Archive for January, 2013

Emergency Action: Cuts Cost Lives, No More Homeless Deaths!

Callout from Ontario Coalition Against Poverty:

———————
Emergency Action: Cuts Cost Lives, No More Homeless Deaths!

Friday, February 1st
12noon
Metro Hall, 55 John St. (King and John)

In the past week there have been two homeless deaths in Toronto– that
makes 36 in one year alone (that we know about)! This comes at a time when
the City of Toronto and the Province have both cut funding to homeless
prevention programs, shelters, and housing. These cuts cost lives.
Shelters are already overcrowded and there is a chronic lack of supports
and housing. Join us on Friday to demand that the City immediately release
contingency funding for shelters, reverse the cuts to shelters and
housing, make it easier for people to access the Housing Stabilization
Fund (the replacement to Community Start-Up), and stop lying to the public
about space in the shelter system and instead take action to end homeless
deaths!

**We are calling on organizations and individuals to please sign-on to the
the statement of demands to the City. This Statement is below. On Friday
we will be delivering this.

To endorse this statement and to get involved, please contact: ocap@tao.ca
/ 416-925-6939

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Health Providers Against Poverty, Aids
Action Now!
——————————

February 1, 2013
Phillip Abrahams, Acting General Manager,
Shelter, Support and Housing Administration,
Metro Hall,
55 John Street,
Toronto, ON

Dear Mr. Abrahams:
In endorsing this statement we are calling upon you to act immediately to
deal with serious inadequacies with the City`s systems for dealing with
homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.  When we say the matter
is serious, we ask you to consider that at least thirty four homeless
people died in Toronto last year and two more have perished within the
last couple of weeks.

 
We call on you to take the following steps to respond to this urgent
situation:-

1.      Immediately release the $3 million in contingency funding available to you
         to meet the shelter needs of the homeless in this City.

2.      Call upon Council to reverse the 2.9% cut to shelters put into effect
by the recent City Budget.  The worsening of the situation we are seeing
demands restoration of funding without delay.

3.      Remove several restrictions built into the new Housing Stabilization
Fund, replacing Community Start Up (CSUMB) that are clearly putting people
at risk.  Increase the amounts provided for the purchase of furniture
items, remove the provision that those who have been in institutions are
not eligible for funding if they have been in them for less than six
months.  Amend the policy to allow people to receive the benefit more
often than every two years in ‘exceptional circumstances’.  Establish a
reasonable appeal mechanism for those making applications.

4.      Instruct all who speak for your Division to stop pretending that the
amount of available shelter space is adequate to meet the needs and admit
that there is a crisis in this City.

5.      Call upon the Province to provide Toronto and other municipalities to
provide adequate funding for housing and shelter needs and to restore the
CSUMB.

This letter is being delivered to you by a delegation from the
community.  Please act upon these demands with the urgency that the
situation requires and understand that inactivity in the face of this
appalling situation cannot be tolerated any longer.

Signed,
-Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
-Health Providers Against Poverty
-Aids Action Now!

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$42 Million here, $1.4 Billion there

We won back $42 million towards a CSUMB transition to the Community Homelessness Prevention Benefit.  The funds are for this year only.  It was the many radical anti-poverty groups and their allies in the labour movement who won this.  We salute our peers, celebrate for a second, and now continue the fight.  We are aglow with the knowledge that our tactics are working.

$42 million will not demobilize us. There’s $1.4 billion of our money floating around in the corporate world. The Province is writing off $1.4 Billion in unpaid corporate taxes.  John Milloy has looked me in the eye and scolded me that “the money’s not there” for the CSUMB.  John is a liar, but its no matter because our tactics of truth, justice and love are working!

Province-wide Week of Action to Save the CSUMB – Kitchener report back

December 7-14th:  The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty called for a province-wide Week of Action. The week saw 40 + actions take place across the province. Kitchener’s Week of Action to Save the CSUMB was full and received excellent community participation, with daily happenings facilitated by Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS), the SPOT Collective, Alliance Against Poverty (AAP), the We Remember Ashley Smith campaign and Occupy Kitchener.  We employed a diverse range of approaches, including protests, meetings, sign-up clinics, leafleting, radical cheerleading and even ‘prophetic manifestations’! We had events at Minister of Community and Social Services, MPP John Milloy’s office, Regional Council, OW offices, Grand Valley Institution for Women, a youth shelter, Out of the Cold, TD Bank and Town squares.

Friday December 7th, PMUS hosted the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), to launch the Week of Action, with ‘The People’s Open House’ outside of Minister of Community and Social Services’s Kitchener constituency office.  Millloy had scheduled his own Holiday Open House for that day, but decided to cancel it when he found out that the poor were coming saying: “I didn’t want to subject my staff or constituents to that.” PMUS members are his constituents – he’d rather subject us to homelessness.

125 people (plus 6 van loads of bored tactical officers), attended with two buses coming in from Toronto.  There were speeches, music with the Blackwood Two, hot food, a street theatre production involving throwing pies in Milloy’s face (well, a life-sized photo) and, of course, hot cider and egg nog.  The People’s Open House was a celebration of resistance!

