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The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.

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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 April, 2003

Housing Not War: Housing Activists Join the Peace Movement


Housing activists have joined the widespread peace movement to tell the federal government that Canadians want housing, not war.
In Toronto, a group called Homes not Bombs has sprung up and is holding vigils every Tuesday at Queen and Jarvis Sts to turn the city’s Moss Park Armoury into housing for people who are homeless. The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) and the Coalition to Stop the War joined forces with Homes not Bombs March 15 to organize a large peace march to the armoury and demand it be turned over immediately for shelter. TDRC has been campaigning throughout the harsh winter and into the spring for the federal government to turn over at least one of its Toronto armouries for a homeless shelter. Most recently, it held hearings with homeless people reporting on conditions in the city’s overcrowded shelters for a report that will be given to the city council and the federal government. Homes Not Bombs, the TDRC and the peace coalition are currently working on plans for another big demonstration May 30th.

In other parts of the country the ties between the two movements don’t seem to be as overt, though housing activists are definitely taking to the streets for peace.

Many of the Vancouver squatters, who recently won their fight to have the downtown Woodward’s building turned into affordable housing, have joined a squat outside of the U.S. consulate to demand an end to the war.

In Montreal, which has seen Canada’s biggest anti-war protests, the Front d’Action Populaire en Réaménagement Urbain (FRAPRU) is a member of the city’s coalition against the war, but does not have as overt a partnership as in Toronto.

Internationally, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions is putting out a call to attention about the housing rights violations that happen during war. In the latest COHRE newsletter, editor Scott Leckie says the 1991 Gulf War destroyed over 9,000 civilian homes. He calls on human rights activists to demand the United States compensate the thousands of families whose homes it has destroyed not only in Iraq, but in Serbia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Panama.

"Over the years I have visited many once-vibrant neighbourhoods that were hit by U.S. bombs, particularly in the Balkans, and I’ve spoken with many of those who lost their homes," he writes. "I have yet to meet anyone who received a formal apology, let alone financial compensation, from those who did the damage."

Scotland passes an act to end homelessness


By 2012, everyone who is unintentionally homeless in Scotland will be entitled to permanent accommodation - at least according to legislation recently passed by the new Scottish parliament. The Homelessness Act received cross-party support and not only guarantees homes but offers greater legal protection to people who are homeless or who are in danger of being homeless.

For more information visit HousingAgain Alerts. Click on article posted March 18th.

Ontario Budget Leaves Housing Activists Cold


Ontario has once again dropped the ball with regard to new money for housing in the province. Despite a province-wide shortage of affordable housing, the Ontario government is not contributing any new money for affordable housing in its 2003 budget released March 27th. This is a disappointment to housing advocates after the federal government announced new housing money in its budget last month.

The only good news in the Ontario budget was a re-announcement. "The Ontario government has set what may be a new record with this budget when it made the sixth re-announcement of a tiny rent supplement program that is funded with surplus federal housing dollars," said Michael Shapcott, on behalf of the Housing and Homelessness Network in Ontario. Shapcott is referring to rent subsidies for 10,000 low income households that were first announced in 1999, re-announced in January 2000, in November 2000, then again in May 2002 and again in August 2002. For this budget the program has been re-named the New Tomorrow Rent Supplement program.

Shapcott reports the overall number of households that will benefit has shrunk to 8,000. He says the one positive development is that the supplements will now be funded through 2023 instead of the previous plan to limit them to five years. Shapcott’s other observations about the budget include:

* Despite the fact that the province is requiring municipalities to pay most of the cost of the National Affordable Housing program, it has been talking to the municipalities about fast-tracking a handful of proposed housing projects that are using the national framework money through a ‘quick start’ program ­ perhaps in time to have some announcements handy for the provincial election, expected soon.

* Finance Minister Janice Ecker announced $250 million for mental health reform, but not one penny has been allocated for new supportive housing.

* The province has cut so much from its housing spending ($879.1 million from 1995 to 2002) that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing could soon be a revenue-generator. In 2003/04, the ministry will receive $643 million from the federal government in social housing transfers, yet the entire budget for the ministry (both municipal affairs and housing) is set at $688 million. Clearly, says Shapcott, the province is guilty of taking federal housing money and using it to replace provincial cuts.

