Community responds to inadequate support for local shelter residents

On the morning of Saturday December 8th, around 23 volunteers gathered at the Black Creek Community Health Centre in Sheridan Mall. They convened in response to a call to action by Jill, a certified housing support worker committed to supporting and working with our most vulnerable populations on and off the clock. In mid-November, Jill’s volunteerism led her to the Toronto Plaza Hotel which is currently being used as an emergency shelter space by the City of Toronto. While she was only there for a brief visit to pick up donations, her observation of the hotel premises left her feeling disheartened. She was especially saddened as she realized that there was an overrepresentation of Black individuals and families seeking respite in the shelter space. This was compounded by the inadequate accommodations. “The common areas are filthy, the dining areas are unsanitary, the rooms are cold,” she recounts. Jill left the hotel reflecting on how the housing crisis plays out as yet another example of how one systemic inequity feeds into the next and asked herself, “In what ways can we make room for a holistic intervention?”

Her call to action, which was shared with the Black Toronto Community Support Group that connects 25,000 of the Black community across the Greater Toronto Area via social media, urged members to check out the emergency shelter space, rent rooms to shelter residents and to donate goods such as clothing and sanitary napkins.

The charge was taken up by Noella Charles, a local caterer. She visited the hotel to try to coordinate a drop-off donation space within the shelter. After learning that external groups were not allowed to distribute donations to shelter residents directly, she got in touch with the executive director of the Black Creek Community Health Centre who was very supportive of an initiative to support residents. The executive director provided staff to do outreach and offered space for community members to drop-off donations over the week long period before the clothing drive and even made the kitchen available for the Community Support Group to host a breakfast for shelter residents. “I donated about 80% of the food and one other volunteer provided a few dozen eggs and bagels,” Noella mentioned.  Up to 140 plates were provided to shelter residents who attended the clothing drive.

The spirit of the gathering was one of infectious compassion. Noella connected with a resident that she was able to offer a casual employment opportunity. “I am in a position to help. I own my own business and can offer people a job if they need it.” This was said as volunteers were huddled off into a corner planning their next steps- specifically how they could create a community pipeline to respond to the challenges that precarious housing poses to the community. Shelter residents expressed the exact sentiment of volunteers to maintain a connection to the community.

One expectant mother, a newcomer from Nigeria, expressed the following, “With the accommodation problem in this city, the more information we can get, the better we are able to support ourselves and our families.” She continued, “It is hard to live on the stipend from the government and also try to save for the new baby.” She further shared her surprise that she was able to get a crib at the clothing drive.

Jill was overwhelmed as she watched up to 150 families and individuals enjoy breakfast and leave with basic goods and then some. Still, more can be done. “A lot of men came in today seeking adequate winter gear such as boots and jackets. A lot of men left disappointed today.” As she was checking in with those who attended the drive, she learned that many had come from across the city- even from as far as Scarborough. Noting the recent changes by the provincial government to freeze the minimum wage increase, coupled with the changes to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program, which are made worse by the stoppage of rent control legislation, Jill is weary of the ways these instances of negligence will continue to strip community members of their agency.

“Poverty is unfortunately a systemic experience and not an individual one,” she mulled on this point. Shelter residents carry diverse narratives- they are parents, children, they are fleeing war, they have been trafficked, balancing mental health challenges, are seniors, or have learning disabilities. Jill does not believe that she has the right to speak on behalf of shelter residents but concludes that, “We have an obligation to look out for our most vulnerable.”

This Premier is no Santa

Make no mistake, premier Doug Ford is on Santa’s naughty list.  In fact, the Conservative government has generated a surprising amount of naughtiness in only six months since they took office.  Here are several examples:

  1. Inflating deficit numbers to justify cuts: In September, the Conservative Minister of Finance proclaimed the province’s deficit to be much higher than what the Liberals had claimed. The Ford Conservatives have used this inflated number over and over again, as a tactic to justify their callous cuts to vital services and programs Ontarians rely on.
  2. High price firings and appointments: It seems that not a week goes by without news of someone getting fired or hired as a result of Ford’s meddling.  The former Hydro One CEO was canned, and walked away with about $9 million in cash and stocks, while an Ontario Power Generation executive was fired on the first day of his job and paid out up to $500,000. As I write this, controversy surrounds the appointment of the premier’s personal friend as head of the OPP.  
  3. Voting against auto insurance reform: The Ford government voted against an NDP Private Member’s Bill that would have put an end to postal code discrimination on the part of auto insurers, and ensure that the entire GTA is considered as a single region when determining auto insurance rates.
  4. Leaving Humber River-Black Creek out in the cold: The Ford government has shown our community little regard, and it keeps making life harder for Ontarians. This is evidenced by the Conservative Minister of Community Safety adding to the stigmatization of the Jane and Finch community, the government introducing legislation to allow gas companies to raise the cost of heating our homes, allowing developers to potentially build on the once-protected Greenbelt, cutting an increase to minimum wage as well as two paid sick days for workers, rolling back protections of temporary workers, and much more.

Although it appears this government is doing a great job of imitating Ebenezer Scrooge, you can count on the NDP opposition to fight for the people of Humber River-Black Creek, and for all Ontarians. I wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas, happy holidays and health and joy in the New Year.

Workers’ rights under attack

Bill C-89 has forced the postal workers, members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), to return to work as of November 27th – preventing the two sides from coming to an agreement.

“You cannot legislate labour peace,” says Mike Palecek, CUPW National President. “This law violates our right to free collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Legislating employees back to work has caused issues for governments in the past. In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the right to strike to be fundamental and protected by the constitution. For this reason CUPW has filed a constitutional challenge to Bill C-89. During a previous work stoppage during the Harper government, the Liberals opposed the decision to legislate employees back to work. Now that they are in government they have changed their stance and are following Harper’s methods in legislating them back to work.  

“This federal government was supposed to be different from the last, and yet here we are again,” said CUPW President, Mike Palecek. “Trudeau is showing his true colours and the anti-worker agenda shared with former Prime Minister Harper. He knows we have always been prepared to bargain in good faith and to negotiate – quickly – fair collective agreements for our members. He could have directed Canada Post to do the same.”

CUPW was one of the most crucial organizations in establishing parental leave in Canada. During their work stoppage in 1981, the Postal Workers pushed for 17 weeks of maternity leave, which helped lead a movement that made parental leave available across the country. Unions fought hard for other key reforms for employees around the country that have become mainstream in Canadian society such as regulated hours, workplace safety, and much more.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has spoken out against the postal workers being legislated back to work.

“These workers love their job and love serving their communities, but they also face tough conditions and the highest rate of injury amongst federal workers,” said Singh. “All they want is fair negotiations but the Liberals have made that impossible.”

While CUPW members are no longer allowed to strike many other individuals have replaced CUPW members in solidarity on the picket line and postal workers and their allies have participated in demonstrations outside of Liberal MPs offices and Canada Post facilities.  Canada Post has made over 80 million dollars each of the last four years, with 2017 being the highest of the last three years. Canada Post’s business is expected to continue to grow due to online shopping.