Also on December 7th, while the Peoples Open House was happening, the TD Bank in downtown Kitchener was put on controlled entrance, with a heavy police presence.  Why is this you ask?  Just for fun, on the evening of December 6th, PMUS and the SPOT postered the hydro polls in front of the bank, advertising a December 7th occupation of the bank in protest of former executive Don Drummond.  It wasn’t real and not one protester showed up, but the bank was disrupted all the same… something to think about.

The heavy police deployment at Milloy’s and the TD bank seemed to offer greater freedom to the SPOT’s Julian Ichim and his band of merry pranksters who ran amuck throughout town, never once encountering any police.  They dropped a banner inside the atrium of the OW building and disrupted the offices with speeches.  They then dropped in to see NDP Catherine Fife about the CSUMB and since Conservative MP Peter Braid’s office is next door they disrupted him for a bit too.

Saturday December 8th, PMUS and AAP attended the Common Front – We Are Ontario General Assembly in Toronto.  PMUS attended two workshops.  One workshop was a discussion about the disproportionate effect that austerity has on women and the other, led by OCAP and CUPE, was on the fight to save the CSUMB.

Monday December 10th was to be AAP’s Nativity scene action at Milloy’s.  The wonderful happening, seen by some as street theatre and by others as prophetic action, instead happened the following Monday.   Members of PMUS and the SPOT also took on roles, wearing costumes and acting out the Nativity (the traditional depiction of the night of Jesus’ birth).  And in keeping with the anti-imperial narrative, there was no room at the shelter (Milloy’s office) – they locked us out.  The angel Gabriel led Mary and Joseph to the streets for Jesus’ birth.  The wise women followed a star – the Zapatista flag – to the site and brought three gifts: Full restoration of CSUMB, full restoration of the Special Diet allowance, and full restoration of OW and ODSP (including inflation) to pre-Harris rates.  A great AAP action!

Tuesday December 11th, AAP distributed leaflets and picketed in Uptown Waterloo in the morning and earlier afternoon, before some members joined PMUS for our Radical Cheerleading action at the Regional Council Chambers.

The province is downloading the responsibility of the housing benefits onto the Regions.  While we continue to fight the Province to restore and increase the CSUMB, we must educate and push our Regional Council to do the right thing and fully fund an exact replacement in the interim.  The Regions should be at the front line of the protests to the cuts.  Some Regions have taken steps to resist the cuts and look out for their communities (Niagara, Hamilton, Sudbury and many others).  So, we cheered on the region and encouraged them with pom-poms and chants.

In the evening PMUS hosted the last of our weekly Tuesday evening CSUMB sign-up clinics at the Queen Street Commons Café.  Thanks to the Café and the Working Centre for all the great support!

Wednesday December 12th, The We Remember Ashley Smith campaign hosted a rush hour protest in front of  Grand Valley Institute for Women declaring: Prison is not a Housing Program!  Poverty is Violence Against Women! Save the CSUMB! Speeches highlighted the fact that the planned cancellation of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit on January 1st, 2013 will throw poor people further into cycles of violence, isolation, criminalization, institutionalization and incarceration:

“In particular, women who are experiencing violence in the home will have fewer options to leave safely. Women who have been incarcerated, overwhelmingly for issues related to poverty and exploitation, will face yet another barrier to transitioning back into the community without the necessary economic supports. More women will end up on the streets, facing violence in the community and at the hands of police. More women labeled or identifying as struggling with mental health will be forced into hospitals and prisons.

Being homeless, under-housed or precariously housed puts already vulnerable social assistance recipients at risk of increased police interaction. We live in a racist, misogynist, classist and ‘mad’-hating world. The police exist to protect this system.  Homelessness is linked with criminalized behaviours and homeless people are often members of criminalized communities.

Provincial funding to our Regional Police is among the highest in the Province. We also see the Grand River Hospital’s Psychiatric Unit expansion as a foreboding sign. This expansion was desired by psych consumers for sometime, but only with the cuts to OW and ODSP food and housing benefits do we see the provincial dollars, expanding the options for warehousing the nouveau-homeless.

On the other end of criminalization in a punitive system, folks absolutely require the CSUMB to re-establish themselves once being released from prison and psych units. Most people are thrown out of prison with no money and are not assisted with re-integration. OW is the primary resource for a majority of people leaving prisons. Social Assistance rates are so disgustingly low that one cannot afford to pay the mandatory last month’s rent required to gain housing. People leaving prison will be living on the streets. They will experience violence in many forms, only to again experience it at the hands of police and state, as they are rearrested and thrown into jail.”

During the protest, there was great support from passersby in the busy traffic.  Angry screws (prison guards) threatened us twice – once approaching in uniform threatening to break our cameras, but were chased away by the power of reason.  A second encounter was with a mini-van/clowncar backed with screws (prison guards) on their way home from work.  They were fully planning to kick our ass.  Do they get paid enough for this extra commitment or is Correction Service Canada just that efficient in finding violent assholes?

