Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The City of Toronto has a 'Streets to Homes' program that is supposedly designed to help the homeless but is actually more akin to some sort of "ethnic cleansing" designed to get the homeless out of visibility and offer them very little help. This program is amazingly in the running for an United Nations award during the upcoming World Habitat Day ceremonies. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has something to say about this. Here is their statement.

The City of Toronto's 'Streets to Homes' program is a mechanism for attacking the homeless and driving them from the centre of the the City. It dumps people without supports in outlying areas and is a pretext for removing funding from the vital services the homeless need.
This program is up for one of two awards that will be announced on October 6 and presented in front of the United Nations celebration of World Habitat Day.
Below is the text of a letter that OCAP has sent to the international body that hands out the awards.
August 13, 2008
World Habitat Awards
Building and Social Housing Foundation
Memorial Square
LE67 3TU
Dear B.S.H.F.,
We have learned that the 'Streets to Homes' Program operated by the City of Toronto has been entered and, indeed, is one of the finalists for your annual awards. This program may well be held up before the United Nations celebration of World Habitat Day as a model of "practical and innovative solutions to current housing needs and problems". Our organization has worked to challenge homelessness and the devastation of services to homeless people in Toronto and we are writing to urge you in the strongest possible terms to avoid legitimizing this City's ongoing attack on poor and homeless people.We say this because 'Streets to Homes' is a dishonest, pseudoprogressive component of and cover for this ugly agenda and it would be massively unfortunate for your body to assist in the deception.
The underlying context for the situation I will lay before you is a phenomenon of upscale urban redevelopment that, as an internationally focused body, you will be well familiar with. Capital is reinvesting in the central part of this City following an earlier process of "suburbanization". Commercial and high end residential development is sweeping into areas of the inner city where substantial homeless populations and low income neighbourhoods have been established. Low income housing stock is being lost and homeless people are being demonized and persecuted in the interests of this process. This is the economic and political backdrop to the '"innovative solution" called 'Streets to Homes' that you have already held up before the world and that you may hand a prestigious award to. Before you do, we want to provide you with a perspective that you would not have heard from City officials or politicians that speaks to the feelings of those who stand in the path of the redevelopment agenda. We want to deal with 'Streets to Homes' from two standpoints. Firstly, we will examine its glaring immediate shortcomings as a program that claims to be improving the lot of those it brings under its wing. Secondly, we are going to deal with the bigger question of the overall agenda of the City towards poor and homeless people and show the role of 'Streets to Homes' in facilitating this.
So, to start with a look at the immediate track record of the program on its own terms, you only have to scratch beneath the surface to immediately find factors that sound a note of caution. 'Streets to Homes' may be putting people into housing units but on what basis? The homeless population is, of course, concentrated in the central part of the City but we can see that close to 40% of those being put into units are finding themselves outside of that area. Indeed, this understates things because the available figures include the area of East York as part of the central area. This means that a definition of central Toronto has been adopted that understates the degree to which the program is pushing people from the actual core. To be placed, without living income, services and access to affordable transportation in outlying areas of the City is a recipe for isolation and inability to secure the necessities of life. This factor makes it less than surprising that, after the first seventeen months of operating this program, 94 out of 269 people had lost their first housing placement and fully11% of those placed had again become homeless or their whereabouts were unknown.
We must also ask ourselves what kind of housing are people being moved into? If the City had to show that it was housing people in units that could be deemed as adequate and dignified, it would have much less to shout about in terms of the "success" of 'Streets to Homes'. Many of the private sector units people are being placed in are of the poorest quality. In the case of placements in municipal housing units, the situation is something of a scandal. There are over 70,000 people on the waiting list for public housing in Toronto and many of them wait for over five years for a unit but 'Streets to Homes' is able to move homeless people into a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) unit if it is refused three times over by those on the waiting list. If a unit is rejected repeatedly by those who have waited years for rent geared to income housing, you can be sure it is woefully inadequate.
In the course of our advocacy work, our organization has visited TCH buildings and units that people have been dumped in that would shock anyone concerned with basic health and human dignity. We have seen people living in conditions of dilapidation and neglect in such units that are so extreme that their health, safety and social inclusion are more compromised than they would be in any homeless shelter.
If people are being housed without proper regard for location, ongoing support and any effective commitment to ensure the adequacy of their living conditions, this only reflects something fundamental about 'Streets to Homes'. It has been developed not as a solution in the lives of homeless people but as a "solution" to the problem of homelessness as it exists for those concerned with redevelopment and commercial activity in this City. The homeless are seen as a problem to extent that they are visible, especially in the central area. The intention is to remove them from view so that they are not sleeping on the streets or asking for change in areas where tourism and recreation find overt destitution an impediment to their business operations.That's why so many are being placed in units outside of the core and that's why anything that can be referred to as "housing" will do regardless of what it represents in the life of the person dumped in it. This brings us to important consideration of where 'Streets to Homes' fits into the overall agenda of the City around the homeless.
If this program were only a very shoddy and dishonest attempt to put some people into housing units, we would regard a high profile international award as ill deserved and laughable but our sense of outrage would still not be as great as it is. However, the most harmful element of 'Streets to Homes' lies in its use as a cover for a broader agenda to attack the homeless. While a process of dubious rehousing of some people proceeds, the City is closing beds within its shelter system and defunding the services that the homeless need to survive. The new religion of "housing the homeless" is utilized to hide the worsening crisis on the streets. Vital services for those who access shelters or must sleep outside are being curtailed and all complaints and concerns on this score are swept away by a chorus of ill deserved triumphalism. Yet, people are not able to access the overcrowded shelters. On the streets, they must deal with an escalating and ugly drive by the police to push them out that proceeds regardless of claims by the City that new, supportive approaches are being adopted to assist those who sleep outside or who panhandle to try and survive. Last year, Toronto police issued over 10,000 tickets to homeless people who were panhandling (a massive increase) and, as this is written, the City of Toronto is revealing a plan to crack down on poor people who collect and return empty bottles and discarded cans in order to try and survive.
That you have already made 'Streets to Homes' a finalist in your competition is desperately unfortunate. As a program for housing people it could better be called "Streets to Slums". As a cover for an agenda of social exclusion in the service of upscale urban redevelopment, it is as dishonest as it is harmful. In this most wealthy City in one of the wealthiest countries on earth, the homeless are being swept from view. Should you reward and promote such an outrage, it will be a shame on your organization and on World Habitat Day that will cry out for public exposure. Please consider this letter and reject 'Streets to Homes' when you make your decision.
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

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