Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Canada Day and the Bus

For some Canada Day evokes memories of loons at the lake or fireworks in the park or perhaps an outing with the family. 


My Canada Day memories primarily involve a bus.

I’m going back to July 1, 1993.  That was the first Canada Day that my wife and I rented a City of Burlington bus.  We did it to provide a service and we did it to make a point.

Then, we lived in a town where decision makers did not think public transit was important.  “Get a car or get out of town” was the mantra.  In fact, a survey of Sunday transit users had been done a few years previous. The survey determined that many riders were using the service for some purpose other than going to church or work.  Imagine!  The survey provided justification to cut Sunday service.

It seemed then, and for many years later, that there was really no reason to provide what, some would argue, is a necessary service on Sundays and holidays.  (See my 2008 blog piece at http://whenthemayorsmiles.blogspot.ca/2008/02/greetings-on-family-day.html)
 
It was in that context that I could be found dawdling in Sheldon Park that July 1st.  I’d been unsuccessful at persuading my Council colleagues of the need for holiday service so I decided to do it myself.  A route was designed that would run hourly covering the southeast portion of the City.  The route would run past seniors’ residences, go to some regular stops, past Sheldon Park and loop over to Spencer Smith Park.  Annual Canada Day celebrations were taking place there.  The bus was free.

I was in that east end park as I was somewhat apprehensive about actually being on the first run of the bus.   There had been a fair bit of media attention and I’d placed an ad in the local paper.  If I were to be its only passenger, well, it would probably be better for me if the bus were empty.   


From a distance I recall see it chugging down Pinedale and as it passed me I was relieved to see it carried many passengers. I believe I allowed myself a small fist pump not having the flexibility even then for a self-congratulatory pat on the back.  
Over the course of the day, it was a busy route. 

We learned that there were many different reasons for people to take that bus.

Some visited family at Joseph Brant Hospital.  There was no other way for them to get there on that day.  One woman I spoke with was headed over to the park to see a band she used to dance to at the Brant Inn.  She had no other way to get there.   Some people were riding the bus to get to Oakville although Oakville, at the time, had no transit service on holidays so there were left high and dry at the Pig and Whistle.

Another positive of the day was that people who never rode public transit tried it out and found it a positive experience.

We ran that bus for the next four years and as I recall it was busier each year.  One thing about renting a bus is when you’re paying you plan the route.  Call me childish, but road construction one year provided an “excuse” to take the bus right past the house of a Council colleague who was a strong opponent of public transit.  (Yes, some Councillors didn’t like buses running on their street in those days.  It is still the case, I’m told.) 

After I left Council in 1997, several Councillors asked staff to make arrangements so that they too could have their own free bus service on Canada Day.  Instead, a city-wide service was provided at city expense.  Now Burlington has service on most statutory holidays.


It still isn’t the level of service we ought to have though.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Giorgio Mammolitti

With the outrageous comments made by Toronto Ward 7 Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti this week I thought it might be worth recirculating a birthday "tribute" I paid to him nearly three years ago.  I'm not going to dignify his current remarks with comment.  However, Joe Fiorito has a nice piece in today's Toronto Star that is worth the read. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/06/18/this_thumbs_for_you_giorgio_mammoliti_fiorito.html



Here is my story from September 2011.
------------------------------------------------------------------------


We are sensitive at When the Mayor Smiles




From the grave we hear former U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew calling out those “nattering nabobs of negativism” and we know of whom he speaks.



So today we’ll take the high road and recognize someone who stands out from the norm in the world of local government.



That would be Giorgio Mammoliti. Today is his 50th birthday.



For those of you from a planet other than Toronto you need to know that Councillor Mammoliti represents Ward 7 (York West) in the centre of the universe.



He’s been in politics pretty much consistently since he was 28. Following a time as a union leader Mammoliti began his political career as part of the Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae.



Mammoliti now recognizes that unsuccessful attempts were made to “try to brainwash me in my early career by communists.” He mentions no names but it is clear from recent comments that there remain, even now, many “well-bodied able to work” types who make a career of “asking for money from the taxpayers” who are still operating. He can smell them.



Back in those formative days the member for Yorkview was not intimidated into toeing the “party line” likely leading to his defeat in 1995. Some will argue, wrongly I believe, that his vocal opposition to same sex marriage was a contributing factor in his loss to Liberal Mario Sergio in the 95 provincial election.



Not one to be discouraged though Mammoliti was successful soon after in a by-election run for North York Council. There he replaced the man who knocked him off as MPP (Sergio) by beating the man (Claudio Polsinelli) he had defeated in 1990.



Immediately the rookie Councillor got to work in trying to attract an NHL franchise to North York. The ideas just keep coming; grand ideas; big picture stuff. Here are a few:





  • Transforming the Gardiner Expressway into a park featuring a privately operated Light Rail Transit line  running from the CNE to the DVP.


