The School House Shelter may remain open… for now: Important Update!
*Mobilization continues for Wednesday, November 14th, 9am Moss Park!*
Due to overwhelming pressure and mobilization by the community against the closure of the Schoolhouse Shelter, we have received news that the Schoolhouse may remain open… for now. The City of Toronto is putting forward a report and recommendations this coming Wednesday, November 14th at the Community Development Committee that will see the Schoolhouse shelter on George St. remain open as an emergency men`s shelter with 40 beds for at least the foreseeable future. (See that report here.)
This is important step for the campaign to Save the Schoolhouse shelter and shows that mobilization and fighting back can and will win! While we want to be able to celebrate this as a total and complete victory, we have to be cautious and here are the reasons why:
1) This is a temporary decision: they say that it is `pending upcoming CHPI [Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative] community consultations`. The CHPI is a result of cuts and changes in provincial funding, including the devastating cut to the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit. The decision making around the future of the Schoolhouse, Seaton House next door, and ALL of George St, is being rolled in to these upcoming ‘community consultations’. The reality is that funding has and is being cut from the Province down to the City – so we can expect the fight for shelters and services for poor people is about to get a whole lot bigger.
2)There is a recommendation that the ‘drinking of alcohol on site be discontinued effective January 1, 2013’. The Schoolhouse fills an important void in harm reduction space in Toronto, especially for men who drink, and is unlike any other program. Unlike other facilities the Schoolhouse does not give prescribed amounts of alcohol nor does it force people to lock up their alcohol or come in sober, instead it allows for people to bring in their own alcohol within certain limits and it provides front-line staff on-site, a health care provider visits, and access to services. Harm reduction is not about a prescribed cookie-cutter approach; it is meant to be a continuum of care to meet people where they are at. A narrow definition of harm reduction that does not include a safe-consumption space, like the Schoolhouse, is both dangerous and inaccurate. To say that the shelter as of January 1st will use ‘harm reduction principles’, but not longer allow for drinking on site, does not meet people where they are at and what we, and many others, see as a great need in the neighborhood.
It is important to remember that just a few short weeks ago, many homeless were left outside to fend for themselves during the extreme weather caused by Hurricane Sandy. According to reports, people were turned away from the city shelter referral centre on Peter St, after being told there was 'no space', while another 140 people slept on the floor of the referral centre itself. But this is not new, for years emergency shelters, especially in the winter, have been overcrowded and people have been turned away, and over the years beds have been cut, not added.
OCAP has never been to ‘maintain the status quo’ or ‘leave everything alone’ as city Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has tried to assert. Our demands are based in what poor people need and deserve – not in accepting the meager scraps that government tries to throw down. Winning 40 emergency beds is unquestionably an important step. But the reality is that we need and demand more and we know that we are up against the continuing force of upscale development and devastating gentrification in the neighborhood.
We have called for a demonstration to take place on Wednesday, November 14th as this issue is brought back to the Community Development and Recreation Committee. We know that fighting back works, so let's honour that fightback on Wednesday and demand expanded harm reduction shelter space, safe consumption sites, affordable and accessible housing and services. Let's ensure that the message is heard loud and clear in the immediate and for whatever 'consultation process' in the future: poor people will not be pushed, priced or policed out of the Downtown East.