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Home is where the community is: housing as a human right

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 10:00

In the third episode of the Courage My Friends podcast, Series III, Dania Majid, director of the Tenant Duty Council Program at the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario (ACTO); John Ecker, director of Research and Evaluation at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness; and Haydar Shouly, senior manager of Shelters and Shelter Programs with Dixon Hall discuss the current crisis of housing insecurity and homelessness facing our most vulnerable communities.

Ecker describes some of the ingredients of the housing crisis: “In Toronto we’re seeing an emergency shelter system that’s stretched to the limit, which is turning people away because there aren’t enough beds available. ..We’re seeing a significant increase in the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness or homelessness lasting six months or longer in Toronto…About half of people accessing emergency shelters can be defined as chronically homeless. We’re also seeing a burnt out workforce that is leaving the homeless system for other opportunities.

We’re seeing a social housing wait-list that continues to grow due to the lack of housing stock that is being created. Rising rental costs, which is even pushing people out of not just the housing market, but the rental market as well. There’s a lack of rental control measures put in place by the provincial government, allowing landlords to increase rent without that typical government oversight on units that were built after 2018.”

Reflecting on how the pandemic impacted Toronto shelters, Shouly recalls: “So I remember early 2020, probably February, March 2020 when we started to feel the heat of this pandemic. We had 91 people at Heyworth House, a hundred people at 351 Lake Shore. And we were talking about 2 to 3 feet apart. And that was just not feasible anymore. It was a disaster to keep people in that kind of environment. So collectively as a sector, and the city obviously led that, we moved clients from the traditional shelters and respites to hotels. The city secured a number of hotels to create that kind of social distancing that we were talking about in early 2020. It was really difficult. It was complicated to try to make that move. To transport people to a hotel. And trying to use the city’s transport vehicles or taxis… It was a really challenging kind of reality. But with that action, I think we managed to keep the numbers of positive cases low and we managed to create social distancing in those programs. But I think moving people from where they were in congregate settings into more isolated rooms in hotel programs, we actually created new sets of challenges..”

Speaking to the financialization of the housing market, Majid says, “Companies like Blackstone, and they’re definitely not the only one, they do see housing as an investment vehicle, and that’s their primary lens on housing.

So what we’ve seen these types of companies doing is what I call “home hoardership”; they are just accumulating homes just for the sake of accumulating these homes.

It deprives people like first time home-owners and renters from accessing these homes. And it’s driving the cost of the housing up. What we’re seeing in Canada has been happening in the United States for a lot longer and it’s a little bit more terrifying when you start putting the pieces together and it’s technically already here.

About today’s guests:

Dania Majid is a staff lawyer and director of the Tenant Duty Counsel Program at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, a legal aid clinic in Ontario. Prior to joining ACTO, Dania was a legal analyst with the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and a lawyer with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre and Neighbourhood Legal Services. She is also the founder and executive member of the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association and the Toronto Palestine Film Festival and sits on the steering committee of the Hearing Palestine program at the University of Toronto. Dania is also the lead author of ACLA’s 2022 report “Anti-Palestinian Racism: Naming, Framing and Manifestations.”

John Ecker, PhD is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. In this role, he has been fortunate to collaborate with a number of community partners on their research and evaluation activities. He attained his Ph.D. in Community Psychology from the University of Ottawa where he received advanced training in qualitative and quantitative analyses, as well as program evaluation theory and practice. His research interests are varied and include homelessness, housing, Housing First, community integration, and LGBTQ2S studies. In his spare time, John is an avid tennis player/fan and has a love of pop culture.

Haydar Shouly, is Senior Manager of Shelters and Shelter Programs with Dixon Hall in Toronto. Haydar spent more than 18 years in the Community Development, Housing & Homelessness sector with stints in Youth Homelessness Supports, Housing Advocacy, Food Security and Newcomer Settlement sectors. Most recently, he has been working and advocating to enhance the well-being of marginalized and vulnerable populations in our community. In the past 14 years, Haydar’s work at Dixon Hall has been focussed on building strategic responses to homelessness in the City of Toronto, primarily in partnership with the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) Division.