Thursday December 13th, Members of PMUS were honoured to be welcomed into a local youth shelter.  We spent time with a wonderful group of folks in an employment program.  The young people and the staff member held really sharp analysis!  We all shared ideas about undoing systems of power, oppressions, capitalism and poverty.  PMUS presented about the cancellation of the CSUMB and introduced a variety of protest techniques.  Then we all talked about the role of unions in society, especially their role in solidarity with the poor and never-to-be-employed.  If the world changes tomorrow, it’s our guess that these young folks played a large role!  Thanks for having us!

Friday December 14th, Occupy Kitchener hosted a protest outside of a TD Bank in Downtown Kitchener.  Occupy was continuing to highlight the ills of the Drummond Report, with its elitist power structure.  PMUS provided flyers and did some video support before a PMUS member and a friend entered the bank with a banner and did some chanting.

The banksters manufactured this economic meltdown, not overspending in social services.  PMUS did work around resisting the Drummond report, but really this is about naming and resisting the fullness of this corrupt and oppressive machine.  Then the bank (also a pillar of gentrification in the downtown core) was shut down for the day.

In the evening PMUS members offered a CSUMB sign up clinic at the Out of the Cold church.  Many filled in applications and many new connections were made. There has been a whole new energy around resistance since that night. It was our final sign-up clinic for the CSUMB and a lovely way to finish off the week of action.

The successful Week of Action came on the heels of a series of actions in Kitchener.  Since the ‘State of Emergency’ storm shelter on October 30, Milloy’s office has been shut down five times, with participants halting the function of the office, taking over phone answering, unplugging entire workstations, confronting Milloy on video and disrupting business as usual.  We also took over the foyer and front offices of Waterloo Regional Police Division One on November 24th to expose the police’s brutal role in criminalizing the poor and homeless.  The media has been largely supportive.

In addition to ongoing resistance on the streets, PMUS is engaged in considerable public education, network building, and organizing accessible forms of dissent. We’ve organized call-in days and promoted email campaigns. We’ve held weekly sign-up clinics and offered advocacy. AAP and PMUS also presented about the CSUMB to Regional Council at two separate budget hearings, on November 21st and December 5th.

We’re looking forward to the Liberal Leadership Convention on Saturday January 26th. Hundreds of buses are traveling there filled with folks ready to express their dissent.  Anti-poverty activists, unions, health care advocates, and lovers, unite in one voice: We Demand Economic Justice For All!

Brief update on Waterloo Regional budget regarding cancellation of CSUMB

We will be providing you all with a fuller update on the CSUMB “replacement” program as soon as Waterloo Regions plans for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) are decided on.  We’re told that OW caseworkers will be given trainings in upcoming weeks.

Regional Council voted on the budget on January 16th.  Sadly, they did not vote in a manner that represents care for vulnerable folks.  Despite the prominence that the issue received in the public hearings, in the end there was minimal attention paid to issues of poverty as creative-class transit issues, police budgets and gentrification captured the drifting imagination of our Council and their peers in the poverty industry.

Read an article about the vote here:

Note how Waterloo Regional Council continues to neglect the cuts to the CSUMB and too quickly conflates housing into the new discretionary model.  There is a pattern of confusion despite much public intervention.

As we’ve noted, there are not firm details yet, but what we know at this point is that the plans laid out so far are unacceptable.  Here is an outline that has been floated by the Region’s Director of Employment, Income Support and Social Services.

The failures to resist these cuts and to push for an acceptable local solution is as much the fault of the professional poverty industry as it is the fault of a docile Regional Council.  The mainstream poverty industry (after many meetings) initially drafted a letter to the Region which asked for $2 million dollars to close the gap in the funding.  Then someone had to point out to them that the Region was already considering a proposal of 2.5 million. So then these so-called ‘poverty advocates’ sought $2.5 million in additional funding.  Then, at the vote a Councilor who cares for the poor, showed them what advocacy looks like and pushed for $3 million.

The reasons that these “experts” in the poverty industry give to explain their continued collusion simply don’t add up.  They repeat the empty talking point about the need to “be at the table” – which is the most overt symbol of their choice to maintain personal vanity (and their own funding) rather than seek real change. In this process, they demonstrated that, once at the table, they will actually advocate for less money than the uninformed (and largely uninterested) Regional Council was considering!!! Another excuse given is the completely nonsensical phrase that we love to hate: the ever-confusing wish to “not be partisan” which is used to silence any opposition to any choice made by any government.  This need to “not be partisan” is used to say: ‘we just need to make do with what the powers have chosen to do’- they won’t speak out strongly and clearly against policy or cuts! Instead, they stress the importance of ‘positive messages’ and ‘constructive dialogue’, that in reality is only about the preservation of their own place within the system.  We’re talking about people whose jobs it is to advocate for the poor!  These excuses illustrate the petty desires of some people to simply be associated with systems of power.  We invite them to awaken to the power of the people.

All power to the people.

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