A lot of the work that OCAP does is direct action casework – working alongside individuals to get what they need when welfare or ODSP unjustly deny them.
Last week someone called our office and told us that he was being denied the Housing Stabilization Fund (you can read about our work on the fund here, here and here). He currently lives in Toronto and had to move here recently for medical reasons. However, he was unable to move his stuff when he came. Now, his old landlord is threatening to throw away all of his possessions. The City’s Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF) policy is that it will only give you money for moving if it’s within the GTA – he moved from further away.
That HSF is supposed to help people meet emergency housing needs and losing all of your possessions counts. Each person has a maximum amount that they are entitled to.
In spite of our raising this with City Councilors, staff, writing reports, deputing and protesting about it, the city has refused to put in any disability accommodation process for people. The HSF policy is arbitrary. For example, they give you $500 for a bed if you had bed bugs even if you need an adjustable bed because of a disability. The City of refuses accommodate disabled people when the arbitrary policies end up being discriminatory. Because he had to move here for health reasons, the GTA moving rule discriminates against him on the grounds of disability.
We told Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS):
As we have established this necessary disability accommodation, we will now turn to the question of undue hardship. As TESS should be aware (although past individual and systemic disability discrimination makes it clear that its knowledge of disability human rights law is lacking), TESS has a duty to accommodate on the grounds of disability unless there is an undue hardship. Given that this move will cost less than many moves within the GTA, there is no undue hardship for TESS to provide [him] with the HSF. Additionally, as the HSF has had a surplus of approximately $3.5 million each year since the program began, it is difficult to fathom that there could be an undue hardship in allocating [him] this entitlement.
We demand that you grant [his] HSF application promptly. All of his possessions could be discarded any day. Failure to provide him with the funds will result in public action and much deserved hardship.
We sent the letter through regular channels but also sent it to the big bosses in Toronto’s welfare bureaucracy.
On the heels of our report that exposed the mismanagement of the HSF, we got this man the money he needed to rescue his possessions from his former home.
The fact that we were prepared to take (and indeed have taken) direct action played no small part in securing this victory. What is significant about this case is that, for the first time that we know of, the City has been forced to provide disability accommodation to someone trying to access the fund.
We will keep fighting to make the HSF a more fair and better benefit and ensure that people get what they need! If you have been unjustly denied the HSF, get in touch.
If you are poor or an ally and want to fight for social justice, get involved.