Transcript of this episode can be accessed at or here.

Image: Dania Majid, John Ecker, Haydar Shouly / Used with Permission

Music: Ang Kahora. Lynne, Bjorn. Rights Purchased

Intro Voices: Ashley Booth (Podcast Announcer); Bob Luker (voice of Tommy Douglas); Kenneth Okoro, Liz Campos Rico, Tsz Wing Chau (Street Voices) 

Courage My Friends Podcast Organizing Committee: Chandra Budhu, Ashley Booth, Resh Budhu. 

Produced by: Resh Budhu, Tommy Douglas Institute and Breanne Doyle,

Host: Resh Budhu

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Categories: F. Left News

Reflections from a wannabe archivist

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 08:11

People who have worked with me know I am a wannabe archivist, cataloguing the minutia of groups’ social justice work: the meeting minutes, action flyers and posters, postcard campaigns, media releases, news clippings, photographs, and politicians’ correspondence.

I have all that in my home office.

Then there is the red arm band that says ‘Nurse’ worn at a protest in case my services were needed, the plastic handcuffs used on me in another, and more political buttons than you can count.

Thank goodness there are real archivists and archives who value these treasures.

When the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) shut down ten years ago, Professor David Hulchanski, a fellow co-founder of the group, approached the City of Toronto Archives to see if they would accept our materials. These also included overlapping advocacy groups such as the Toronto Coalition Against Homelessness, the TB Action Group, the Coalition Against Police Violence and Housing not War.

Toronto Archives said yes and today the TDRC fonds are well utilized by students and researchers.

Over the summer, I’ve been going through my personal archives at home. In part because I was having too many ‘Groundhog Day’ moments, which I have written about related to homelessness and more recently with respect to nursing. And in part because I’m nostalgic and 50 years of nursing is enough.

Discrimination against the homeless continues

I began with the 1990s. As a young street nurse, it’s no surprise my files include a lot on homelessness and health: the Street Health Report, reduced access to health cards, police inflicted injuries, the resurgence of tuberculosis, homeless deaths and an advocacy response to declare homelessness a social welfare disaster.

Through the 2000s a clearer and more frightening pattern emerges: health and disease outbreaks worsen (TB, SARS, Norwalk virus, Strep A, flu), shelters become exceedingly unhealthy and crowded, extreme heat and cold become persistent threats, clusters of deaths take place, and encampments become routine. These are all markers of a disaster and take place within the political landscape of neoliberalism: cuts to social spending, reliance on charity and cancellation of government funding for social housing.

And the deaths not only continue, they escalate.

I once knew the names of every single person on Toronto’s Homeless Memorial. Front-line workers and I often arranged their funeral or memorial. I remember Tony, whose ashes sat on my work desk awaiting a colleague’s trip to Newfoundland where she would bring him home.

I recently re-watched the still timely documentary Shelter from the Storm which chronicles advocacy for housing through the eyes and actions of TDRC and Tent City residents. I had to write down the names of people in the film that we’ve lost: Brian, Karen, Marty, Nancy, Popeye, Bonnie, Dri and many more.

Today the number of deaths is staggering and no matter the multiple inquest recommendations to prevent further deaths – they are rarely, if ever followed by politicians.

My 12-year-old grandson helped me go through some of my files. Out of curiosity I looked at the Homeless Memorial list again. Since he was born 761 people have died homeless in Toronto. His fresh eyes noted that one year I gave a speech called ‘Never Again’ multiple times. ‘Never Again’ of course referencing that we must never let governments cut funds to social housing, or Medicare, or pensions.

Constant action to create constant pressure

Reading between the lines recounting these tragedies though, my archives tell another story. They disclose a pervasive activism through the decades that created constant pressure on policy makers ranging from polite deputations to direct action. I tell more of those stories in ‘Wielding the Sword. A Campaigner’s Toolkit in the Fight for Social Justice’ in A Knapsack Full of Dreams.

