked with was having trouble connecting its protest movement with the working class, especially people of colour. They were specifically looking for books related to decolonization, and after a few recommendations, I suggested they consider reading through the Communist Manifesto to see if any passages regarding exploitation leaped out.

They thanked me for the suggestion, but as for that brief volume by Marx and Engels, the response was this: “I don’t want to scare them off.”

If a group of activists can be “scared off” by a nearly 200-year-old critique of capitalism, while the externalities of capitalism itself pollute oceans with plastic, fill the air with smog and accelerate climate change via carbon emissions, something is terribly wrong.

READ: Naomi Klein on ‘disaster capitalism’ in Puerto Rico

There’s no way around a simple reality for people who consider themselves to be on the left side of the political spectrum, the people who strive for widespread and radical, if not revolutionary, change—we’re getting our tails kicked. There’s no putting an end to that if people who hold left-leaning ideals cannot quit kidding themselves by believing that capitalism exists as a benevolent or even neutral social arrangement. If the left intends to win these fights, it must also stand in principled opposition to capitalism. 2020 is the year to do it.

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” goes an observation by, depending on your sources, either Fredric Jameson or Slavoj Žižek. And the frightening thing is, not only does the world’s end become easier to imagine with each passing day, there is also a politically active bloc that intends to keep squeezing profits until the music stops.

Only a few months ago, Joe Oliver, once Canada’s minister of natural resources before assuming the federal finance portfolio, penned a column in the Financial Post extolling the possible benefits of climate change to Canadians. “Assuming a one-degree Celsius temperature rise,” Oliver wrote, “[bond rating agency] Moody’s calculates that our economy would be unaffected in 2048. A rise of 2.4 degrees would increase GDP by 0.1 per cent and four degrees would boost it by 0.3 per cent.” The benefit to farming, Oliver went on to say, is that the resultant permafrost retreat would—not could, but would—massively expand Canada’s arable land, and open up farming opportunities.

READ: The Left is constantly trying to out-woke itself. That’s a problem.

Not one word about the resultant cost to human life in countries hardest hit by climate change, nothing in the column about the massive outpouring of climate refugees in Oliver’s scenario. Just the profit motive.

Environmental policy is not the only one where norms have become warped to the point of immorality. In Toronto, where nearly half of renters are paying costs categorized by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as “unaffordable,” it can take between two and 14 years to be placed into social housing. The situation is equally dire in Vancouver, where rising rents force tenants into recreational vehicles, and then the eventual possibility of being kicked out of RV camps en masse.

How does the federal government address any of this? By offering financial assistance and incentives to bolster people with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars stashed away to buy a home. Which of course helps the real estate industry, helps mortgage lenders, and does nothing for people pressed ever further into the reaches of poverty. Condo towers sprout up all along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and tent cities underneath it are bulldozed, while the earth continues to pirouette carelessly on its axis.

What has capitalism given us in return? An economic environment in which multinational enterprises, according to Statistics Canada, compose 0.8 per cent of Canadian companies yet own 67 per cent of all assets. And income inequality, according to the Institute for Research on Public Policy, has been increasing for the past 40 years. With near-limitless amounts of private capital aligned against the interests of working-class people, nothing short of an organized, large-scale resistance will put the brakes on these trends.

Our political, business and media class would like nothing more than to pretend that these are natural outcomes, that none of it is avoidable, and that the world is and always has been shaped according to the capricious whims of that unknowable free market.

But the truth of the matter is this: 58 per cent of Canadians have a favourable view of socialism, and 77 per cent of us believe the world is facing a climate emergency. Most Canadians find income inequality to be fundamentally un-Canadian, and there are, numerically, more of us than there are bankers, landlords, brokers and executives put together. The only way for the left to win this fight is for its political vision to expand beyond capitalism, and to capture the widespread desire to move on from its exploitative limits.

We’ve lived in that world for long enough. Time for it to end. SOURCE

 

Mayor Tory: Declare Homelessness An Emergency To Prevent More Deaths And Suffering

This past month there have been eight reported homeless deaths in the City of Toronto.

This past month there have been eight reported homeless deaths in the City of Toronto.

The City has failed to shelter the most vulnerable. All seven Respite Centres are full, the two 24-hour women’s drop-ins and the Out of the Cold program are over capacity on many nights. The Assessment and Referral Centre on Peter Street is unable to operate as a referral centre as there are insufficient beds in the system.

Instead, fifty people sleep in chairs there each night. They are the lucky ones. Hundreds upon hundreds of people are forced to sleep outside due to failed shelter and housing policies. They are in grave danger. Their precarious situation has been exacerbated by the onslaught of an early winter leaving them completely exposed and vulnerable.

A walk through the city confirms what front-line workers are telling us: there have never been this many people sleeping in our streets and parks before. The number of beds the City plans to bring on-line will not be sufficient to accommodate those in need. Furthermore, during an Extreme Cold Weather Alert there is only one Warming Centre that sleeps 50 people for the entire City.

In order to prevent more deaths and suffering, we request that you enact the City of Toronto Emergency Plan immediately.  

WHY THE CITY OF TORONTO EMERGENCY PLAN IS THE ONLY RESPONSE

The aim of the City of Toronto Emergency Plan is to provide the framework for extraordinary arrangements and measures that can be taken to protect the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the City of Toronto. It would allow the Mayor to:

1. Make a formal statement declaring that homelessness and the social housing situation are an emergency necessitating immediate action.
2. Request help from the Federal and Provincial governments for funding and resources necessary to deal with this deadly crisis.
3. Establish an Emergency Task Force from relevant departments at the City, including Public Health; Shelter, Support and Housing Administration; Emergency Management; Real Estate; Parks, Forestry and Recreation; for the purpose of resolving issues related to the crisis.
4. Create a Building Team from all three levels of government that would identify vacant buildings owned by the City, Federal and Provincial governments that can be used to immediately shelter the hundreds who are homeless.
5. Redeploy staff from various City departments to implement the decisions of the
Emergency Task Force and to provide support at respite sites, warming centres, and overnight drop-ins.
6. Invite the Red Cross to assist with emergency respite and warming centre operations, as they did in the winter of 2017-2018.
7. Move the only Warming Centre that currently operates in a hallway at Metro Hall, to a more accessible and spacious site.
8. Create four to six additional Warming Centres throughout Toronto that would allow people to easily access them.
9. Improve the safety and health outcomes in all Respite Centres that have 100 or more people staying in them by reducing capacity by one third.
10. Fast track a 4th Sprung Structure.
11. Implement the recommendations of the Faulkner Inquest, including the distribution of survival equipment and supplies (sleeping bags, fire retardant blankets, safe heat sources) to people who are living outside. Tents must be added to this list. Fund additional outreach teams to distribute these items.
12. Impose a moratorium on evictions of people living in all public spaces, including parks, ravines, and encampments.
13. Impose a moratorium on the removal of all encampments.
14. Create an emergency rent supplement program to prioritize the housing of vulnerable people including seniors and those with disabilities.
15. Allow the Building Team to devise and implement a strategy for the creation of 2,000 permanent shelter beds.
16. Allow the Building Team to devise and implement a five-year strategy for the building of transitional, supportive and rent-geared-to-income (RGI) social housing.
17. Expropriate buildings, left unused and vacant by owners, for immediate conversion to RGI social housing such as single room dwellings or transitional housing.
18. Extend the timeframe of all emergency shelters and Respite Centres so they operate year-round.
19. Create one hundred beds to replace those lost when the Out of the Cold program shuts down in April.

We believe that homelessness needs to be declared as a state of emergency in the City of Toronto. We have witnessed homelessness increase in recent years and the municipal response has proved to be totally inadequate. Lives are at stake.

SIGN THE PETITION: Toronto affordable housing and homeless crisis

 

 

Mayor John Tory pitches substantial property tax increase to fund transit and housing projects

Forged in Fire: California’s Lessons for a Green New Deal

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo, flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif. A federal hazard tree-removal program will remove destroyed trees from last year's deadly Camp Fire that remain on private property and could fall on public roads and facilities. But the Chico Enterprise-Record reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency program will not take down trees that could fall on homes. Some arborists have estimated there are half a million to a million burned trees remaining from the fire that wiped out 14,000 homes and killed 85 last November. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018. Photo: Noah Berger/AP

WE WERE JUST TAKING PICTURES. Of the ash, stray bricks, and weeds. Of twisted metal and charred patio furniture. Of the pine trees still standing on the edge of the lots, their towering trunks now charcoal black. Of the lonely white brick fireplace in the middle of it all, the only surviving structure, metal pokers hanging expectantly by the grate.

“Get the hell off my property!”

The words came bellowing from a burly man who had just pulled up to the pile of ash that once was his home in Paradise, California. As he shouted a litany of complaints, it became clear that his rage wasn’t only reserved for us trespassers — and there have been plenty who have gone to Paradise to gaze at the eerie emptiness where a thriving community once stood, before it was decimated by California’s deadliest fire one year ago.

