Back-Off BIA: Private Policing of Public Space Won’t be Tolerated

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BIA security with Bob Kemp, “Streetscape Coordinator” for the BIA, in St.James Park

Watch the Video | Download Know Your Rights Poster
In the Media: CBC | City TV | Now Magazine

The St.Lawrence Market Business Improvement Area (the BIA) has hired private security that patrols the neighbourhood, and has become notorious for harassing poor and homeless users of St. James Park. The security guard ‘bans’ people from the area, enforces made-up rules (no sleeping in the park) and has become a symbol of fear, which is precisely the intent.

We learned about the situation mid-July from a currently homeless park user, Neil Mclellan, who called us while he was being threatened and illegally kicked off from the park gazebo by the guard. We notified the city, called the BIA and sent them a written letter to cease and desist from these practices. When the harassment continued, we issued a poster informing park users of their rights.

Instead of laying off, the BIA escalated the situation. They started confiscating posters OCAP had distributed to park users (which is theft) and threatened Neil with physical violence. Despite being told by the city to cease having security patrol the park, and interact with park users outside of the hours stipulated on their permit, the BIA continued with the status quo this Thursday.

So we are now releasing this statement and video publicly, with a warning to the BIA – back off and stop the illegal private policing of the park and the surrounding area, and the harassment of poor people. If you don’t immediately put an end to these illegal practices, we will start picketing all your member businesses, starting with the ones owned by your board of directors.

BBQ & Rally for Shelters & Housing

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Saturday, August 19 | 12 noon | Allan Gardens, Sherbourne & Carlton
Free Food | Kids Welcome | Music | Facebook Event

The city tells us that emergency shelters aren’t the solution to homelessness and the escalating rates of homeless deaths, housing is. So shelters are kept underfunded and overcrowded. At the same time, the city is boarding up hundreds of public (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) housing units, at a time when the demand for them far outstrips supply. Thousands of families are facing displacement and thousands more languish on the subsidized housing waiting-list with wait-times that now stretch over a decade. Meanwhile market rents continue their upward spiral and upscale redevelopment projects continue pushing poor people out of the downtown core.

We intend to build a formidable fight capable of facing off against these marauding housing profiteers and their lackeys in government. These neighbourhoods are ours and we refuse to be pushed, priced or policed out! We demand the following:

  • Open 1000 new emergency shelter beds.
  • Stop the ongoing closure of TCHC units.
  • Protect the city’s stock of rooming houses.
  • Build decent, accessible, and affordable public housing now.

This summer has been an especially difficult one, we’ve lost a lot of people. Their lives have been lost not only to homelessness, but also to senseless policies of the so-called ‘war on drugs.’ So we come together, in the spirit of what Mother Jones once said, to mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living. Join us.

Changes to the HSF : Open Letter to the City Signed by 21 Organizations

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Many of you have been a part of the struggle to change the discriminatory policies underlying the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF). To-date we have written two reports (accessible here and here) documenting in detail the issues with the HSF and its management. The outrage sparked by Laura Bardeau‘s case and the subsequent mobilization led to series of changes being announced by the City in December last year. Some of these changes were implemented immediately, such as the abandoning of the discriminatory eligibility formula, whereas others, we were promised, would be designed in consultation with us and other community advocates and legal clinics.

The consultation did not happen and instead TESS merely notified us, by way of a poorly organized ‘information session’ on June 28, of the changes it had already designed and which would go into effect a mere 3 business days later (on July 4). Now a coalition of 18 organizations, OCAP included, have penned an open letter to the Mayor and members of the Community Development and Recreation Committee outlining the issues with the changes and the resolutions we are seeking. The letter appears below.

OCAP has also prepared our own assessment of all the changes to the HSF. You can download it here.
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TORONTO OMBUDSMAN ENQUIRY REPORT ON COLD WEATHER DROP IN SERVICES

xsm SLEEPOUT POSTER for web

What it Shows and What it Misses

The Toronto Ombudsman’s report opens by acknowledging that its enquiry was prompted by a CBC interview with Cathy Crowe, ‘a well known social activist and street nurse about Toronto’s cold weather response for people who are homeless.’ The interview dealt with inadequate levels of shelter provision and looked at the need for the federal armouries to be opened in order to respond to this. Given that the media interview that prompted the enquiry raised issues around the inadequacy of the overall shelter system, it’s curious that the Ombudsman chose to limit deliberations to the back-up cold weather drop-ins. In fact, it’s actually rather worrying that this choice was made because it happens to be a rather useful one for Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) officialdom and the agenda they are pursuing.
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New Report: Toronto Robs from the Poor

Toronto Robs from Poor Cover for web
Download the Report | Media Coverage: CTV, CP24,Toronto Star 
[High-Res Print Version] | Our article in the NOW

This morning we launched Toronto Robs from the Poor: The Misuse of the Housing Stabilization Fund. The report documents how the city has siphoned away or otherwise withheld nearly $18 million dollars from programs tackling homelessness over the last four years – all during an escalating crisis of homelessness and the shelter system.