For many years it was accepted, in some cases expected that front line workers, would participate in ‘upstream’ work on the issues affecting their clients downstream. That meant speaking out, organizing, convincing managers to apply for funding. It was often allocated to a half day per week and was called time for health promotion, community development, outreach, research and planning. These names weren’t misnomers. That’s what working on healthy public policy entails.

It wasn’t always smooth. The Conservative Mike Harris government in Ontario created an advocacy chill. Community organizations were audited if they were too vocal in their critique of the government. Many pulled back from allowing their staff to speak out, fearing funding cuts. Rules around what charitable organizations were allowed to do with respect to advocacy were also a deterrent.

I was lucky to have a manager who believed in ‘intentional subversion’, and she understood why I would need to work on calling for an inquest into tuberculosis deaths or advocate for public health action on bedbugs or go to the monthly homeless memorial. The same was true for other organizations, namely Street Health, PARC and Sistering.

Mike Harris is long gone and tax rules around charitable organizations have eased but advocacy chill has again taken a cold grip on agencies. COVID didn’t help.

Worsening homelessness didn’t help. Stigmatizing frontline workers as ‘advocates’ didn’t help.

Still missing a national housing program

The successes we have seen over the last twenty years have only come from activism, from the experiences of front-line workers and unhoused people taking politicians to task, making bureaucrats accountable. The successes came with the labour movement by our side, with seniors, students and more.

Successes such as: the federal homelessness program (with its various acronyms SCPI, HPI), the opening of emergency shelters, the use of federal armouries and empty hospitals for shelter, harm reduction programs, palliative care programs, pilot rent supplement programs, warming and cooling centres. These are to be celebrated.

Missing in this list is housing. Yes, we have a national housing ‘strategy’, but I don’t see it here in Toronto. Across the country we don’t see it.

We see the financialization of housing, condominiums stretching into the sky and band aid measures such as inclusionary zoning and allowing secondary suites in homes.

My long-time colleague Beric German sums up what must be our work:

“We fight for shelters because people face disaster. We know that ultimately a number of other national housing programs have to be implemented. That means that we need housing, public housing, social housing, that is available to us all. This will not be dealt with in the private sector. In the condominium sector.”

November 22 is coming. It’s National Housing Day. It needs to be an activist day to fight for Housing For All. My archives tell the painful story of what happens without housing for all, but it also tells us we can make a difference.

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Categories: F. Left News

The future is human seeds

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 07:36

If home is where the heart is, then where is work? Is it where your computer is? Is it where customers are? Is it where the board room is? It is where your co-workers are? Well,  I think it depends on many things. Most importantly regardless of the answer to where work is, the real focus for organizations as they navigate their ‘new normal’ must be on human needs and not human wants. And by human needs I mean the needs of employees should not be marginalized or dismissed for the human wants of those in organizations with positional power.

I started to work from home in 2014. So the idea of ‘hybrid’ or a flexible work arrangement is not new for me. Make no mistake, I had to fight to make this happen. At that time I saw the fight as one of life balance. Not work-life balance. I now see that I was not only looking for life-balance but I was also honouring my needs.

Life balance

I always found the term ‘work-life balance’ odd. I mean, is there not more to balance? And is it only just about work-life? The reality is that for many of us we work to live, and how we live, the quality of our life requires the balance of more than work. But if 50 per cent is work and the other 50 per cent is life, well, that already is a tough equation to solve. The reality is that we have lots to balance in our lives. I often use the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, a holistic concept to wellness. The eight dimensions include: occupational, emotional, physical, intellectual, financial, social, environmental, and spiritual. Notice that ‘work’ or ‘occupational wellness’ is only one aspect of life balance and even then occupational wellness is about having a fulfilling career.

The other wellness factor that can connect to work is ‘financial wellness’. That still leaves six dimensions of balance that all of us are trying to calculate. And, spoiler alert, all of us will not have the same definitions of life balance nor will we have the same assessment of our wellness in the eight dimensions. This my friends is an important point, our workplace environments cannot be ‘one-size fits all,’ that is the mandatory requirement for many employees to work in the office is unfair and really unjust because this requirement can throw off their life balance, which I see as a human right.

