[Hpn] Fwd: Toronto homeless shelters worse than UN refugee camps

Bonnie Briggs s248_1132@hotmail.com
Thu, 09 Nov 2000 19:36:43 +0000 (GMT)

Hi gang,
  Here is a history and an update of the work by the Toronto Disaster Relief 
Committee. This will give you an idea of where we came from and where we''re 
>From: Bob Olsen <bobolsen@interlog.com>

>    Toronto's shelters for the homeless
>    are worse than UN refugee camps.
>From:	"David Hulchanski" <david.hulchanski@utoronto.ca>
>Subject: "Picture a refugee camp that looks like this."
>Date: Mon, 6 Nov 2000 22:13:25 -0500
>Address delivered November 3, 2000, to the
>Council of Canadians Annual General Meeting
>Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto
>Cathy Crowe, RN, Street Nurse
>Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
>tel 416-599-TDRC, fax 416-599-5445,
>tdrc@web.net   --    http://www.tao.ca/~tdrc
>Picture a refugee camp that looks like this.
>40-50,000 people affected.  7000 are children. There are 2-4 deaths
>per week.  There is no room left in the camp. Some stay with friends
>or family. Somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people are forced to
>sleep outside in the elements. Some have built shanty towns, squats or
>tent cities. The conditions inside the camp are substandard.  Common
>areas are filled with mats for sleeping. There are only 2 toilets for
>120 people. Violence is rampant, staffing inadequate, blankets may not
>be laundered between use. There is poor air flow and inadequate
>cooking facilities.  The tuberculosis infection rate is 4 times higher
>than the population not affected by the disaster. Other infections –
>diarrhea, colds and flus are the norm. People remain in the camp so
>long that palliative care units have been set up!
>You’ve probably figured out that I am referring to the Toronto
>situation for displaced persons, de-housed people, commonly known as
>the “homeless”. This is the picture today and it worsens daily. It
>also exists on a different scale in most Canadian communities. I want
>to add that it matters little that the cold is coming, we should
>consider this intolerable in May or June.
>The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee outlines these conditions in a
>report released last week called State of the Disaster - Winter 2000.
>Its most startling revelation: many shelter conditions do not meet
>the UN Standards for Refugee Camps!
>Homelessness is our shameful history.
>I used to call it our dirty little secret, but it’s no longer so
>secret is it?
>This evening I want to tell you some stories of campaigns that built
>momentum and definitely set the tone for the work that the Toronto
>Disaster Relief Committee now engages in - the fight for a national
>housing programme and the 1% solution. I hope these stories will show
>you how momentum can be built.
>Homelessness has been a thorn in Toronto’s side for many years.  Many
>of Canada’s anti-poverty campaigns have come out of our central core
>here in Toronto. From Sherbourne and Dundas, from All Saints Church,
>from Allan Gardens, and from this very church space.
>They are campaigns that originated from the particular and became
>general. They are campaigns that originated locally with small events
>or actions and frequently became bigger, sometimes even nation-wide.
>They are popular campaigns that involved homeless people.  In common,
>they are campaigns that involved witnessing the truth, telling it
>despite huge obstacles, locating actions where people are, marching,
>demonstrating, and using the political and legal systems for policy
>They are incredibly rich, historic stories.
>Let me tell you about a few of them.
>1.  The Toronto Union of Unemployed Workers
>In the mid eighties the TUUW was organizing around homelessness - for
>housing not hostels; around welfare rates - for a 25% increase; around
>the Landlord and Tenant Act - fighting for the inclusion of rooming
>houses. They collaborated with the Roomers Association, with the
>drop-in centres and received financial support from churches.  Alarmed
>at the extent of illness and death the TUUW put up simple paper
>notices in the drop-ins saying that if anyone heard of an injury or
>death to make contact with them.
>One day, in 1986 that happened. A man came into All Saints Church to
>report that a homeless woman had been found dead in the back of a
>truck in the alley. Street worker Beric German went there and learned
>it was Drina Joubert. He knew her. Police asked him to keep it silent.
>He called the media. Drina Joubert’s freezing death made front page
>news the next day. It outraged this city. The TUUW then initiated a
>coalition called Housing not Hostels which included organizations such
>as the Christian Resource Centre, the Open Door, the Downtown
>Churchworkers Association. Research was done about how to demand an
>inquest and how to have standing at it. One outcome of the inquest was
>Project 3000:  3000 units of affordable housing.
>During this period there were other wins: singles became eligible for
>FBA; roomers and boarders won coverage under the Landlord Tenant Act;
>singles became eligible for social housing and there was a 5% increase
>in welfare rates.
>Another story.