  • Building a floating casino in Ontario Place Harbour.


  • Bringing in the army to crack down on drug dealers in his ward.


  • Making the ward safer through the creation of special zone for legal brothels on the Toronto Islands some distance from his ward.


  • Tolling the Lakeshore.


  • Giving guns to by-law officers thereby making parking regulations easier to enforce and additionally making taxpayers’ days by rubbing out Toronto’s horrendous graffiti problem as well.


  • Filling the lottery void we have in this country by starting a municipal one.


  • Hanging a 40 metre wide vinyl Canadian flag from a 125 metre flagpole at the corner of Highway #400 and Finch Avenue West. Oh Canada!
It is comforting to know that such long term thinkers still function in the local realm that is so often dominated by short sighted, pothole obsessed ward politicians.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shift Happens and Four Other Good Ideas to Tackle Inequality



(Here is a story I wrote that originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca)


From time to time, we do book reviews.


Well, on reflection, we’ve only done one that we can remember (http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Briefs+on+Books+%231&id=151).


Today we thought we’d do something similar.  Recently, we attended a Maytree Foundation Lunch and Learn Workshop.  We participated in the live stream.  Therefore, this will be a Lunch and Learn Workshop Live Stream Review. We have no illusions that we are the first to attempt this.


Armine Yalnizyan was the speaker at this workshop.


Armine is a senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
You’ve probably seen her on TV or heard her on Tuesdays and Thursdays on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning.


Her presentation dealt with Income Inequality. We won’t get into the details.
 
You’ll know that inequality in incomes and wealth is increasing in this country. It is often referred to as the Growing Gap.


There has been a real change in recent years.  It used to be that inequality came from recessions and the bottom falling out of the economy.  Now, according to Ms. Yalnizyan, “in good times and bad times the rich get richer.”


So what to do?  Here are some snippets from her five good ideas.


Don’t Make Things Worse


Axe some of those bad ideas.  The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is one that needs to return to its original purpose.Income splitting - “inequality by policy design” is another.  Similarly, those Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) don’t benefit those they were designed to help. We need to stop allowing the demonization of unionized workers and halt the weakening of employment laws as well.


Boost Economy from the Bottom Up


Why not boost the economy from the bottom up?  Raising the minimum wage isn’t just a poverty reduction strategy.  It is good for the bottom line of business.  Better wages raise productivity, increase investment and employee retention.   There are other methods such as increasing the GST credit that can also be implemented which will help those with the lowest incomes.


Tax is not a four Letter Word


Armine Yalnizyan takes this notion from the book by Alex Himelfarb (http://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Catalog/himelfarb.shtml).   There is lot that can be done with taxes that would help.   For example, raising the rate on incomes over $250,000 to 35% (from 29%) generates 2.5 billion dollars.  A financial transaction tax, call it an ATM fee for corporations, could net $4 billion. What could $4 billion get you?  A national pharmacare program or a $10 a day childcare program or a 50% reduction of the number of poor seniors in the country.  Take your pick.


Support the Sagging Middle Class


Many things can be done to help the middle class that will help those at the bottom as well.Ms. Yalnizyan talked about how Canada continues to bring more people into a country that is without a housing plan.  We have a housing crisis in regards to affordability but also in the amount of housing. Expanded rental stock and better development codes are imperative.


Shift Happens


Ms.  Yalnizyan emphasized the power of journalism; how writers can “shed a little light on (inequalities) and get a bit of shirking away from bad behaviours.”One example of this kind of writing is Hugh Mackenzie’s annual review of CEO’s salaries. (https://www.policyalternatives.ca/newsroom/news-releases/canada%E2%80%99s-ceos-ring-new-year-bang)


Citing the activism of fast food workers in the U.S.A. that is resulting in higher minimum wages, Ms. Yalnizyan challenges us to get involved and make shift happen.You can listen to the presentation at http://maytree.com/fgi/five-good-ideas-tackle-inequality.html

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hamilton Declared a Sanctuary City


(Here is an update on last month's Sanctuary City Story.  It was originally published on http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/ where you can find more information on the Sanctuary City movement.)
The City of Hamilton has become the second Canadian municipality to declare itself a Sanctuary City. Hamiltonians cheered Wednesday night as City Council voted unanimously to ensure that municipal and municipally-funded services are accessible to Hamiltonians without full immigration status documents.

"This is the beginning of treating people equally, no matter what their immigration status is. Today is a first step on a long journey. It’s a commitment not just by City Hall but by service providers and Hamiltonians at large to work together to ensure justice for our undocumented neighbours, noted Maria Antelo, Community Development Coordinator with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic. 