Pay it Back: Post Sleep Out Delegation to City Hall

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Tuesday, April 25 | 10:30am | Toronto City Hall (Bay/Queen)
Meet by giant ‘Toronto’ sign in the square

Join us on Tuesday to deliver the Toronto Robs from the Poor report to Mayor John Tory. In addition to revealing how the city has siphoned away or otherwise withheld $18 million dollars from homelessness programs, the report also documents a troubling pattern of misreporting by the City. We will demand that the money diverted away from homelessness programs be returned immediately and be used to provide much needed respite to the homeless.

The stakes for people on the streets are high, one homeless person is dying every 10 days. Tory’s response to the crisis has been appalling and the threadbare denials and excuses that he and his administrators have put forward convince no serious observer. It’s clear that unless public pressure forces them to do otherwise, they will continue to serve the needs of austerity and upscale redevelopment.

That’s why over 200 people gathered outside the ‘Tower of Power,’ the Mayor’s multi-million dollar residence, this past Saturday to bring the crisis of homelessness to his door-step. Many slept out there through the night. It has been made clear to the Mayor that unless the very basic demands that have been put forward to tackle the homeless crisis are met, we will continue to escalate the fight. Contrary to the position that the city lacks resources to meet these demands, the report we will deliver on Tuesday makes clear that the City has immediate access to at least $18 million it can use to address the crisis.

Join us on Tuesday to take the fight forward.

Note: Our delegation clashes with another action called by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, a group we are in allied with. Since our delegation will conclude before their action does, we encourage you to attend that action afterwards.

Bringing the Crisis of Homelessness to John Tory’s Door-Step

Is OCAP Really Being ‘Unfair?’

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On Saturday, April 22, at 7.00PM, OCAP will be back in front of Mayor John Tory’s luxury condo at Bloor and Bedford to challenge the homeless crisis in Toronto. This time, we will bed down and stay for the night. Tory has previously accused us of being ‘unfair’ by bringing the fight to his private residence. At least two City Council members have taken the same position publicly. Sections of the media have been aghast that we would behave in this way. This being so, we wanted to put the following points on the record.

  1. We are not challenging some inconvenience or mild injustice but the lethal abandonment of homeless people to the streets. The shelters are bursting at the seams, the City is failing to implement its own policies with regard to occupancy levels and the back-up warming centes and volunteer-run Out of the Cold facilities have closed for the year. Homeless people have died this winter for lack of adequate shelter, they have suffered hypothermia on the cold streets, and their health and dignity have been assaulted. City Council has cut homeless services in the midst of this situation and made it clear that the needs and survival of homeless people are valued much less than the objectives of austerity and upscale redevelopment.
  1. John Tory can’t plausibly deny that he is fully aware of the reality of the crisis on the streets of this City. The threadbare denials and excuses that he and his administrators have put forward would convince no serious observer. Homeless people and their advocates, front line workers, medical providers and religious leaders have all provided him with abundant and compelling evidence of the gravity of the situation. He knows but chooses not to act.
  1. If we were dealing with a Mayor who, in good faith, was seeking to find solutions and take vitally necessary actions to deal with the crisis, we would be taking a very different approach. However, we have learned from bitter experience that ‘going through the proper channels’ is to disappear into a maze of political evasion and bureaucratic delay. Those who tell us we should be going the route of polite discourse and restrained tactics, may be prepared to accept the suffering and misery of the homeless but we are not. We look to maximize the pressure on the Mayor and, if our home visits make him uncomfortable, so much the better.
  1. We think that coming to the front door of Tory’s luxury dwelling is far from ‘unfair’ and that, in fact, it is entirely fitting and just as a course of action. The building he lives in is known as the ‘Tower of Power.’ If he and his well-to-do and well-connected neighbours are mildly inconvenienced by the actions, the discomfort is nothing compared to the impact on human lives of the failure to provide basic shelter from the elements or shelter conditions that are remotely humane and decent. If Tory wants us to be more ‘reasonable,’ he can tell his political co-thinkers and developer friends that he will meet the very basic demands we put forward in response to a desperate and worsening crisis of homelessness.

We will be bedding down in front of John Tory’s condo on April 22 and we make no apologies for our actions. In this wealthy City, the fact that people lack even shelter space, is a shame and a disgrace and we intend to challenge that even in the face of high placed disapproval.