>2.  The Rupert Hotel
>December, 1989, only a few days before Christmas, a fire in a rooming
>house called the Rupert Hotel claimed 10 lives. The 10 died within
>minutes from smoke inhalation.  It took days before all the bodies
>could be removed. Within 24 hours of the fire, rooming house tenants
>and housing advocates formed the Rupert Hotel Coalition and worked
>tirelessly for the next few years to improve safety in Toronto rooming
>houses and to create new affordable housing. The Rupert Pilot Project
>received funding, primarily provincial, to renovate 525 units of
>Another story.
>3.  The Toronto Coalition Against Homelessness
>In 1996 within weeks of each other, 3 men, Eugene Upper, Mirsalah
>Aldin-Kompani and Irwin Anderson died on the streets of Toronto. Their
>deaths became known as the “freezing deaths”. It was the city’s first
>homeless death cluster. TCAH, a 26 agency coalition came together,
>fought for and obtained standing at an Inquest. For the 5 week inquest
>we filled the courtroom, provided a daily lunch outside on the
>sidewalk and fought for the right for homeless people to be expert
>witnesses. Only one was allowed, Melvin Tipping. Daily we produced an
>“Inquest Update” that was faxed to close to 1000, including the United
>Nations.  Despite the Coroner’s refusal to allow the word housing to
>be used, the 5 person jury adopted all of our recommendations. For the
>question “by what means” did the men die, the jury stated
>1996 was the year that shaped where we are today.
>The freezing deaths were a symptom of a much more serious problem.
>1996 was the year we saw the impact of the welfare cuts, the
>cancellation of 17,000 social housing units under development
>and the snuffing out of any future housing program.
>The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
>In 1998 eastern Canada suffered the damage of the icestorm. I watched
>the government’s response to the icestorm and it challenged my
>conscience deeply. Everything I witnessed on television during this
>natural disaster existed to a hellish degree in the shelters and on
>the streets.
>Beric German and I formed TDRC, and I have to be honest, we formed a
>committee not a coalition. We needed to move fast and the political
>landscape prevented coalition building.  We invited individuals we
>trusted and knew we could work with to become the founding Steering
>Committee of TDRC. They included people like Don Heap, Peter
>Rosenthal, John Andras and David Hulchanski, Jeannie Loughrey. Two
>reasons- they knew the issue, there was enormous trust, and
>commonality in approach.
>Retired English professor Norm Feltes did research that helped us
>illustrate that homelessness easily qualified as a social welfare
>disaster.  The indicators: a significant number of people affected,
>a resurgence of old illnesses like tuberculosis, clusters of deaths.
>It was suddenly explainable to me, in a very helpful way that
>homelessness would never be alleviated without a massive government
>response to the disaster. The kind of response we would expect to
>see if a chemical spill or train derailment occurred.
>We wrote an Emergency Declaration. The document was factual but also
>passionate. Useful to a politician, a Rotary club member, a Grade 8
>student or a church congregation.
>We launched the Declaration on October 8, 1998 but only after we had
>built support across the country with our allies. Without funding, we
>relied on email, community health and AIDS service organization
>networks for help spreading the word.
>On the morning of October 8, Canadians woke to a front page Toronto
>Star headline: Plight of the Homeless a ‘National Disaster’.  By 9 am
>that morning every media outlet in the country was here for our press
>conference.  Ursula Franklin, a woman of international stature, stood
>with us and called homelessness a man made disaster. 400 people,
>including homeless adults and youth were in this church. A meal was
>provided – pancakes and sausages.  Everyone who attended was invited
>to come forward and sign the Declaration. We read their names out
>loud. We invited them to come with us and we marched to Metro Hall.
>Meanwhile, “back at the ranch”, or Metro Hall, every city councillor
>had the Toronto Star on their desk.  When we arrived to deliver our
>Declaration to the Mayor we were invited into the Community and
>Neighbourhood Services Committee, which halted their meeting, and
>allowed us to speak.  One hour earlier even they had endorsed the
>Now, to our current work. There are some essential principles to our
>campaign that I want to tell you about.
>Examples of some of our strategies:
>We went national. We all know what the country thinks of Toronto and
>we had to go national immediately. We had to remain as an entity
>called the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, and fight for emergency
>relief measures here, yet give credibility to the national aspect of
>the disaster and call for federal solutions. Within weeks we had
>organized so that Toronto City Council, in a vote of 53-1 declared
>homelessness a National Disaster. We filled council chambers that day.
>The next piece of work was getting city councils across the country to
>do the same. They did: Ottawa-Carleton, Vancouver, Victoria, Peel
>Region. One month later the Big City Mayors endorsed. By this point we
>had 400 national, provincial and local organizations endorsing.