To see the federal government budget speech and related documents

Next Housing Ministers Meeting Set for mid-April


The next federal, provincial and territorial housing ministers’ meeting will take place in Winnipeg, Manitoba from April 14-16. The time period between the announcement and the actual meeting date has been quick, making it difficult for activists to mobilize. The National Housing and Homelessness network wrote the Manitoba minister demanding an invitation but other than that, there has been much less activity surrounding the meeting this year than last.

Check for new developments regarding the housing ministers' meeting on Housing Again alerts this month

Community Spotlight: Tent City turned Social Agency in London Ontario


When London Ontario’s Unity Project moves into its own building this spring it will mark the culmination of almost two years of hard work amid uncertainty for a group that started as a Tent City protest and has turned into a viable social agency.

Unity Project got its start in the city’s Campbell Park during the 2001 Canada Summer Games. Homeless people and anti-poverty activists, the majority of them young people, formed the Tent City to protest the money being spent by the city to host the games at a time when people were sleeping in the streets. The members wanted to create a space ‘to crash’ for people who didn’t fit into the traditional shelter system with its strict rules and curfews. For example, the project is also the only shelter in London where homeless couples can stay together. Residents can live at the project for up to two years while they work on the problems that have kept them socially marginalized.

"There has been an extraordinary amount of community support from all areas," says Chuck Lisanby, 23, a project co-ordinator and former board member who was one of the original squatters.

Lisanby says the squatters ­ many were youth in school, and not making money - worked 24 hours a day to get the project going. She was a student at the time, and putting in 60-hour weeks with the Unity Project while going to school for 20 hours each week. "We went through crisis after crisis ­ no money, no building ­ there wasn’t a certain future up until a month-and-a-half ago."

John O’Handley, president of CAW Local 1520 and chair of the Unity Project board, remembers the day when squatters were given 48 hours to leave the park and police were getting ready to evict them. Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco asked him if he could assist in finding an alternate location and influence the Tent City occupants to move peacefully.

The Salvation Army stepped forward with a warehouse-type temporary building for the approximately 30 squatters. But as the Toronto Star reported, the warehouse became a magnet for London’s street people and some nights, 200 people crowded through the door. After five months, the Salvation Army wanted the Unity Project to leave. In late September 2002 it issued an eviction notice.

"When things looked bad, there was always someone who came on board with the expertise we needed," says O’Handley in explaining how the project survived its series of crises.

This time it was a local realtor, who offered the use of an abandoned farmhouse on Fanshawe Park Rd., the edge of town. Between 12 and 14 residents have been living in the house on a steady basis since then. Decisions are made by consensus at weekly meetings. The rules are basic: no drinking, no drugs, no violence and no stealing.

Although many residents have liked the farmhouse, it is far away from the downtown where many services, such as addiction treatment and job counseling, are located. Last month London City Council unanimously approved a $200,000 grant to the Unity Project to buy a new building, using funds transferred to the municipality from the province. For their part, Unity Project members had to come up with a business plan and donations. Community members and the London District Labour Council stepped forward with sufficient money.

Organizers have now secured a building downtown, on Dundas St., that will have 30 beds. Half will be available for anybody who needs a bed to crash and will be paid for by the city on a per diem basis. The other half will be available at rents affordable to welfare recipients. Although the building represents greater stability, project members are not fooling themselves that the hard work will continue. There are plans in the works to apply for charitable status and they are always on the lookout for funding.

Tyler Stranger, a resident for seven months, says the Unity Project has exposed a little more light in the sky for him. The 33-year-old dad, who struggles with addiction, came to the project after he lost his one-bedroom apartment. Workers at the Salvation Army suggested he join the Unity Project with the hope that he’d relate better socially to the youth-driven project. Stranger says at first he perceived the Unity Project as a bit ‘flakey’ because of its fewer rules and emphasis on resident control. He says his first judgment was wrong. Although he does think project co-ordinators could be stricter with those who use the place as a ‘pit stop,’ he says the experience has been ‘fantastic’ for him.

"I went with it and I’m glad I did. They are very good people and I love them dearly."


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