The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for June, 2003
Getting the Homeless to the Polls
For the first time, Elections Ontario will formally add liaison officers for people who are homeless in ridings with shelters, soup kitchens and food banks. The move is the result of a 1988 amendment to the Ontario election act that made it easier for people with no fixed address to be registered to vote. Although the changes were in place for the 1990 election elections officials have found the new rules hard to implement. This year the province has a new chief election office and a new focus on outreach.
Rainer Driemeyer, also a former Tent City resident said that people who are homeless have so many immediate survival issues that whoever wins the next election just isn’t a priority. "Your average person on the street is worrying about where they are going to sleep and wondering whether they are going to survive the night," he said.
While many admit that the actual homeless vote will likely not impact the election, advocates hope this new constituency exists will give housing and homelessness issues a higher profile during debates and in the media. To that end, the TDRC’s community development coordinator Dana Milne is busy organizing with representatives from 24 different organizations in target Toronto ridings and make homelessness issues prominent during the upcoming election. Milne has also been meeting with people from the Elections Ontario Outreach team, and suggests the easiest solution for homeless people to attend at an advance poll in the returning office where they can register without I.D. and vote immediately. For those who wait until election day, Elections Ontario will now accept a signed letter from shelter or drop-in administrators, on official letterhead, as proof of residence. For more information contact email@example.com or, Elections Ontario at 1-866-771-6315 or 1-800-677-8683.
Pink Floyd Star Donates $8 Million for New Housing
Who says aging rockers are out of touch? David Gilmour, from the band Pink Floyd decided to sell his London house and donate the proceeds, $8 million (Cdn), toward an urban village with apartments for 400 people. Half of the residents will be people who are currently homeless while the other half will be public sector workers. The money will go to a charity called Crisis, which is developing the project. The idea caught Gilmour’s attention after watching a video about a similar project, Common Ground, in New York.
"Homeless people do not just want a roof over their heads, they need a way to be drawn back into the community," he told Associated Press. " This seems to be a way forward and I give it my full support."
Ivey School Students Find Homelessness is Bad for Business
A five-member research team at Western University’s business school found that homelessness costs the city $68 million per year in lost economic development, health care costs and costs associated with crime. The study, conducted on behalf of the Salvation Army, makes the case that social action is not just good public relations but also improves the bottom line.
"Companies who excel in managing relationships with investors, customers, employees, suppliers, and the community tend to have above-average financial performance. Increasing business involvement also benefits a company’s reputation, risk management, and its relationship with government. In a nutshell, companies need to be seen doing good deeds," says the report.
Community Spotlight: Hamilton’s Threshold School for Affordable Housing
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What started as a group of progressive engineers meeting monthly in Hamilton to talk about a mutual interest in housing has developed into an exciting community-based trade school that will renovate and sell houses for low-income families. The Threshold School of Building opened its doors to the public in January. It’s located in a former bowling alley on James St. North. in the city’s downtown core.
"When we started meeting we weren’t sure what to do," says Bob Hudspith, now chair of the Threshold board and a professor in the Engineering and Society Department at McMaster University.
The group was inspired by a larger process afoot in Hamilton to create a more sustainable community and started by asking themselves how sustainability related to housing. Enabling people to look after their own homes, restoring rundown properties and making housing more affordable were the themes that led the group to look to community building schools in the U.S. as a model for creating one in Hamilton.
Threshold was incorporated in April 2001, received charitable status in October and successfully applied for funding through the Hamilton Community Foundation to run a pilot program September 2002. The school received a generous donation from Bosch Tools and found its instructors after Turkstra Lumber let the group insert flyers in the envelopes of its August bills most of which went to professional builders. Thirty people responded to the flyer.
Threshold purchased its first house this past October. So far, it has had about 120 students carpentry courses for women have been particularly popular. The school plans to have the house finished by the end of this month and has already found a family to buy it with the help of a community organization that works with low-income people. The school also received funding to pay the costs for at-risk youth who couldn’t afford to pay their own way. Four young people have already found jobs through their connection with the school.
"The building industry is always looking for semi-skilled labour," said Hudspith. "We think we can supply that by giving young people the basics so they can work well on construction sites."