>The Mayor’s office. Well, to date Mayor Lastman has refused to meet
>with a TDRC delegation 11 times but we achieved a win in March, 1999.
>The Mayor convened a national meeting on homelessness to highlight the
>work of his task force. This was also the coming out event for
>Claudette Bradshaw, the newly appointed federal minister responsible
>for homelessness. TDRC insisted on holding a free and open community
>caucus at the Mayor’s event. After all, community based
>housing/homeless experts were coming in from across the country. It
>was our chance to meet them and plot. Over 120 people attended our
>caucus in Council Chambers. It was the birth of the National Housing
>and Homeless Network. It was also the meeting where homeless people
>and others were not allowed up to council chambers in the elevator.
>We stopped our proceedings until all were allowed in.
>Research and reports with a pulse. Research is useless unless it
>activates people and is part of a popular movement. There is a lot
>of useless research on homelessness and housing that may add to an
>academic body of knowledge but its usefulness ends there and
>frequently creates more harm.  TDRC has always attempted to do
>research that leads to change and we organize around the results.
>For example: The State of Emergency Declaration was taken to the UN
>Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva in Nov.
>1998; another report called Death on the Streets of Canada also went
>to the UN. These led to the UN committee’s condemnation of Canada’s
>housing record and embarrassed the federal government.  Another report
>called People’s Court demonstrated by first hand accounts the federal
>and provincial role in the disaster. Both governments were charged by
>a jury of homeless people and found guilty on all 4 indictments; Last
>week’s State of the Disaster – Winter 2000; and our ongoing Death
>Chart expose the local atrocities.  I believe that all these reports
>have had a profound effect on both international, legal and moral
>understandings on homelessness in Canada.  As Professor David
>Hulchanski points out it is clear that homeless people may have a
>right to vote in the upcoming federal election, but appear to have
>no right to adequate shelter or housing.
>The National Disaster Post. I’m not referring to one of Canada’s
>national newspapers, it’s the name of our newsletter, and apart from
>email and our web page, it’s our communication tool, our way of
>getting the message to the street. Our two outreach workers, Steve
>Lane and Bonnie Briggs, both whom have been homeless, deliver and
>“talk up” the issues at 40 homeless agencies in the city. Bonnie’s
>column “Lunch with Bonnie” is way more interesting and real than the
>Globe and Mail’s Lunch with Jan Wong.  You can read it online on our
>web site!  <http://www.tao.ca/~tdrc/>
>Solidarity work. June 15.
>June 15 was not a riot.  It was a courageous attempt by OCAP and
>supporters to bring the truth to the Ontario legislature. In the
>aftermath of the obscene police attacks, a team of 10 nurses and a
>physician, part of a medical MASH unit had treated approximately 40
>police and horse inflicted injuries. I was hounded by media and groups
>on the left: would I (we) denounce John Clarke and OCAP and my answer
>was no. TDRC was there and we know the truth of what happened. I
>believe that our ability to stand with OCAP during this period has
>allowed the anti-poverty movement to remain cohesive and morally
>strong.  A sequella of June 15 has been the formation of the Allies
>group, a consortium of labour and social justice groups that plan to
>stand firm with OCAP.
>      Students in Allan Gardens. TDRC will always support and stand
>behind a group that reflects our values. In this case I don’t know how
>they keep doing it, but a small group of students continues to sleep
>in Allan Gardens every Friday night since August 1999 when OCAP set up
>the SAFE PARK. Elan Ohayan, a U of T PhD student and member of U of T
>governing council remains in the Don Jail for two weeks now. He was
>brutally arrested for his act of protest - sleeping in Allan Gardens.
>      The media. We cooperate and work with the media extensively.
>Their role cannot be underestimated. I’m not going to elaborate here
>but consider this. For the first time in this country’s history, a
>media outlet, the Toronto Star assigned a reporter to full time cover
>homeless issues – Cathy Dunphy. If you want to see more coverage of
>these issues write or phone editors of media outlets. There are
>tremendous forces at play attempting to downplay the seriousness
>of the issue.
>      People events. We see each big event we do as a means to build
>momentum for the next and they must be diverse but more than anything
>they must include homeless people. On October 2, 1999, 2000 people
>marched from Allen Gardens, and wove through the epicentre of the
>homeless disaster. The importance of this event being where people
>are cannot be underestimated.
>The challenges are huge.  I am only going to name a few.
>The freedom to speak, to do advocacy, to rally, to assemble, to
>protest. These freedoms are eroded by social agencies fearful of
>funding cuts, by liberal rhetoric that redefines advocacy or health
>promotion, by legislation such as the Safe Streets Act, and by police
>force and intimidation. The police visit people I know in their homes,
>at their workplace, on the streets, they listen on our phones, and
>they infiltrate our public events.