The move to make Hamilton a Sanctuary City has been spearheaded by the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition (HSCC) of which Antelo is a member. HSCC was formed in June 2013 with support from Toronto’s Solidarity City Network.  (Toronto became Canada’s first Sanctuary City last February.)
Some History

In June 2013, in response to requests by members of the community, Hamilton City Council directed staff to engage with local agencies.  The goal was to investigate how undocumented individuals are treated in Hamilton.  A report was forwarded to the Emergency and Community Services Committee. 
The City of Hamilton subsequently partnered with the HSCC to document the experiences of those living with precarious status in Hamilton.

 

The HSCC research and consultation found that: 

·         access to health care and police services remain the primary concern of those with precarious status.

·         fear of detection, detention and deportation is a major obstacle preventing many from obtaining services to which they would otherwise have access.

·         precarious status disproportionately affects women. Women are vulnerable because they often come to Canada using temporary visas and family sponsorships.

·         women with precarious status are often vulnerable to domestic violence and exploitation. 

·         children are the most severely impacted by precarious status.  This status restricts their access to the nutritious food, recreational programs, and daycare activities that are necessary for a healthy development.


Looking Ahead

Council’s decision means that the City of Hamilton will revise its anti­racism training.  Soon all staff will be aware of and support the City’s commitment to serve Hamiltonians living with precarious or undocumented immigration status.   Hamiltonians will become aware of their rights under the new policies. 


Caitlin Craven from the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition expressed her delight with the outcome:
“Today Hamilton has begun the process of becoming a Sanctuary City. Access without Fear means that all residents of the City would be able to access city services without fear of deportation or detention.”

In the future people accessing city services will not require any immigration status documentation. If that documentation is necessary for providing the service it would not be disclosed to federal immigration agencies.

The Coalition must be commended for its advocacy work.  Hamilton now joins a growing movement of municipalities rallying to put the interests of their community ahead of those of federal immigration policymakers and enforcers.

The Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition is a made up of individuals and community organizations. Agencies supporting the initiative include the  Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC), Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area (SACHA), Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), Immigrant Women’s Centre (IWC), Hamilton Safe Communities Coalition (HSCC), Good Shepherd, Micah House, Neighbour 2 Neighbour Centre (N2N), The Well, LGBTQ Wellness Centre of Hamilton, the Ecumenical Support Committee for Refugees, Community Information Hamilton, the Canadian African Multicultural Association, Refuge Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health, the Neighbor to Neighbor Centre, and Anti Racists and Allies of Hamilton.



 

 

 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sanctuary City

(This story originally appeared in North End Breezes.)

In November, the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition hosted a community forum. This coalition came together following a community presentation at the Hamilton Public Library last spring.

The group is building momentum to make Hamilton a “sanctuary city."

That is a place where all residents, regardless of immigration status, can access services without fear of reprisal or oppression, detention or deportation. The coalition aims to expose common myths and to educate our city about the harsh realities and barriers faced by residents who do not have full status.

Developing a recognition that all people have the right to freedom of mobility is another goal of the coalition.

Community forum keynote speaker Pablo Godoy addressed an enthusiastic gathering of more than 50 community members and agency staff at the Dr. John Perkins Centre, setting the tone for the day.

Godoy is the national representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). He challenged the group to work for “a city that actually allows access [to services] without fear.”

That is, in fact, an overall goal of the coalition: to make Hamilton a city where all human rights are respected and valued and no one is turned away when requesting service. Godoy drew on his personal experiences coming to Canada as a refugee from Guatemala and his professional experience interacting with workers in various government programs.
Godoy decried the idea that people can be called illegal.

“The actions of those corporations that displace thousands, if not millions of people from their homelands and push them out of their homelands—these actions are beyond illegal, but people cannot be illegal.”

Many people have difficulty or are unable to access basic services in Canada.

The Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition continues its work in solidarity with numerous community groups to ensure that the necessary policies are put in place to make Hamilton the best place to live, work and play for all people.

To find out more or to get involved, contact Maria Antelo at the clinic at 905-527-4572.

(Hamilton City Council Emergency and Community Services Committee will be looking at this issue on February 10th.)


Monday, December 30, 2013

Rupert Hotel Fire and Canada's Hidden Emergency

(This story originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca)

Last Monday December 23rd was the 24th anniversary of the Rupert Hotel fire that killed nine men and one woman in Toronto.

In 1989 the Rupert was overcrowded and badly maintained.  The tragedy served as a wake up call and for a time new safer accommodation was designed and built.

For those of us who are involved with individuals and families forced to live in rooming houses or other inadequate housing, the anniversary is a time to reflect on whether things have improved.


