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 October, 2002
Get Ready for National Housing Strategy Day
The third annual National Housing Strategy Day is coming up on November 22nd and the National Housing and Homelessness Network is encouraging people to get ready. Last year the mayors of Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, North Bay, Parry Sound, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax issues official proclamations for the day and 21 communities across the country participated. Organizers are hoping for more involvement this year.
For sample ideas of how to get your community involved visit Housing Again Sept. 1
Squatters Across the Country Vow This is Only the Beginning
Last week dealt a blow to squatters across the country but they vow this will not be the end of the occupations.
At almost the same time as the Tent City eviction, squats in Vancouver and Quebec City were also disbanded. Squatters who had occupied an old Woodward’s department store building in downtown Vancouver for just over a week were evicted by police at 6 a.m. Saturday September 21. Instead of dispersing, squatters moved their mattresses to the sidewalk outside the building.
They say they won’t leave until the province commits to turning the building into affordable housing. The province’s previous NDP government had bought the building to turn it into 220 co-op units atop street-level stores. The current Liberal government is in negotiations to sell the building for less than its predecessor paid for it because Community Services Minister George Abbott says the conversion would cost the government $90 million.
In Quebec City, squatters who took over a building at 920 de la Chevrotière four months ago were evicted a few days after Tent City. For their efforts, squatters prevented the building from being converted exclusively to condominiums. Instead, the new owner will create a mixture of 25 co-operative units and 38 condominium units. In addition, the city has passed a bylaw that prevents developers from converting existing affordable rental apartments into condominiums.
Back in Toronto, the ‘Pope Squat’ at 1510 King St. W. is still intact. City Councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, in whose ward the building is located, says the city is waiting for a decision from the province about the building’s fate. "The city’s position is that the building belongs to the province so we are waiting for an answer on how they want us to deal with it," he said. Kuczynski says council will turn the building into affordable housing only if squatters leave without being forcibly evicted. Squatters say they won’t leave without a firmer assurance the city will follow through on its promise and a promise to assist the homeless people who are living in the building.
John Clarke, organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, which initiated the squat action said his group has plans to take over another building on October 26. OCAP will also call on supporters in Toronto and in other cities to hold a series of actions under the slogan of ‘give it or guard it.’ During this campaign people will announce their intentions to re-claim buildings ahead of time thus giving authorities the choice to either put a line of police in front of the buildings or let the squats happen.
"What may happen is a situation across a number of cities where police will be serving and protecting empty buildings," said Clarke. "We see this not just as a symbolic act but a way of building toward a more ambitious plan of housing take-overs. Given what has happened in Vancouver and Quebec City, there is no reason why we couldn’t do it on a coast-to-coast basis."
And, it looks like Toronto’s Tent City won’t be the last. At a rally last Saturday, street nurse Cathy Crowe said she had been talking to a group of squeegee kids in Halifax who were discussing plans to start a Tent City.
Tent City Eviction Contravenes Canada’s International Commitment
Home Depot’s eviction of the approximately 120 Tent City residents contravened an international agreement been signed by Canada, says a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.
Mary Truemner says that Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Covenant on Economic and Socio-Cultural Rights. General Comment 7 of the agreement says that signatories are to ensure that forced evictions must not result in homelessness. Under the agreement, Canada is supposed to ensure that any party that conducts evictions is to consult ith the people who are affected and ensure that a re-settlement plan is in place.
Home Depot’s eviction of Tent City came as a complete surprise to the residents and the company had put no relocation plan in place, though Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman is quoted after the eviction as saying that there were 200 shelter beds available. The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee phoned around to shelters and found 14 available beds. The UN Council that oversees the agreement will meet again in 2003.
In the meantime, the federal government announced in the Speech from the Throne that it will extend the Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (SCPI) program, which was due to wrap up next year. The program provides money for emergency and transitional housing for homeless people, but does not fund permanent affordable housing.
Eviction Roller Coaster for Tent City Residents
At 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday September 24th Toronto police arrived at the gates of Tent City. they waited for an uncomfortable couple of minutes while a team of private security guards, hired by property owner Home Depot, worked their way through traffic.
When the guards arrived, they swept through the squatters settlement conducting an eviction that came as a surprise to Tent City residents, the organizations that supported them, most city councilors and even the non-profit housing company that had been working with property owner Home Depot to find a housing solution for the squatters.
Rainer Driemayer was taken out before he could get his bicycle and pictures of his children. Sam Rojik was using a portable toilet and was still waving a roll of toilet paper while talking to reporters outside of the property fence. Spider and Olivia, a couple who had just finished putting a deck railing on their makeshift cabin a couple of weeks earlier, didn’t have time to get their cats, Scooby and Dooby.
While workers erected a new perimeter fence and manouvred a backhoe tractor and dump trucks filled with gravel to create a road for security guards to patrol property’s perimeter, residents pleaded with police and guards to retrieve their pets, ID, medication and warm clothing. They were eventually allowed to enter, one-by-one, escorted by guards to retrieve as many belongings as they could carry or cart.
In a matter of hours, the community that brought international attention to the issue of homelessness in Toronto was disbanded. As reasons for the eviction Home Depot cited increased drug activity and prostitution, fire threats, poor sanitary conditions and health hazards to residents due to the fact that the soil on the land is contaminated.
In April 2001, Tent City had a shot at redefining the way cities respond to homelessness when residents and activists got the City’s Community Services Committee to pass a proposal to pursue the creation of an experimental public/private partnership to build a community of low-cost, expandable houses with costs that could be carried over 10 years on the housing portion of a welfare cheque.
The city had chosen the non-profit Homes First, which was partnered with Home Depot, to build the houses. The deal soured when the federal government’s Port Authority contested the city’s claim to ownership of the land proposed for the project and started a lawsuit. Home Depot then said it would pave over the contaminated land at the Tent City site and work with Homes First to create the community on its own site. This plan was stalled when the city said it would require a zoning chnage.
Home Depot stopped communicating with Tent City supporters, and police patrols of the area increased. Then the company evicted the squatters, a move which came as a surprise to everyone except police, a few bureaucrats and the mayor, who was told the day before. Immediately after the eviction, protestors shut down a Home Depot press conference and then stormed a City Official Plan meeting.
By 7 p.m. the City had made arrangements for temporary shelter. The next afternoon, Wednesday, the City presented a plan offering former Tent City residents rent supplements, using money from a recently announced provincial program. The city calls its plan a ‘pilot project’ that will cover the full rent of an apartment for up to three months, then require residents to pay one-third of their income towards the rent. The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, which was negotiating on behalf of residents, says the city’s offer is a good one. It will be up to individual squatters to decide whether they will accept the deal.
Saturday September 29 former Tent City residents and their supporters gathered at the site, now a compound with high fences, guards and floodlights at night, to demand Home Depot give residents more time to claim their belongings and make a substantial capital contribution to create new affordable housing. The squatters assembled seemed tentative but excited about the city’s deal. Many had been saving money to move out of their makeshift shacks and into apartments.
"I’ll believe it when I have keys in my hand and a piece of paper that says I have an apartment in my name," said Patrick Lepage, who had been on an unsuccessful house-hunt during the summer.
When asked how she was coping, Olivia replied that she was having a good day. She had just come from a meeting with a housing worker who told her that she would be able to start hunting for an apartment on Tuesday. Before the eviction, she and Spider had been hoping to find an apartment and leave Tent City by December. Olivia was excited by the prospect of having an apartment before the winter.
Former Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall, who appears to be gearing up to run again for the city’s top political post, attended the Saturday demonstration and said that while the rent subsidies were an acceptable short term solution, the city needs more affordable housing in the long term.