OCAP's Response to Kristyn Wong-Tam regarding the School House closure
Contact Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam today and request that she publicly support the School House shelter open and operating in the Downtown East!
Also, remember to sign and forward this on-line petition that will be brought to the City: http://www.petitiononlinecanada.com/petition/save-the-school-house-harm-...
OCAP's response, including Kristyn Wong-Tam's original email, can be downloaded here: http://ocap.ca/files/Response to Wong-Tam March 21,2012.pdf
To: Kristyn Wong-Tam, City of Toronto Councillor for Ward 27
Re: Your letter on the School House shelter closure, dated Monday, March 19, 2012
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Dear Kristyn Wong-Tam,
We must take issue with your response to our communication on the closing of the School House both because of the inaccuracies it contains and because it remains silent on key issues that we sought to put before you.
We asked that you put this matter on the agenda of the Community Development and Recreation Committee meeting of March 27, so that members of the community would be able to speak to it. We also asked that you take a stand in support of keeping the School House open. Your response that you will merely call for City staff to provide an "update" falls far short of what we asked of you and you have not spelt out your intentions.
We have never stated, as you suggest, that the School House comes out of the 1990s Coroner's inquest. It had already been operating for years by that time and was looked to by those of us who pressed, in the wake of a series of freezing deaths, for an expansion of harm reduction and shelter spaces in the downtown east. Today, we find ourselves again calling for such an expansion but we do so while the City seems determined to go in the other direction and shut vital facilities.
The closing of this shelter has, very cynically, been presented as an act of social progress because we are told that permanent housing is being sought for the present residents. First of all, it is ironic in the extreme for the same City that puts its social housing stock up for sale to use the importance of housing people as a cover for the removal of 55 desperately needed shelter beds. No one, of course, in a situation where there are 79,000 people on the waiting list, denies the need for housing to be created but that is not what is happening here. Upscale redevelopment will be advanced by eliminating shelter facilities. The residents who are there now will have to trust to the dubious proposition that they can be placed and maintained somewhere in the meagre stock of housing that might be available to them.
There is also pattern that is all too familiar; people who are moved out of the shelter system through subsidies are then scattered throughout the city, isolated and removed from community and from the vital services including drop-ins, food programs, counselors, and health providers. Even if, somehow, we were to assume that all the stops were going to be pulled for these men and that they would be placed in homes close to their present location and that supports to enable them to retain their housing would be kept up (and that's a lot to assume) we still are confronting a situation here were countless others who need and will need shelter space are having the door closed in their faces.
You also suggest that the School House is somehow not in line with the principles and philosophy of harm reduction. We disagree and view this shelter as a rare and vitally important example of such an approach. More importantly, however, it appears that the actual service provider concurs. If you go to the Dixon Hall website you will see that they describe the School House and another facility they run as being ...'staffed by front line workers, two housing workers at each site, a harm reduction worker as well as additional services provided by partner agencies offering, for example, both health and mental health support.' Of the School House itself, the website asserts that it is 'a wet shelter, one of very few such shelters in the city, where the residents are permitted to consume a limited quantity of beer in a controlled environment. This harm reduction strategy has proven to reduce the number of deaths within the homeless population as well as reducing their reliance on emergency medical and police services.' We'd be very interested to hear just how it is that those words are at odds with the concept of harm reduction.
The loss of a wet shelter will mean that homeless people who drink will be forced to do so outside, in the parks and in the alleyways. This will put people at risk of criminalization while racketing up tickets (that they cannot pay) and we will inevitably see more people thrown in to the Don Jail. This will also mean that in the winter, when they should have the option to drink in a safe and warm place, people will be forced outside, at risk of freezing to death, as too many have already in this city, as a result of government cuts and anti-poor policies.
The removal of this essential service will be viewed as an attack on our communities. And in turn will be responded to with it's defense. We, along with hundreds of others, demand that the City of Toronto ensure that the School House shelter stay open. We call on you to rethink your position on this matter, to facilitate community participation in the Committee meeting of the 27th and to take a public position in support of keeping the School House open. Please provide with a clear and direct expression of your intentions in this matter so that the community may know whether we must regard you as an ally or an opponent as we challenge this social injustice.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty