TORONTO OMBUDSMAN ENQUIRY REPORT ON COLD WEATHER DROP IN SERVICES

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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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Tomorrow: Speakers Series: Poverty & Disability

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Thursday, July 20 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
[ASL-English Interpretation Provided]

Is disability biological, or is it created and reinforced by society? Why are some disabled people considered more deserving than others? Do non-disabled people have a role to play in disabled people’s struggles?

Join us as we discuss these and other questions that look at the connections between disability and poverty in our society, and what that means for our struggles.

Speaker: A.J. Withers, author and organizer
A.J. Withers is a long time disability and anti-poverty organizer with OCAP. They are the author of Disability Politics and Theory, stillmyrevolution.org, and the forthcoming book A Violent History of Benevolence: Interlocking Oppression and the Moral Economies of Social Working (with Chris Chapman).

The monthly speakers series focuses on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

Speakers Series: Canada’s War on the Poor: At Home & Abroad

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Thursday, June 15 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]

Hardly anyone who attends the Speakers Series will be surprised that Canada’s benevolent self-image crumbles when confronted with reality. But exactly what the carefully crafted ‘Canadian’ brand masks is worth discussing. The June Speakers Series will do just that, unraveling along the way the connections between the war on the poor at home and abroad.

Speaker: Todd Gordon

Todd is the author of Imperialist Canada and co-author of Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America. He is also a member of the Toronto New Socialists and is involved in the Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia.

The monthly speakers series focuses on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

HSF Casework Victory

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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.

Speakers Series: I, Daniel Blake – Movie Screening

I,Daniel BlakeThursday, May 18 | 6pm | CRC (40 Oak Street) | Facebook Event
[Free Event with a meal, childcare, wheelchair access and tokens]
Watch the Film Trailer

Join us for our monthly speakers series focusing on topics central to poor people’s issues and organizing. A new topic is presented every month and all events are open to the public. Come on out, invite your friends and please share widely!

This month we are excited to screen I, Daniel Blake, the newest movie by the renowned film-maker Ken Loach. The film chronicles the calculated brutality of the social assistance systems in the UK, which parallel those in place here in Ontario.

Stay for the post-film conversation, details to be announced soon.

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.