Needs vs. Wants

There is a lot of literature and academic research surrounding human needs. In corporate settings, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, gets used to explain employee motivation. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with some of the needs, I struggle with having them depicted in a hierarchical way because I don’t believe human needs or motivations can really be seen in a linear fashion. Needs are personal and unique to every human. And although there are universal human needs, in this day and age the complexity and variety of human needs has evolved and exponentially grown. This is largely due to the multi-generational and diverse workforce. As the diverse workforce grows and we see more intersectional humans in workplaces there will be intersectional needs. Workplaces are no longer homogeneous.

The reality for those in organizations with positional power is that they must, dare I say, have a morale obligation to look at the variety of needs and see how the organization can embrace them versus suppress them. The pandemic has impacted the world in many ways and for workplaces it indeed forced a new paradigm. The previous assumptions that all people commute and that to be productive people need to be in the office have been dispelled. What people with positional power want, that is, people working from the office is not what employees may need. There are unilateral decisions being made and employees are being commanded to ‘return to work’ with no real solid explanations provided. The people with the positional power are not putting empathy into action.

Working and living in the new normal

Don’t get me wrong. There are for sure many sectors and industries where the job roles and responsibilities must be done in person. For example, the service industry, or essential services such as folks working in health care. My hope is that employees in these sectors and industries are being encouraged to find their life balance and honour their needs. I know we are in challenging times where this may not be the case for many. For ‘office-environment’ organizations, I have less sympathy. Human needs and life balance should be the default when employers are looking to motivate, retain, and support employees. They should not presume to know what’s best in terms of working in the office, hybrid, or remote.  They should not be pushing their preferences or wants.

What should be taking place is recognition of the complexity of being human and how we can be human at work. This means talking to employees and finding out from them how and what they think would be best. This means having candid conversations on how needs can be aligned with job expectations and reaching performance goals. This means being intentional with why gatherings are taking place at work. In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker does a fabulous job in looking at folks sharing a space and how the experience can be fulfilling while practical.

As organizations and those with positional power look at the ‘new normal’, I hope they will recognize the importance of considering life balance and human needs and see the opportunities in different ways of working versus pushing for their wants. Now is the time to truly look at being human at work. Because we don’t ‘coat-check’ humanity when we work, if anything we need to see more of it

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Categories: F. Left News

Why private interests and public good don’t mix

Fri, 10/07/2022 - 14:12

Earlier this month, we reported on the Toronto Star’s ownership debacle. The squabble between two owners over different business directives may bring this bastion of Canadian journalism to its demise. This is just one example of how corporate powers are limiting Canadian press freedoms and undermining the public good.

Private interests are snatching up newspapers and dictating which stories are told, which makes it hard to find truthful reporting. The state of the Star shows more than ever that independent journalism is key for democracy.

If you value independent reporting, please support rabble with a donation today or become a monthly donor.

Journalists producing work for the public good

While mainstream media outlets are struggling, there are still independent journalists delivering quality news. One such journalist is Megan Kinch, who recently dove into the labour politics of Canada’s cannabis industry in a special independent media collaboration published on rabble. Kinch’s reporting highlights that cannabis workers are underpaid and that migrant workers lack critical protections in growing operations.

Kinch could do this in-depth labour reporting because she wasn’t restricted by corporate influences sanitizing her journalism. Instead, she was backed by independent, community-funded outlets. These outlets aren’t accountable to CEOs, they’re accountable to people like you.

And Kinch isn’t the only reporter producing critical independent journalism at rabble. We are one of the very few Canadian outlets to have a labour reporter, Gabriela Calugay-Casuga. Calugay-Casuga’s writing brings workers’ and unions’ fights for justice into a national spotlight, including the “legalized slavery” Filipinos face through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

For 21 years, rabble has upheld its commitment to telling underreported stories from the labour movement while remaining free from corporate influences. To keep you informed on the newest labour issues that outlets like the Toronto Star won’t cover, we need independent support.

