State of Emergency Declared at Office of MPP John Milloy – action recap

October 30th, 2012   Local KW anti-poverty organizers from Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS), along with allies from the Alliance Against Poverty (AAP), and other community activists set up an emergency storm shelter at the office of Kitchener MPP and Minister of Community and Social Services John Milloy.  The action was a direct community response to the crisis that cuts to the CSUMB will mean for those struggling to survive on OW and ODSP in this province.  The austerity agenda of the current government is pushing our communities further into a ‘state of emergency’. PMUS was sending a message to Milloy that Hurricane Sandy may have passed but as the poor in Ontario and their allies rise up to fight these cuts, the real storm is just beginning.


“So we can mobilize energies and resources to fight a storm, but doing anything real to address poverty is out of our hands?” asked the AAP’s Rev. Oz Cole-Arnal. “John [Milloy] keeps talking about difficult decisions that have to be made.  Difficult for whom? It seems to me that, when you get down to it, it only ever really means difficult for the poor.”

With beds, emergency supplies, and signs, activists quickly got to work setting up a shelter in the office, preparing to welcome the many people being failed by current government policies. The lack of affordable housing options, devastatingly low OW and ODSP rates, and cuts to the Special Diet, CSUMB and other ‘discretionary benefits’, make life on social assistance increasingly unbearable.

“This government is clearly not interested in taking real steps to address the needs of our communities.  So we’ll just have to find creative ways to take care of ourselves and others.  We have already paid first and last month’s rent on this place – a thousand times over”, argued Poverty Makes Us Sick’s Ian Stumpf.  “So, in the face of these cuts, we’ll have to move in.  With the cuts to the CSUMB, we sure won’t be able to afford anywhere else.”  Alison Murray, also of PMUS added “At least we know they’ll never cut off the hydro here, no matter how much misspending this government does on its various scandals and tax cuts for the rich”.

Milloy’s staff tried to force the group into the typical ‘cat and mouse’ narrative of politicians and activists, with the staple “ok, we’ve heard your point, we’ve received your letter, isn’t democracy wonderful?, now please go away”, to which Stumpf responded “We’re not making a point, we’re making a shelter. This is not a photo op” (although tv and print media did, in fact, show up to cover the action).

When staff offered to organize yet another meeting with Milloy, Alison Murray responded, “We’ve talked to John, we’ve met with John, he’s heard what we have to say.  This is a line in the sand, we won’t let the government’s cuts to the CSUMB go forward.”

John Milloy made a brief appearance, just long enough for his own photo op with local news and to re-state his ‘satisfaction’ with the ‘regrettable-but-necessary’ cuts, again using the language of austerity to cloak the anti-poor agenda of his government.  Milloy tried to explain that he is not so much cutting the CSUMB as he is infusing cash into the discretionary funds of municipalities.  These lazy, transparent talking points were easily dispensed with by members of PMUS.  It did seem that this interaction peaked the curiosity of office staff, however, who later appeared much less confident in their assurances of the compassion of their boss’ agenda.

Milloy was clearly shocked to be called out for his lies, and that his “I feel your pain” rhetoric did not win over the crowd, but, looking like a well-dressed deer in headlights, did not offer any retort. Remember, this is the same guy who called the cuts to the CSUMB ‘quite exciting’ in a recent interview with the Record.


After Milloy fled the scene, staff learned more about the realities of the cuts.  After being walked through the points, silence befell them.  Stumpf asked: “So you see just how easy it will be for us to demonstrate this to the public?” and was again met with a knowing silence.

Ultimately, the police were called and the occupiers were forced to leave.  Just in time, in fact, for other important work to begin – facilitating a CSUMB sign- up clinic in downtown Kitchener this evening to ensure that everyone who needs this vital benefit gets it before it is stolen away.  Mattresses and other supplies were left behind for future ‘guests’ – no reservation required.

Emergency storm shelter set up at Minister of Misery John Milloy’s office in Kitchener

Here is the press release that went out to the mainstream media this afternoon.  Updates and pictures to follow.  PMUS is currently hosting a CSUMB sign-up clinic and will share details of today’s event after that wraps up for the evening.

