OCAP: Homeless to demand meeting with Prime Minister in Ottawa

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 10 Feb 1999 13:43:24 -0800 (PST)

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OCAP's march on Canada's Capitol gets me thinking:

Is it time for homeless people to march on Washington, D.C. to demand
affordable housing, economic equity and civil rights?

The Housing Now march on DC a few years back seemed conceived and led by
media darlings (if you trust mainstream media reports).  In many campaigns,
homeless folk seem to me to be Jerry's Kids, there to be pitied and to help
win bucks for caretakers.

Pity us...and pay them.  It beats jail, I guess, but not by much.

Low paid jobs that can't pay rent.  Cots and hots between bouts of exposure
and sickness.  This is justice?

Maybe it's OUR TURN -- people who know poverty root and gut, because we've
been there -- to decide what we want to gain and how, and to call for a
national (or international) campaign _we_ design.  Once designed, we could
seek nonhomeless alies who would help us win _our_ aims.

What can we in the USA learn from homeless activists in Canada?

See related article below:

FWD  Toronto Star - February 10, 1999


By Catherine Dunphy - Toronto Star Feature Writer

[photo] LINING UP: Homeless protesters from Toronto line up for a meal
after their arrival in Ottawa yesterday. They are there to demand a meeting
with the Prime Minister. [Bill Grimshaw for the Toronto Star]

 Busloads of homeless people from Toronto, Kingston and Montreal travelled
to Ottawa yesterday to prepare for their march on Parliament Hill demanding
a meeting with the Prime Minister.

 The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, which organized the march, says as
many as 800 to 1,000 people may participate in today's protest.

 But Prime Minister Jean Chretien has already written the coalition saying
he has previous engagements and won't be able to see them.

 ``He's got to cancel that engagement. We're not going to Ottawa to have a
rally but to demand a meeting,'' said organizer John Clarke.

 He said the federal government's cuts to employment insurance and housing
programs have abandoned ``people to die in the streets'' - like the
homeless man found dead last week on a grate near Queen's Park.

 ``Everyone here knows they could be next,'' he said.

 The demonstrators, who were joined by members of the Mohawk Tyendinaga
reserve near Belleville, slept on the floors of four downtown Ottawa church
basements last night.

 Some said they are determined to get inside Chretien's office to make sure
he hears their message.

 ``We can't vote because we're homeless. We don't have an address, so we
don't have a voice,'' Michael Graham said.

 When he can't get into one of Toronto's church Out of the Cold programs,
he sleeps outdoors. He said that happens about twice a month now.

 Nancy Baker, who has been homeless since her partner died about three
years ago, says the answer to housing problems lies with those in power.
``With government help, maybe we could get our own places,'' she said.
``They could take from the rich instead of the poor.''

 Baker is homeless because the subsidized apartment she shared was in her
partner's name.

 The protest reminds Lynda Solowinski of the time she met Chretien almost
10 years ago.

 She was working on the wait staff at the World Trade Centre in Nova Scotia
and he came in with a group of people.

 When she asked for his autograph, ``he told the other politicians at the
table to be quiet and he talked to me,'' she remembers. ``He made me feel

 Now, Solowinski lives in subsidized housing in Toronto, but an on-the-job
accident ended her career and forced her to live in shelters for a few

 She hopes that Chretien will listen to her again.

 ``I want to say to him: `What happened to you? You used to care for the
little people.' ''


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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