There are many more battles to be won in the fight for decent work for all — and your contributions will ensure these stories are heard. Take action today to stop private companies from meddling in the public good.

Click below to read some of the rabble reporting mentioned above:
1. Filipinos highlight “legalized slavery” during Filipino Heritage Month
2. Sovereignty, labour, and the push for a better cannabis industry
3. The suicide pact that might sink the Toronto Star

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Categories: F. Left News

Quebec’s election and the reluctant nationalism of the left

Fri, 10/07/2022 - 14:05

There was a time, not long past, when, if Quebec held an election, the rest of Canada held its breath in dread. This wasn’t due to Quebec’s nationalism — its belief that its identity as francophone and Quebecois was menaced by anglophone Canada and had to be vigorously defended. Everyone in Quebec politics is a nationalist in that sense, including federalist Liberals.

Dread seeps in when nationalism takes the stark form of separatism, a conviction that Quebecers can only survive as an independent country. That’s recurred regularly since the conquest — yes, in 1759, we’re talking long, vivid memories — starting with the rebellion of 1837. A recent version is the Parti Québécois, born in 1968, and since then a major force. It governed often, and almost won referendums to dismember Canada. It’s now in severe decline.

They’ve been reduced to three seats of 125. François Legault’s governing Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), with 90 seats, is ardently nationalist but not remotely separatist. So almost everyone is happy. Quebec gets to indulge its paranoia; we get our sense of moral superiority, because of course we’d never make religious headgear illegal.

Exhale, everyone.

The only separatist party with any energy now is Québec Solidaire (QS), which is both seriously socialist and seriously separatist. It had a pretty good election, given the sweep by the CAQ. They were the only oppo party to gain rather than lose seats (up one, to 11) and got more votes than the others. If you’ve heard little about them, I don’t think it’s because the mainstream media are capitalist tools (which they are). It’s that they just don’t know how to deal with genuine leftists. (Versus the NDP, who long ago ditched “socialism” and other embarrassments.)

Where QS really shines is on the subject of immigration. They want to take in 80,000 per year, way above the rest. Legault, OTOH, has badmouthed immigrants for causing violence, then tried to backtrack. It’s not easy being both progressive and nationalist in this era, when nationalists are mostly dolts and villains. But if QS can thread the socialist needle by, effectivement, putting a separatist thread through its eye, they’ll be in a neat political place.

This is particularly pertinent in Quebec, with its sense of peoplehood and collective historical anxiety. That’s led to a sense of solidarity(!), openness to programs like universal daycare, perhaps even a sort of socialist proclivity.

There was a belated memorial last weekend for Mel Watkins, the brilliant economist and progressive thinker, who so disquieted the NDP’s grandees that they threw him out of the party for a while. He believed Canada could only become truly socialist if it was truly independent of the malign influence of the U.S. He and his movement, the Waffle, were similar to QS in that way.

Someone at the memorial said Mel had been a reluctant nationalist. He’d grown up during the rise of fascism and the Second World War, when nationalism was often equated with racism and militarism. But he also lived in an era when nationalists liberated their people from foreign control. So he grappled with the discomfort.

What’s saddest in the nationalist negativity toward immigrants in places like Quebec, is it manages to overlook how vital and needed immigrants are. Immigrants bring energy, optimism, paradox, wit (the wit of survival) — they’re crucial to places that are tired and faltering. Even when immigrants fail and their plans collapse, they tend to inject vigour because as an immigrant, you can’t survive without it. If you want to know what I mean, try watching the current season of “Ramy.”

In the election night speech of QS “co-spokesperson” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, his greatest passion was spent on the need to fight climate change. Why? Because if you truly care about your people, you can’t afford to postpone, much less belittle, this greatest of threats to their survival and well-being. You’d better find a way to bring those things together — or what kind of nationalist are you?

This column originally appeared on the Toronto Star.

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Categories: F. Left News


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