THREATENED CUTS TO THE COMMUNITY START UP AND MAINTENANCE BENEFIT (CSUMB) ARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY

An emergency storm shelter was set up today in the constituency office of MPP John Milloy, Minister of Community and Social Services. Concerned community members, associated with Poverty Makes Us Sick, the Alliance Against Poverty and Common Cause KW, entered the office at 2:30 ready with mattresses, a first aid kit, flashlights and other equipment. John Milloy was not in on the plan, however.  Alison Murray of Poverty Makes Us Sick explained: “With the proposed cancellation of Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), creative solutions for housing and shelter are needed.  The recent storm warnings highlight the vulnerability of people who are under-housed.”

The police were eventually called.  Poverty Makes Us Sick needed to leave to host their weekly CSUMB sign up clinics, Tuesdays from 6-7pm at Queen Street Commons. Shelter supplies were left behind for future use.  Participants say that the peaceful action was a sincere effort to create a shelter and that it was also an attempt to illustrate the distopian realities that, they say, await us all if these cuts go through as planned. Phil Diceanu explains, “The cuts of the CSUMB will cause wide reaching and long lasting damage to people and communities in Waterloo region, where quality and affordable housing is in high demand.”

With 16,000 people across Ontario accessing this homelessness prevention benefit each month, the planned cancellation of the CSUMB has been decried by unions such as CUPE and anti-poverty advocates alike.  Social assistance recipients, perhaps, have no better allies than municipal governments, who have been tasked with picking up the slack after the cuts.  Municipalities across the province have spoken against the cuts, with many facing their own deficits and unable to take on the great responsibility of keeping people housed.  On July 12, 2012,  Metronews.ca reported:

David Dirks, director of social services, employment and income support with the Region of Waterloo, said the cuts mean a massive shortfall. Right now, about 17,000 people in the region are assisted through Ontario Works. Last year, the region issued $2.33 million for the startup and maintenance benefit, which is cost-shared with the province. The region’s share was about $400,000.  “This has significant impacts,” Dirks said. Combined with changes to the discretionary benefits program, for things such as medical expenses, Dirks said the region would have a multi-million dollar shortfall next year for Ontario Works and disability.

Niagara Region has taken steps to refuse to accept the cuts, while the City of Kawartha Lakes council has decided to take on the full burden of the new expense to keep their people housed and living in safety.

“The cancellation of the CSUMB comes at a time of transition in KW.  We see rapid gentrification with landlords turning on their low-income tenants to pursue the big pay-offs of selling to developers” says Reverend Oz Cole-Arnal of the Alliance Against Poverty.

Ian Stumpf of Poverty Makes Us Sick, paints a grim portrait of a cash-strapped municipality: “Property taxes were raised 1.4% in the recent municipal budget with all of that money going into the growing police budget. The province had plenty of cash for the new mega-courthouse that dominates our skyline.  So, we have to ask, is prison the new homelessness prevention program?  Is the mega-courthouse the new case worker?”

Sandy may have passed us over, but another storm is brewing.

——————-
For background on the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) see our previous blog post.

COMMUNITY START UP AND MAINTAINANCE BENEFIT

The Ontario budget for 2012 calls for the cancellation of the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit and the Home Repairs Benefit (CSUMB).  The cuts are scheduled to take effect in January 2013.

Cutting these vital benefits will ensure that many people are thrown into an endless cycle of poverty, violence, houselessness, isolation and institutionalization.

The cuts will have a devastating impact on the nearly 900,000 people living in Ontario who currently rely on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) for their incomes.  OW and ODSP currently offer despicably low monthly rates, already far below the poverty line.

Most people living on OW and ODSP are renters. CSUMB, sometimes called simply CSU, provides funds of up to $800 once every two years, for people on OW and ODSP to maintain their housing. Essentially, this is a homelessness prevention benefit.  It is also about offering people the necessary economic mobility required to keep themselves, and their children, in safe living conditions.

It helps people pay for things like first and last month’s rent deposits. It helps people buy or replace furniture. It helps people put down deposits on utilities or pay overdue utility bills.  The loss of CSUMB will hurt many people who otherwise cannot afford these expenses. OW and ODSP incomes do not allow any wiggle room for one to save for the costs that the CSUMB currently covers.

People on assistance are already getting free bus tickets from churches to get to the food bank.  No one is saving up first and last month’s rent!!

