Community wins at homelessness symposium in Toronto FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 1 Apr 1999 19:51:02 -0800 (PST)

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For more information on the TDRC [Toronto Disaster Relief Committee],
its disaster declaration and the One Percent Solution campaign,
visit the TDRC website at < HTTP:// >.

     Sat, 27 Mar 1999


The following is a personal report from Michael Shapcott on the National
Symposium on Housing and Homeless on March 25 and 26 in Toronto, Ontario,

Powerful action by community activists, led by the Toronto Disaster Relief
Committee, scored a major win at the National Symposium on Housing and
Homelessness in Toronto last Thursday and Friday. The community dominated
the event and, by Friday, won a unanimous vote from the symposium
(including community and government representatives) for a strongly-worded
declaration on the national homelessness disaster.

To put the events at the symposium in perspective, remember that until
Tuesday, both the federal (Canadian) and provincial (Ontario) governments
were officially committed to policies of "getting out of the housing
business" by off-loading social housing. They had slashed welfare, health
and other programs that help homeless people.

At the federal level, Ottawa has been steadily cutting housing spending
since the mid-1980s. By 1992, it cut funding for new social housing. In
1996, the feds announced that they were going to transfer administration of
existing social housing to provincial and territorial governments. And,
right now, there are amendments to the National Housing Act that have
passed second reading and are going to committee. Many people believe that
these amendments will further erode the ability of the Canada Mortgage and
Housing Corporation to effectively respond to the housing needs of
low-income Canadians. During this same period, the feds were steadily
cutting health and social welfare transfers to the provinces, which
triggered provincial cuts.

At the provincial level, the Harris government killed 17,000 units of co-op
and non-profit housing within days of being elected. They chopped welfare,
leading to a massive increase in economic evictions. The Tories have gutted
rent controls and other tenant protection laws (including
anti-discrimination laws plus controls on the demolition and control of
affordable rental housing). They sliced all sorts of programs, everything
from health to support services to housing help centres.

The combined effect of these and many other deliberate policies of the
federal and provincial governments have led directly to the national
homelessness disaster and housing crisis. The devastating growth in
homelessness has forced the issue high on the political and media agenda,
and there has been plenty of effective organizing and action by community
groups ranging from the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to the Ontario
Coalition Against Poverty. New groups have been formed, such as Putting
Housing Back on the Public Agenda. Existing housing advocacy groups, such
as the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada and the Ontario Non-Profit
Housing Association, are also speaking out. These two groups released on
Monday the preliminary findings of their Ontario housing needs study,
showing one in four tenant households on the brink of homelessness.

Which brings us to the Tuesday before the national symposium. In order to
pre-empt criticism from the symposium, both the feds and Ontario made
"homelessness" annoucements.

The feds offered a new "Minister of Homelessness", Claudette Bradshaw. She
came with strong community credentials as a long-time anti-poverty activist
from Moncton, but no money. The feds, quite rightly, were roundly
criticized for sending the new Minister with no funding or programs.

The Harris government served up an exceptionally cynical package of
promises. They claimed, as a "new initiative" $50 million in federal funds
that were already committed to housing. They topped up a couple of existing
programs (the homelessness initiatives fund and the community partners
program), threw in some provincial land (but no money to build anything),
and offered up $45 million over three years for supportive housing. The
last item is extremely significant, coming from a government that was
elected on a promise of "getting out of the housing business" and has spent
the last four years following through on that with ruthless efficiency. In
overall terms, the announcement is a drop in the bucket. The total number
of units, even under the most generous assessment, will amount to less than
ten per cent of the number of units that Harris cut during his first few
days in office.

Day one (Thursday) of the national symposium was dominated by an
extraordinary display of political theatre and finger-pointing. Federal,
provincial and municipal representatives all claimed to love the homeless
the most. They blamed each other for the national homelessness disaster.
And they said the responsibility for solutions rested elsewhere. It was
astonishing political drama, but no one bought it. Not the media. Not the
symposium delegates.

There was a clear consensus at the symposium that all levels of government
have to provide the funding and programs and work with the community on
housing, services and other solutions. The feds cannot hide behind the
Constitution and pretend that they have no role in housing and
homelessness. The province cannot evade its responsibility by downloading
to municipalities. And municipalities have a responsibility, through
inclusionary zoning and partnerships with the community, to put solutions
in place.

Day two (Friday) saw the community groups take over the symposium. In
workshops and the plenary session, the community forced the symposium to
take a strong stand on housing and homelessness issues. By the end of the
event, everything proposed by the community (including a declaration
initiated by the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee) was adopted by the
symposium and is to be incorporated into a national housing options paper
that will go to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual meeting in
Halifax in June.

These collective efforts led to:

- the unanimous endorsement of the disaster declaration and the One Percent
Solution at the closing plenary of the symposium

- an opportunity, through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to
catapault this campaign onto the national stage in a big way

- a powerful presence in the media

- solid connections with activists in other parts of Canada, especially
Vancouver, and the beginnings of plans for a national homeless-tenants
convention and network

- a strong contact with the new "minister of homelessness", Claudette Bradshaw

For more information on the TDRC, its disaster declaration and the One
Percent Solution campaign, visit the TDRC website at < >.


Michael Shapcott
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Tel. - 416-367-5402
E-mail -
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