The biggest challenge the school faces is the same as any other charitable organization the continual quest for funding. Hudspith says Threshold has embarked on a balancing act between keeping tuition affordable but at the same time using that tuition as a revenue source to help keep the housing it creates affordable. But he is optimistic. "There is a real interest in the building community. We have a very good pool of talented trades people and almost everybody we’ve talked to at the City and in non-profit groups think it is a workable concept." For more information visit www.thresholdschool.ca
Ontario Opposition Parties Promise New Housing
While the Conservatives have let the federal Affordable Rental Housing program stall for two years partly because of its refusal to match the federal dollars, opposition parties are stepping forward with promises of new housing dollars.
In Ontario, there are over 160,000 households on the waiting list for subsidized housing. Rents have risen, on average, more than twice the rate of inflation between 1999 and 2000 while incomes have stagnated and even declined.
While the Conservative party has come to the table with $20 million and insisted municipalities put up the other $180 million for the federal program, the Liberals are promising funds for 20,000 new units (4000 units a year) and better rent regulation.
The New Democratic Party is going even farther with a promise for 32,000 units of affordable housing (6,400 per year), a two-year rent freeze, and increased shelter allowances. The NDP is also addressing the issue of declining incomes by promising to immediately increase minimum wage to $8 per hour while promising better treatment for injured workers and to prohibit scabs.
While advocates applaud these promises, they say they even the NDP doesn’t go far enough to address the actual need. The Ontario Housing and Homeless Network, says that Ontario needs 18,000 new units annually to keep pace with its own population projections. The network estimates that the private sector in Ontario has been able to develop about 3,000 new units per year, so if this continues, it is calling on the parties to create 15,000 units per year to meet the population growth rate.
Groups in Belleville, London, Hamilton, North Bay, Ottawa and Kingston are getting ready to push housing issues during the election.
Taking Aim at Shared Care Teams for the Homeless
While the atmosphere at the Ontario legislature buzzed with speculation about whether or not the government would call an election (it decided not to), housing advocates, many who have been homeless, gathered on the grate where a homeless man died, just below a window that once belonged to former premier Mike Harris.
The Ernie Eves government is promising there will be no more deaths like Al’s and the 300 others that advocates gathered to remember. It will do that by not allowing people to sleep outdoors in cold weather, and instead implement Shared Care Teams of outreach workers, nurses and doctors supported by psychiatrists. Legislation will give these teams, backed by police, power to remove people from the streets and get them to medical help, addiction treatment or shelter beds.
Advocates who work with the homeless say that while there is a great need for outreach workers, they are worried the coercive aspect of the Tory plan will drive homeless people into hiding, making them harder to reach. Michael Shapcott, researcher with the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) says this platform ignores the fact that shelters are already overcrowded in most parts of the province and don’t exist in most small towns, rural, remote and northern communities.
The TDRC has been pushing its city to open 200 more shelter beds and recently held hearings with homeless people testifying about the lack of sanitation and spread of disease at shelters that can’t cope with the demand.
Another source of pressure is that more newcomers to Canada are using shelters and drop-ins, according to Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre. The centre recently released a study that found Toronto shelters and drop-ins are unequipped to meet the cultural, linguistic and legal needs of homeless immigrants and refugees and is developing an action plan around the issue.
With regard to the plan for Shared Care Teams, advocates who have been homeless painted a much more dire picture. For them, this platform has raised the spectre of forced stays in mental health facilities.
"People who are asking for mental health support can’t get it. Meanwhile, the government is talking about swooping people off the street against their will," said Boni, a former Tent City resident. "I’ve seen women who were simply angry become certified (mentally ill) and you know what happens? You lose your clothing, they can restrain you, they feed you medication that can be physically dangerous. This is about people having their choices taken away."
Boni also questioned the economic wisdom of this platform pointing out that Shared Care teams will cost well over $1,000 per client while rent supplements cost approximately $800 per client.
"The Tories should be funding more affordable social and supportive housing not demonizing the homeless by threatening to arrest them," said Michael Shapcott, researcher with the TDRC and co-ordinator at the Centre for Urban and Community Studies at the University of Toronto.
Instead of affordable housing units, the Tories are promising mortgage deductions for homeowners that The Toronto Star reported could mean savings of up to $500 a year for homeowners a potential cost of $700 million for the provincial treasury.