The people who will be hurt by these cuts include:

women and young people who are fleeing violence where they live or are trying to move from transition shelters into permanent homes after experiencing domestic violence. Denying people access to mobility is nothing short of complicity in gendered violence, which is systemic in our society.

–  people trying to move from shelters into permanent homes.

people transitioning from prison into society.  Without the ability to pay first and last month’s rent, as is mandatory for renters, those who our government has imprisoned will be likely to be re-arrested for issues associated with houselessness such as failing to report to parole or probation officers, living without a fixed address, or being forced to steal food and clothes.

people leaving psychiatric units.  Someone on OW who is forcefully abducted and locked in a Psych Unit might not be allowed or able to submit their monthly report card to OW. Even though there are social workers employed by the hospital who ought to see to this, they never do – ever.  When OW reports aren’t submitted, a recipient is placed on suspension and can lose their coverage through OW.   Certainly in the case of an extended stay a consumer will have little to no financial supports.  Even if they are signed up before they are discharged they will not have enough to pay first and last month’s rent, let alone pay for food and transportation

(new) parents who need to move into a living situation that the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) will not deem unsafe.

people dealing with unhealthy barriers to an adequate quality of life, such as bedbug infestations or mold.

people who cannot afford the rising cost of energy.

Currently, about 16,000 Ontarians rely on these benefits each month.

Municipalities across Ontario are very concerned about the loss of these two benefits, as well as the cap that the 2012 budget puts on discretionary health-related benefits.

We call on housing workers, community legal clinic caseworkers, and others who support people living in poverty on OW and ODSP to act to protect these programs, and to not merely express concern that these cuts will result in more hardship, more desperation, and in fact more homelessness among people on assistance.

On June 4th, seven First Nations communities from the North Shore of Lake Huron held a rally against these cuts held at Queen’s Park.  They have since protested in Sudbury as well.

OCAP is coordinating a province-wide response to these cuts.

Poverty Makes Us Sick is hosting an info night, including a core organizer with OCAP, on Tuesday July 11th at the Queen St. Commons Café in Kitchener from 7-9pm.

Action will follow.

More Blatant Disregard for Workers

Members of Poverty Makes Us Sick are involved with the Tri-Cities Zellers Employee Solidarity Coalition (TCZESC). Please link to the TCZESC by clicking here.

In Kitchener/Waterloo, on Wednesday June 6th, two Zellers Stores closed forever.  The Stanley Park Mall and Bridgeport Plaza locations will reopen as Wal-mart.  None of the front line workers have been offered jobs*, or offered any preference for re-hire, by Wal-mart.  The employees are welcome to apply like anyone else.  We hope that their skills and experience will be valued.

We offer our love and support to all those who have lost their jobs.

Zellers is owned by HBC. Tiffany Bourre, HBC’s external communications manager says that “an average [Zellers] location has 100 employees…”. A few Zellers employees from these two locations have received transfers to other Zellers locations, but this is rare and most folks are losing their jobs.  According to Bourre’s statement, up to 500 people from our community may lose their jobs if Target decides to claim its contractual option on all five Zellers stores in the Tri-Cities.  In addition to the two stores that closed today, two others are scheduled to close in 2013. There is no official word on the 5th store yet.

Unemployment is devastating even in a healthy job market, but during this time of high unemployment, recession and cuts to vital social services, the loss of these jobs will prove especially challenging.

Tiffany Bourre also says that the employees affected will be offered what she termed “career transition and support services”. Bourré said, an online program will offer tips on resume writing, interview skills and professional development.  We call this bullshit.  We are happy if these resources helped folks right resumes (God knows we forget how!), but it’s insulting to the workers that this fluff is even named as support.  It’s insulting to us all that corporations think that they fool us so easily and find us so docile!

PMUS has typically acted locally with a focus on provincial policies affecting poverty.  While we have always maintained an analysis that is globally-minded, we are now expanding our work to include the necessary fights at the federal level, such as the detrimental changes being proposed to the Employment Insurance (EI) system and the despicable workfare initiatives aimed at indigenous people living on reserve.

Not all Zellers employees are even eligible for EI.  Some of the laid off employees will likely require access to Ontario Works (OW). As PMUS and its allies have been arguing for years, the inhumanely low, sub-poverty rates paid out by OW are not enough to buy healthy food, pay hydro and afford rent or mortgage.  No one should have to survive on these inadequate rates.