The target was myriad forces that had conspired to twist the knife, again and again, on his already wrenching property loss — from the insurance company that wouldn’t pay up, to the county that wouldn’t let him clean up, to the state that wanted his (now contaminated) well to be sealed up. His rage was also directed at the absence of decent temporary housing for fire victims like him, not to mention the electric utility that had started the blaze and was still evading responsibility.

When the complaints petered out, I approached the man to introduce myself and apologize for our intrusion. But as I got closer, I felt his volatility: I have been in many disaster-struck communities and know how quickly the gale-force of emotion these events churn up can direct itself at the closest available target. We wished him luck and left.

The encounter was a reminder of the kind of stress that is in the air in the parts of California recently scorched by fire, as well as in the communities that have welcomed thousands of newly homeless neighbors to towns now bursting at the seams. The intersecting hardships experienced by so many in the region also explain why, days before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Camp Fire that burned down Paradise and killed 86 people, local politicians in neighboring Chico unveiled a plan calling for the small city to adopt its own Green New Deal.

Like its national inspiration, the Chico Green New Deal framework marries rapid decarbonization targets with calls for more affordable housing; a safe and sustainable food system; investments in “clean, 21st century” public transit; green jobs creation, including projects earmarked for the poorest residents; and much more.

Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy.

“Your city council has heard the call of its community that has resounded locally and across the nation,” said Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown when the plan was announced. “We are choosing to walk the walk of this movement and to take the leadership being demanded of us.” In an interview, Brown told me that the Camp Fire’s impact on both Paradise and Chico was a glimpse of the future unless action is taken to both radically lower emissions and build “communities that are more resilient to these shifts.” Brown is well aware that a small city like hers isn’t going to make much of a dent in global emissions. But, she said, “We can demonstrate what a Green New Deal looks like at the local level.

The Chico plan is one of many similar local initiatives that have sprung up in the year since the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with young demonstrators demanding that the Democratic Party embrace a sweeping Green New Deal to meet the twin crises of climate disruption and deepening inequality. Since then, as the Green New Deal proposal has picked up momentum in the Democratic primaries, several states and big cities have unveiled their own frameworks, including Maine and Seattle, where city council recently passed a resolution that included the city’s most ambitious climate justice targets to date. It also pledged to create an oversight board to hold the city to its commitments, a body that will be made up of representatives from communities directly impacted by racial, economic, and environmental injustice, as well as climate experts and representatives from trade unions and green groups.

And yet the contribution now coming from humble Chico — a scrappy northern California college town with a population of approximately 100,000 — may be the most politically significant. Because the Chico Green New Deal is based directly on this region’s hard-won experience of living through the 2018 inferno; it was forged, quite literally, in fire.

Ever since the Green New Deal landed on the political map, liberals have attacked it for its supposedly impractical scope and ambition. Fighting poverty, racism, and homelessness are worthy goals, we have been told — but what do they have to do with lowering greenhouse gas emissions? Surely a carbon-centric approach — like a simple tax or cap-and-trade and some narrow regulations on polluters — would be more likely to succeed. And besides, connecting greenhouse-gas reductions with building a fairer society just confirms Republican beliefs that climate change is a vast left-wing plot: Better to focus exclusively on pollution and worry about the rest down the road. Conservative Chico city council members have gone on the offensive against the Green New Deal with precisely this kind of attack.

PARADISE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire October 21, 2019 in Paradise, California. It has been one year since the the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise, California charring over 150,000 acres, killed 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 homes and businesses. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An aerial view of a destroyed neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2019, one year after the Camp Fire. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Yet Chico’s lived experience over the past year is a devastating rebuke to this line of criticism. As the community that housed the vast majority of people displaced by the Camp Fire, Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy, one that is willing to make major nonmarket investments in housing, transit, health (including mental health), water, electricity, and more. MORE

Doug Ford’s Changes to Social Assistance Will Push Ontarians Into Homelessness, Service Providers Warn

2019-08-10_thumb

Ford government billed its changes as ‘compassionate’

As Doug Ford’s government gets ready to overhaul social assistance programs, Ontario service providers are warning Ford’s changes, billed as “compassionate,” could force many recipients into homelessness.

Ford’s plan to cancel the Transition Child Benefit and raise assistance clawbacks has already drawn the ire of many service providers.

Earlier this year, Toronto City Manager Chris Murray wrote in a note to city council that Ford’s cuts will increase the strain on municipal services, including its family shelter system. Similar concerns were raised by social service managers in WaterlooLondon and Windsor.