>Maintaining soul and sanity. Most people I work with don’t like to
>talk about this. It’s hard when so little change can be seen and when
>conditions are worse, to not feel a sense of desperation. For many
>workers and homeless people too, there exists sleep loss, desperate
>patterns of either work or other compulsive behaviour, depression,
>isolation, addictions. This is also, why we need you with us.
>Labour and the left. Divisiveness. To  be honest I don’t have a handle
>on this issue, I just know it is huge.  My union refuses to give 1$ to
>homeless advocacy work such as TDRC, even though there is now an
>obscene specialty called street nursing. All I can say is that labour
>and the left have no choice but to work together. The left must move
>off of discussion lists on the internet, from conferences to the
>streets with us and labour must help us with their people and their
>Charity model.  This year John Andras of Project Warmth publicly
>announced the end of their sleeping bag distribution program. The same
>week Christ Church Deer Park, which runs an Out of the Cold Programme,
>announced the end of their Saturday night overnight shelter. I cryed
>when I heard this news. I cryed because it’s about time.  Both are now
>saying that there is a government responsibility to house our people.
>I know they did not make the decision lightly.  I applaud them both.
>The organizations, companies, unions that donate thousands to
>organizations like the United Way must seriously ask themselves
>whether they are supporting a charitable and non-political response
>to homelessness. I still await the day that a group comes to Kira
>Heineck, our coordinator and I and says, Kira, Cathy, “we’d like to
>give $20,000 to the Toronto Disaster Relief Campaign so that you can
>continue your campaign for a national housing programme.”
>Speaking of money....there are deals being made and this is perhaps
>an even bigger threat to homeless people.  Money talks which is why
>there is also so much silence.  One would expect municipalities to be
>fighting with us for a national housing programme, but bigger forces
>are silencing those voices. Money for Toronto’s waterfront, money for
>Toronto’s Olympic Bid, and federal infrastructure money that has
>silenced a municipal outcry. In a federally funded infrastructure
>program, how does housing compete with roads and sewers? Usually
>not too well unless it is in a protected envelope.
>What can an individual do? A group? The Council of Canadians?
>      Well of course you can learn how to come out to significant
>events on housing and homelessness (there is a sign up list at the
>table). You can write letters, meet with politicians and hound them
>during elections for the 1% solution. Information is at the table.
>      Can you put homelessness on the agenda of your group, your
>church, your union, and invite someone from our speaker’s bureau
>in to talk?  Our number is 599-TDRC.
>      What are you doing on November 22?  If you decide there is one
>event or activity you can work on please make it November 22. November
>22 is a National Housing Strategy Day.  Watch for events in your
>community. In Toronto the day will be co-sponsored by TDRC and the
>City. Imagine that! We expect thousands of people at a public, free
>event outside of city hall.
>       I have always believed the Council of Canadians is an effective
>and powerful voice for all Canadians. But....can you put housing
>issues more squarely on your agenda?
>     We need you to feature housing on your platform of issues and
>fight with us for a national housing program.  We have, in the
>housing movement, people with enormous expertise. You don’t have
>to put a lot of resources into new research, writing or policy
>      I want to invite the Council of Canadians to join the National
>Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.  Members include the Canadian
>Auto Workers, United Church of Canada, Canadian Conference of Catholic
>Bishops, Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Cooperative Association,
>and  the Canadian Council on Social Development.  It feels like a
>natural fit.
>      I would love my next Council of Canadians mailing to include
>materials on the need for a national housing strategy.
>      Now, I have to tell you why we’re going to eventually win that.
>Last year a federal Liberal party sponsored Pollara poll showed that
>homelessness ranked in the top 5 of issues of concern to Canadians.
>Before the 1998 State of Emergency Declaration it was off the map.
>      We now have 4 of the 5 political parties talking housing during
>this federal election. They will watch us on November 22 and we will
>watch them. Let’s make sure our work translates into the reinstatement
>of a federal role in housing in the spring budget. All it will take is
>1% of their budget, our money. Each one of you can help achieve that
>by working with us.
>Cathy Crowe, RN
>A note from David Hulchanski:
>The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and the National Housing and
>Homelessness Network campaign against homelessness with the help of
>donations.  The two groups have no other means of support.
>Please send a contribution!
>Make the check payable to the
>'Toronto Disaster Relief Committee'
>and send it to:
>Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
>6 Trinity Square
>Toronto, Ontario
>M5G 1B1
>tel 416-599-8372
>fax 416-599-5445
>tdrc@web.net   --    http://www.tao.ca/~tdrc
>    .....................
>    Bob Olsen, Toronto
>    bobolsen@interlog.com
>    If not here, where?
>    If not now, when?
>    If not us, who?
>    .....................

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