The TCZESC hopes to see employment maintained for those workers who seek it and seeks to foster worker-led mobilization.

Jobs and respect for those who have worked hard for Zellers and our community!

Visit the TCZESC blog at zellersemployeesolidaritycoalitiontricities.wordpress.com, email tczesc@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/events/373156966066951/ for more information.

*Originally the available information suggested that no employees would be maintaining employment with Walmart or Target without re-applying, but we have seen evidence in the conduct of some, at one of the locations, to suggest that they may have a greater sense of allegiance to Walmart than to their current employees.  That is, we were aggressively removed from the store by one Zellers employee on his second last day of work, because a really wealthy-looking guy in a fancy suit told him to throw us out as we were distributing invitations to an info night for laid-off employees. The guy who threw us out had some sort of middle management vibe. He acted aloof when asked if he was also losing his job.  He refused to answer. At the other location that was also closing we were treated well, like a human being ought to be treated.

Mayday

Mayday Marchers leaving Victoria park. photo: dk, http://yfrog.com/odhwmcej

Last week, Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS) took part in May Day celebrations in Kitchener and it was wonderful! From what we can gather, this was Kitchener’s first community mobilization to observe May Day since 2006. May Day, or International Workers’ Day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Workers%27_Day) is celebrated all over the planet. Our community offered a kid-friendly space for a majority of the day’s events as we came together to reclaim public space and share our collective desire for a better world – one of dignity and justice for all!

The day began with a creative resistance festival at Victoria Park. There was a delicious potluck spread, including black cupcakes with wicks or fuses (more on that later). There was hula-hoop, poi, and a stereo kicking out the jams. Richard Garvey led a radical choir sing-along. Local folks had printed up a zine that served as the day’s program that included a number of traditional and locally-penned protest anthems. We sang those songs as a healing, community-building exercise and also warmed up for singing those songs during our march and rally. PMUS facilitated a children’s activity of planting organic seeds in biodegradable planters. We talked about sustainability, poverty, access to healthy food, sharing and labour as we had fun planting with the youngsters (and some interested grown-ups too). Julian Ichim led a ‘know your rights workshop’ discussing possible scenarios related to interactions with police.

Next, participants gathered for a vigil, commemorating workers from our own region who have died or been injured on the job in the past year. PMUS facilitated the memorial, delivering a speech and reading the names of some of the workers who have died, including John Luis Cantunto (killed in a construction accident in Kitchener) and the 10 temporary foreign workers from Peru (and the driver from London, ON) who died in a van accident on their way to work near Stratford. A member of the local Common Cause chapter read more names and reminded us of the Haymarket massacre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haymarket_affair. A man stepped forward to remember his father who had passed away. Then we shared a moment of silence. It was important to centre ourselves before we marched.

Then we marched!! We marched for over 3.5 km, basically making our way throughout the entire the downtown core. A van followed along for accessibility. We marched through an East End neighbourhood, largely populated by the working poor—that is in the early stages of gentrification. Residents greeted us, joined in, and wished us well. Throughout the march we were escorted by about 15 cops on bicycles, horses and in a van. Participants spoke against this presence within a framework of class and capital. Three Christians used large wooden crosses to box in the mounted police as a protective measure for march participants. At a previous rally on March 31st, the police had deliberately run the horses into a group of protestors. The mounted police then kept a greater distance. Speeches were given at a subsidized housing complex and local musician Richard Garvey performed his song “The Walls Will All Fall Down” in front of the $766 million Mega Courthouse currently under construction. A local activist later gave an excellent speech in front of one of the many payday loan agencies lining Kitchener’s downtown, denouncing this destructive local form of disaster capitalism. Posters were taped to the stores windows. A PMUS member spoke in front of a newer cupcake shop across the street from the local community soup kitchen, St. John’s Kitchen, as the rest of the march held the intersection. The crowd learned that trendy cupcake shops serve as clear markers of gentrification, catering to newly arrived students, professionals and urban elites and encroaching on traditional downtown communities. There was a plan to enter a TD bank and cause disruption, but they had evidently decided to close down early for the day! That made things easy and we were happy to assist in the workers’ ability to celebrate May Day. Then there was a bad-ass banner drop at city hall, where four banners, including a PMUS banner and a No One Is Illegal banner, transformed the space. A member of Poverty Makes Us Sick gave a passionate speech on issues of economic injustice, especially as they play out provincially.

