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

HSFJustice-OctoberRally

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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HSF Casework Victory

endhsfdiscrimination

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.

We won!

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.

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

sm SLEEPOUT POSTER for web
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.

Open Letter to Mayor John Tory

From the Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: February 1, 2017

Mayor Tory:

We have learned that, in the lead up to the austerity Budget that you and your co-thinkers on the City Council are working on, you will be speaking at the pro-business C.D. Howe Institute on February 9. We intend to be there as well to deliver a clear message.

Toronto is a City of huge wealth. There are whole neighbourhoods of very rich people and banking and corporate interests are headquartered here. Yet, the revenue that could be obtained from the properties of such people is scandalously disregarded. Now, you embark on a course that will cut vital services across the board.

In the face of your impending attack, we demand:

  • No cuts to Toronto Community Housing. No more homes can be boarded up when the waiting list for housing is so vast. Increase funding to the vital Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF) to prevent people losing their housing and enable them to obtain it.
  • No cuts to the homeless shelter system and related supports. Expand life saving warming centre and drop in services.
  • Enforce the 90% maximum occupancy shelter policy, stop closing facilities in the central area of the City and, as an immediate emergency measure to deal with the appalling crisis of overcrowding in the shelters, open the federal armouries to the homeless.

The unprecedented austerity measures you are imposing on communities in this City make a farce of your claim function in an ‘inclusive’ fashion. You are conducting a war on the poor that is harsh and brutal and we intend to give a lead on the 9th in terms of building resistance to your attacks.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)

Victory – City Forced to End HSF Discrimination

endhsfdiscrimination-1

We’ve won the fight to end the discrimination built into the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF). Starting December 15, as long as someone is on social assistance, they will be eligible for HSF. The City will no longer count people’s disability benefits (such as the Special Diet), Canada Child Benefits, and their assets against them when applying for HSF.

The Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS) announced the change at a City Council committee meeting on Tuesday, November 29. You can read their full report here. The change will have a major impact on all HSF applicants, but will particularly benefit  ODSP (disability social assistance) recipients  who faced a rejection rate of almost 50% last year.

We also forced the City to broaden the furniture people get under the HSF when they have bedbugs. This isn’t being expanded to all necessary furniture and household items as we demanded but will now include “soft furniture.” However, we don’t yet know when this portion of the policy will be implemented.

The struggle for HSF justice, however, isn’t over just yet. Some of the unjust parts of the policy remain intact (you can read about all of the problems with the HSF in our Left in the Lurch report). In addition to amending the eligibility criteria, TESS has signaled a bunch of other changes to the fund which currently have no details attached to them. These changes could be good, but they could also replicate the discrimination built into the HSF.

You can read our analysis of the proposed changes by downloading it here. Patricia Walcot, the General Manager of TESS said at the CDRC committee meeting on Tuesday that all changes will be in effect as of February 1. This means TESS will have to work out and release details about all proposed changes ahead of the January City Council meeting.

This has been a collective victory, including OCAP, Laura Bardeau who fought so hard for her rights, allied organizations, and the many people who wrote in or phoned city officials and came to protests.

We will be watching these changes closely and update you if we need to mobilize against them. #FightToWin

Report Back: Mass Delegation to End HSF Discrimination

endhsfdiscrimination-1

This past Wednesday, October 12, we led a mass delegation into Toronto City Hall to demand that the City immediately cease implementing the discriminatory aspects of the HSF policies, change them, and add $13 million to the fund to meet the need. Approximately fifty of us gathered in front of City Hall to bring our demands directly to the members of City Council responsible for this unjust and abusive situation. See more pictures of the action here, here and here.

After speakers set out our demands and intentions, we marched into the building and made straight for the office of Mayor John Tory.  We were met at the doors of the office by Tory’s representative and, of course, security staff.  We were told that the City is preparing a consultation meeting, on October 20, to seek input into the HSF and how it is being implemented.  We reminded them [see video] that two such consultations have already been held and nothing has changed as a result of them. We demanded that they stop denying the HSF unfairly, providing reduced amounts without cause and that they end the discriminatory policies they have in place that penalize disabled people and those with families. We informed them that if they bring forward real improvements in the HSF we’d be happy to consult with them but we would not legitimize a farce designed to delay such urgently needed measures. Having delivered this message, our delegation circled the rotunda of City Hall, loudly putting forward our demands to make sure the bureaucrats and politicians understand this fight would only end when #HSFJustice is won.

On October 8, we released a new report, Left in the Lurch: The Destabilizing Reality of Toronto’s Housing Stabilization Fund, which exposed how the City is systematically discriminating against disabled people and families with children in its administration of the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF). The practice affects over 30,000 social assistance recipients who apply to the fund each year.

Since the Ontario Government eliminated the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) and downloaded the responsibility onto local governments in 2013, poor people across the province have had to try and contend with patchwork of inadequate local programs.  People in need and their advocates have found Toronto’s HSF to be a flawed system that utterly fails to provide those on the verge of homelessness with any real protection.  Earlier this year, OCAP fought and won a long battle to ensure that Laura Bardeau and her family weren’t left without bedding and furniture after they were denied access to the HSF.  Since then, we joined with the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, in preparing the ‘Left in the Lurch’ report which details the arbitrary treatment, opaque policies and outright discrimination towards disabled people and families that plagues the City’s administration of the HSF.

These gross violations built into the HSF policies can’t be allowed to stay in place. A housing fund that prevents homelessness and enables people to obtain homes to live in is a matter of vital necessity and we intend to win it.

Media Coverage of the action & the report:

Inside Toronto | Radio-Canada | Toronto Star