The HIV & AIDS Legal Network Ontario — which provides legal support to many Ontarians with disabilities — has noted average recipients of both Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support program will be poorer once eligibility is recalculated.

Under the new rules, Ontario Works recipients will only be able to keep up to $300 of net earned income each month, while ODSP recipients will only be able to keep up to $6,000 per year — every dollar recipients earn beyond those targets will reduce assistance by 75%.

HALCO community legal worker Jill McNall said “the new rules will mean that many people on OW/ODSP who work will be poorer than they were before.”

“Many will be below any credible poverty line,” McNall told PressProgress. “They will be at risk of homelessness.” MORE

VANCOUVER B.C. says modular housing is working — here’s what it will look like in Maple Ridge

MAPLE RIDGE, B.C.—With the latest phase of a controversial modular housing project set to open in Maple Ridge, B.C. Housing says newly released statistics show the province’s “housing first” strategy is working.

The new numbers, released Tuesday, are based on surveys at the first seven supportive modular housing projects in Vancouver and Surrey.

The surveys of those living in the Vancouver and Surrey modular housing, though, has found the vast majority — 94 per cent — of them remained housed after six months.

Eighty-four per cent said the housing had improved their overall well-being, and more than half said their physical health had improved.

“As you can see, it’s making a difference in people’s lives,” B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson told Star Vancouver.

“By bringing people inside, helping them stabilize their health and have some safety, they are better able to focus on their other issues, whether that’s addictions issues or mental health,” Robinson said.

The statistics come as the province prepares to unveil its latest supportive modular housing development on Burnet Street in Maple Ridge.

Star Vancouver was given an advance copy of the report and a tour of the new building on Monday. It includes 51 individual units, each with its own washroom, kitchenette, full-sized fridge and an air conditioning unit.

Like the existing modular housing project on Maple Ridge’s Royal Crescent, the Burnet Street site includes a lounge area with a flat-screen TV, an overdose prevention room and an industrial kitchen that will serve meals at breakfast and dinner

It will also have wraparound services for residents, including outreach workers, wellness checks, life-skills training, employment programs and referrals to community services and support groups. Sixteen on-site support workers from Coast Mental Health will help provide referrals to Fraser Health for treatment and other clinical services.

The only substantial difference between the two sites is that units at the Burnet Street location are substantially larger than those at the Royal Crescent site. MORE

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‘Nowhere to go.’ Iqaluit homeless stay in shacks, old boats amid housing crisis


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, takes part in an announcement with Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Friday, Aug 2, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

Nushupiq Kilabuk wakes up every day in a shack on the shores Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit with only a lantern and a camping stove to keep him warm — but he says he’s one of the lucky ones.

Next to his shack, which he built himself a little over four years ago, there are two abandoned boats. One is a wooden fishing boat with a small front cabin, the other, an overturned canoe. Inside the fishing boat are sleeping bags and a jerrycan. Underneath the overturned canoe is a mat and an empty packet of cigarettes.

People have been sleeping in and under these boats at night — often several people crowded together to escape the elements.

That’s why Kilabuk believes he’s fortunate for his shack.

“I thank God for the abundance of what I have. But the people around me that are sleeping around in the boats … I have warmth. I’m lucky. I feel bad for them,” he said Friday.

“But I feel bad for myself too because I don’t have an apartment or running water or power.”

Kilabuk is one of many homeless Inuit living in dilapidated shacks along Frobisher Bay. Some are families with small children. Some are elders. Some, like Kilabuk, do have jobs and incomes, but simply cannot afford the steep rents for homes and apartments.

A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report published last year found the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Iqaluit was $2,648 in 2017.

There is also a major shortage of housing across the vast territory of Nunavut.

The federal government estimates Nunavut needs more than 3,000 units to meet its current housing demand, with over 4,900 individuals on waiting lists.

That’s why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was keen to call a media conference during his two-day visit to the territory to announce a new housing agreement with Nunavut.

It will provide $290 million over eight years to “protect, renew and expand” social and community housing, as well as repair and build affordable homes across the territory.

“We recognize that this is a big step forward that is going to make a huge difference in creating thousands of homes and we know this is really going to make a tangible impact in the lives of people here in the North,” Trudeau said in Iqaluit.

The newly allocated money will flow to the territory under the Trudeau government’s previously announced, decade-long national housing strategy.

“A few of them have no other choice than to commit a crime and go to jail for the winter. They get themselves a criminal record just to stay in a warm place in the winter.”

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern stood next to Trudeau and expressed gratitude for the federal cash — but both also noted that more is needed.

“It is a housing crisis,” Savikataaq said. MORE

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