Mayday Banner Drop, Kitchener City Hall

The march ended with a rally at Speaker’s Corner. The Black Wood Two and Richard Garvey treated us to some tunes. We heard about the history of Chile’s miners’ strike of (1905) and their resistance to violent government repression and then a member of the Alliance Against Poverty (AAP) gave a rousing speech, and sang us his own adaptation of the song ‘Joe Hill’!

More of those black cupcakes with fuses were shared. The cupcakes were inspired by the stop at the CakeBox cupcake store, and were a specific reference to the Toronto 20, the alleged G20 conspirators. Undercover OPP operative Bindo Showan (akaKhalid Mohamed) was convinced that when the alleged conspirators said cupcakes that they meant molotov-cupcakes; some sorta secret code for a bomb! There was an open mic and a number of folks took the opportunity to speak. Some of ‘em sure do love cops . Perhaps those with a healthy suspicion of cops ought to take more care in explaining the analysis to these folks?

There is always so much to be inspired by on a day like this. The world is full of vibrant resistance to capitalism. This year Kitchener was feeling aglow with the inspiration provided by the actions of students, and their many allies, in Quebec.

It was encouraging to see that the 125+ people who attended were able to embrace a nuanced analysis. In Kitchener a violent gentrification is taking place and it is fueled by an influx of students, most of whom have not demonstrated any sense of connection to long-standing residents. The messaging of our march was in large part about gentrification and poverty. So we held the student movement in Quebec in our hearts as we challenged the students in our own neighbourhoods.

While the march was energizing, the ongoing injustices in our community require our continued commitment and action. In the coming months, to give just one example, five local Zellers stores are being taken over by Target and Walmart, with absolutely no indication that any employees will keep their jobs. We trust that the 125 peeps who attended May Day will organize in defense of the workers in our community!!!

Mayday – Marching down Madison ramp! photo: dk, http://yfrog.com/mmgrtwgj

What is the Austerity Agenda & What We Can Do About It

Banner drop at Bylaw Enforcement and Downtown Security  offices at the corner of Ontario-Duke St, Kitchener, April 1, 2011 in response to their role in enforcing gentrification and social cleansing of the downtown community.

Austerity Budgets – budgets that target poor and working people by cutting services, jobs and community supports – have been introduced at both the provincial and federal levels this March.

Again we see the privileging of capital over the needs of the people.  We see increased policing and prisons instead of meaningful supports for health, education, housing and social services.  This is an overt and violent assault on poor and marginalised communities.

We Say ‘No More’.  We oppose policies that target those living in poverty and attempt to pit communities of workers and those on fixed incomes against each other, while ignoring the real architects of this global financial crisis – the corporate capitalist elites.

These capitalist elites continue to amass wealth as governments force painful cuts to necessary programs and services on their populations.  We are coming together to reject this agenda and to find ways to build real community networks of support.

Provincially we have seen the Social Assistance Review Commission (SARC) and the Drummond Report that parrot the ideology of austerity of making recommendations that provide real, meaningful and positive change in the lives of Ontarians.

Instead of recognizing the direct impact of poverty on health and well-being, and taking real steps to reduce health inequities, our governments have chosen once more to punish and criminalize poor people in this province.  While corporations have received massive tax cuts in recent years(maintained in the recent budget), governments are once again balancing their budgets on the backs of the poor!

“People on Ontario Works are now living on incomes that are a devastating 60% lower that they were in 1995 and over 20% lower that when the Harris Tories left office.  Now that wretched sub-poverty income will continue to be driven further by the ‘poverty reduction’ Liberals as the cost of food and other necessities increases significantly.”  Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)

PMUS is Online!

Welcome to poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS) online! PMUS has been organizing around the Raise the Rates campaign in Kitchener-Waterloo since 2010, and our anti-poverty advocacy, rallies and info sharing have helped us connect with people and groups in the region, highlighting the need for stronger community ties, better access to housing, healthy food and community interdependence.

Find out about our Really Free Market’s, where you will find free food servings, clothing, books, toys and other household items.

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