Community Must Now Fight To Save It!
On June 26, OCAP organized a mass delegation to the meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee of City Council. We filled the place with homeless people and their allies and a range of speakers condemned the City`s plan to close the 55 bed School House Shelter. The Committee heard from those who are forced to rely on the shelter system, front line advocates, union locals representing workers in the neighborhood, social agencies and, of course, from OCAP.
The testimony that was provided to the Committee left no room for any member of it to pretend that he or she was not fully informed as to the vital need for this shelter or the terrible impact of closing it. 55 shelter beds are at stake in a community where they are desperately needed. Indeed, the need for shelter space across the City is greater than ever. People who experience the misery and unbearable tension of the shelters spoke to the serious overcrowding and appalling conditions that exist throughout the system. Health professionals and service providers spelt out the importance of the particular features of the School House and the role it has played as a `wet` shelter (i.e. one that permits some alcohol to be consumed on site) in saving lives. It was pointed out by several speakers that, if the Committee permitted this shelter to close, they would be taking this decision the same month that conditions in the main Seaton House men`s shelter led to a violent outburst in which a man was beaten severely with a fire extinguisher, while another homeless man was found dead on Parliament Street.
Despite all this, the Committee voted to proceed with the depopulating and closing of the School House. It must be stated that it was not a bunch of Rob Ford loyalists who did this. Despite being chaired by right wing, Giorgio Mammoliti, the Community Development and Recreation Committee is dominated by `progressive` opponents of Ford and his allies. These include the Councillor in whose ward the School House is located, Kristyn Wong Tam. She presented a face saving amendment that speaks of `re-investing` the resources that will be freed up by locking up the School House. How this will done, when this will be done and where are all unclear but we can be sure it won`t be happening in her ward if Wong Tam and her developer friends have anything to do with it.
The ugliness of the austerity agenda is becoming clearer in Toronto. In this year’s Provincial budget we saw cuts to Social Assistance benefits, including the Community Start-Up, which presently allows 16,000 people a month to obtain or maintain housing. It is a measure that can only worsen the crisis of homelessness in Toronto and across Ontario. Last week, the Provincial Housing Minister caved into pressure from the Ford Administration and approved the sale of 65 units of public housing in this City. Hundreds more are in danger of going the same way and, indeed, the destruction of public housing is the logical end result of this political direction.
The very same week that this shameless act took place, two tragedies came to light among the homeless population. In overcrowded Seaton House shelter, tensions exploded and a man was beaten severely with a fire extinguisher in what appears to have been a dispute over whether to leave open a door to a dormitory in which there was no air conditioning. Such violent incidents are, more and more, coming to the attention of those who rely on the shelter system, and those who provide services to the homeless. Then, the body of a homeless man was found in an alcove on Parliament Street. It appears that he had crawled in there and died. Only the smell of his decomposing body led to his being found weeks after he had passed.
On June 26, the Community Services and Recreation Committee of Toronto City Council will meet and consider community delegations urging them to overturn a decision of their hostel staff to close a 55 bed shelter that is located right next door to the above mentioned Seaton House. The School House shelter has provided beds for homeless men for decades. It has been run as a ‘wet’ shelter that allows residents to bring in and consume alcohol. This has contributed significantly to preventing street deaths.
Emergency Press Conference and Rally
Thursday, June 14th
339 George St (just north of Dundas)
Late on Tuesday night an incident occured at Seaton House men's shelter where a man was severely beaten. We do not yet know the outcome of this event, but what we do know is that there has been an alarming number of violent incidents in the shelters over the last several weeks. Whatever specifically triggered this incident, the underlying causes of it are obvious. The lack of housing and income that government policies have created leads to be people being forced into homeless shelters where they face intolerable conditions of overcrowding and the stresses this creates. Shelters are more often than not at capacity, dorms are packed, often people are forced to wait in line for basic access to a toilet.
This incident, and the others that have taken place down the road at Queen and Sherbourne, take place on the same month that City of Toronto politicians will consider and very possibly approve the closing of the School House shelter when it comes to Committe on June 26th. Despite overcrowding and capacity issues at other shelters, the School House shelter, which is convenientely right next door to Seaton House, has for the past several months not allowed for intakes and has instead been attempting to move men out.
We reject the idea that the City is 'solving' the problem of homelessness by housing people. People are being dumped on the fringes of the City without supports and in often precarious and deplorable situations that they can't survive in. No level of government is really creating housing and Toronto is actually selling off its social housing stock.
The closing of the School House and the bigger plans around the redevelopment of George Street, if implemented, will not prevent the kind of situation that took place in Seaton House. It will just happen somewhere else on a bigger scale. These incdents of violence and some cases death, are preventable. We demand the City take action on the conditions in shelters, that it not shut down much needed spaces like the School House, and instead more resources and housing be immediately handed over to poor communities!
City Hall (Bay and Queen), Tuesday, June 26th, 9:30 AM
Free breakfast served from 8:30 AM
The City is moving to close down the School House shelter on George St, a 55 bed men's harm reduction facility that has provided shelter in the Toronto Downtown East community for decades. It is one of the few 'wet' shelters in Toronto, and those who stay there may have a drink. It has saved lives over the years.
OCAP, the Downtown East Committee of Stop the Cuts, the Harm Reduction Alliance and others in the community are challenging this decision. We have gone to the last two meetings of the City’s Community Development and Recreation Committee and continue to force this issue in to the light of day. After unnecessary delay and some under handed tactics, the issue is coming to the Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 26th once and for all. We need everyone to join us on this day in a mass delegation to show our strength and support that the School House shelter remain open and operating in the Downtown East!
June 5, 2012
Dear Councillor Wong Tam:
As you will be very much aware, the fifty five bed School House Shelter on George Street is presently being cleared of residents so as to close it down. As you also know, this matter will be dealt with at the June 26th meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee. On that day, you and the other members of the Committee will finally be called upon to take a position on this vital question. On that basis, we would like you, as the Councillor for the area in which the shelter is located, to consider very carefully what stand you will take.
Obviously, the original intention of the Hostel Services administration was to close the School House without asking for any decision by the City Council. In this regard, we acknowledge that you have certainly shown that you are ready to facilitate community input at the Committee level. However, to be blunt, people in the downtown east are not taking up this issue because they like making deputations at City Hall. They are mobilizing in their community to keep the School House open and a question that concerns them is whether or not they can count on the support of their local Councillor. As we understand it, these community members have reason for concern since it seems clear in your recent comments after the May 23rd Committee meeting, that you favour the closing of the facility.
Homelessness remains a massive problem in the life of this City and there seems little reason to expect a rapid improvement in the situation. Now, despite the housing crisis, a shelter that meets some of that need, faces closure. The potential loss is made even more serious by the fact that it is one of the very few places that permits alcohol consumption for residents who might otherwise be forced onto the streets. The reasons that are being offered for closing the School House are completely preposterous.