'Left' City Councillors Vote To Close School House Shelter
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.
OCAP felt it was necessary for the community to present its case before these members of Council on the 26th but we would be lying if we said that the outcome of the meeting comes as any great shock to us. Several of the Councillors who voted to throw the homeless out of this shelter have been involved in promoting the `Streets to Homes` initiative since 2005. This has led to homeless people being dumped into precarious housing with no real supports, often on the fringes of the City. It`s purpose has never been to respond to the needs of people without housing but rather to provide a cover that can justify the systematic closing of shelters in the interests of upscale redevelopment and those who profit from it. There is, indeed, a vast need for decent and truly affordable housing but it is not being met by any level of Government, including the City of Toronto which is selling off its own housing units while it pretends to care about housing the homeless. Until a real housing program is underway, every shelter bed in this City has to be defended and, indeed, we must force them to open more to meet the huge need that exists.
Everything now depends on a community based mobilization in the downtown east and beyond to save the School House. This shelter has to become the place where we draw a line. The economy is in crisis and governments at every level are imposing austerity and social cutbacks on our communities. In such a situation, we can`t permit the closing of another homeless shelter. We have to confront Wong Tam and her friends. We must take decisive action to demand that the 35 beds that have already been lost at the School House be replaced immediately. We can`t let this shelter sit empty with a padlock on its door while people die on the streets for want of shelter. We must organize to take back the School House and take forward the struggle in this City for the right to decent and affordable housing.
Come to the public 'Save The School House!' community meeting on July 17th at Parliament Library (6:00PM).