Friday, April 5, 2013

OCAP Wins small victory for homeless in Toronto

Update on Toronto Shelters Campaign: City Council Votes to Open Beds for Homeless!

Thursday, April 4, 2013
It took months of community action, two occupations and some fifty arrests, but the City's claim that the overcrowded shelter system is 'meeting the needs of the homeless' has now collapsed.

On April 4th, City Council voted in favour of a return to the policy of opening new space when shelter occupancy reaches 90% (it is presently running at an official 96% average with some spaces, including women's shelters, at 99 and 100%). Staff are now instructed to take the measures necessary to achieve this goal including the opening of new facilities. Our efforts will now be devoted to ensuring that they do just that.

When the final vote was taken on the amended motion, one member of Council cast a vote against- Mayor Rob Ford. Ford had earlier told the media that he would return to the Council Chambers to explicitly vote against opening more beds for the homeless and he did just that. He had already delayed consideration of the shelter issue by placing on the agenda a proposal to open a Hero Burger outlet in Nathan Phillip's Square. He was able to win the burger joint, but his efforts to deny safety and dignity to homeless people were in vain.

This vote is a victory for community action. We said all along that
letting people die on the streets could be viewed as the ultimate result of the austerity agenda and we have shown we can fight back against that agenda and win. However, we are also clear that it will take ongoing action to ensure this Council vote translates into more beds and new spaces for the homeless.

Finally, pleased as we are with this victory, let's remember that we have won shelter beds for the homeless, not housing. We don't accept that people should sleep in hostels or that upscale development continues to push people and services out of the downtown core. We now have to build a powerful and united movement that can win housing for everyone in this city, and to push back against the gentrification of our communities. We know this will be a long and hard fight. The people who we've lost - members, friends, and the 'nameless' - they are not forgotten and we fight for a city where 'No More Homeless Deaths' is truly a reality.

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

I'd say three things stand out in the victory that has just been won around the crisis of overcrowding in Toronto's homeless shelter system:-

1. The dominant power structure at City Hall, gathered around the Mayor's office and the most senior levels of the administration, were determined to cram people into the shelters regardless of the human cost but they have been forced to give ground. Austerity is not inevitable and we can win victories even in the face of major attacks.

2. This particular victory is fragile as most victories are likely to be in the present situation. It is a given that the administration will do as little as possible to actually implement the Council decision to reduce the overcrowding. The gain we made will be worth something only to the extent that we continue to mobilize to force them to take real and effective action.

3. We can take a moment to feel some satisfaction at this win but we should also admit that it is a sign of our present weakness that we are fighting to prevent them from letting people die on the streets. We did not challenge homelessness but only eased the situation the homeless face. By gaining some additional shelter space, we took a few baby steps but we need to build a movement in this City that seriously fights for the right to decent and affordable housing for everyone.
 John Clarke, OCAP

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