Rupert Hotel, Toronto 1980
Photo from flickr collations photostream

In that spirit, I’ve been reading results of a multi-city study that looks at health impacts on people living in this housing.

The study is called Housing Vulnerability and Health: Canada’s Hidden Emergency.

It was put together by the Research Alliance for Canadian Homelessness and Health (REACH).  The research was based on the health and housing status of 1,200 vulnerably housed and homeless single adults in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa.

First, some definitions.

Homeless, for the purposes of this study, referred to someone “living in a shelter, on the street, or in other places not intended for human habitation.”   Couch surfers also were considered to be homeless.

Who are the “vulnerably housed?”

The authors used this definition to describe an individual who had their own place but at some point in the previous year had been homeless or had moved at least twice.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the study found that there were really no differences in the health of those people who were homeless and those who were vulnerably housed.

Both groups had serious physical health problems.  We are talking about significant chronic health conditions here.  Rates of 33% for arthritis, 30% for Hepatitis B and C, 18% with high blood pressure and so on.

More than half of those surveyed reported a past diagnosis of a mental health problem. Sixty-one percent had had a traumatic brain injury at some point.

Individuals surveyed had problems accessing the health care they needed for various reasons.

In the year prior to the survey, more than half had visited an emergency department and a quarter of those surveyed had been hospitalized for at least one night. (That figure does not include emergency room stays.)

Thirty eight percent (38%) had been beaten up or attacked in that past year.

Getting adequate and sufficient food was an issue.

An earlier study that examined the deaths of 15,000 people living in such housing had some shocking results.  For example, average life span of these 15,000 was “7-10 years shorter than the life span of the general Canadian population.”  Women had about the same chance of living to the age of 75 as an average women in Guatemala, a country where many lack access to basic health care.

The takeaway from the Housing Vulnerability and Health research is this:  On any given night in Canada for every one person sleeping in a shelter, there are 23 more people living with housing vulnerability.  It is indeed “Canada’s Hidden Emergency.”

Hamilton’s Recent History

More than a decade ago, a number of housing advocates and workers, led by outreach worker Suzanne Swanton, put together a film. The film documented the situations of people living in rooming houses in Hamilton.  We had hoped the movie would spur change, would help people understand not only what a rooming house is but also what the conditions are like in rooming houses.
For example, over the years the legislation has changed so that most residents in rooming houses are considered to be tenants and have rights and responsibilities of tenants.  (See a blog piece from earlier this year for more on this including comment from Mike Ollier, the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic’s Director of Legal Services. http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Tenant+Safety+Must+be+a+Priority&id=237)

Beginning in the nineties this kind of housing had become the only real option for many Hamilton residents with low incomes. Our experience was that while some of this housing wasn’t bad the conditions in most were deplorable.

Our film didn’t really look at the kind of health issues portrayed in the REACH survey. That research suggests that nearly nine thousand households (8,755) in Hamilton experience housing vulnerability.  (This figure is from 2006 data and includes all households not just one person ones.)

What’s Next?

The fact that the City of Hamilton is finally moving to proactive enforcement of zoning and licensing regulations is a positive step.

However, these actions don’t really address, and shouldn’t be expected to address, health issues.  The solutions, though, are well known and outlined in the research paper.

We need housing that is of good quality and affordable.  Some people could use on site services (supportive housing) or service provider visitations (supported housing).  Ideally, single dwelling units with their own kitchen and bathrooms will become more available.

In Hamilton, we take great pride in striving to make the City the best place to raise a child. In that context, the situations of single unattached individuals often are forgotten.
 
A story written four years ago for Raise the Hammer provides more history on rooming houses in Hamilton and the Rupert Fire. (http://raisethehammer.org/article/993/20_years_later_roomers_and_boarders_still_vulnerable)

The REACH paper can be found at http://www.stmichaelshospital.com/crich/wp-content/uploads/housing-vulnerability-and-health.pdf

Friday, December 27, 2013

Make the Transitional Funding Permanent

Here is a story I wrote that appeared December 3rd at www.hamiltonjustice.ca.  As far as I know nothing has been heard from the province yet. 

Over a year ago, the City of Hamilton and other municipalities were struggling to figure out how they would address a problem caused by the provincial government.

That problem was the cancellation of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit program (CSUMB).  This benefit had been available to people on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to cover costs like last month’s rent, rent and utility arrears and other housing related expenses.

In 2012, the province passed on only half of the funds to cities for a new program called the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative. 
You may remember a public outcry followed. Then, at the 11th hour, the province provided transitional funding to cities to cover the gap.   (We wrote about it at the time http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Transitional%20Funding%20from%20Province&id=210)

However, that transitional funding runs out on March 31, 2014.

What will fill the gap?

Recently a letter was sent  to the government by a number of organizations urging that the $42 million be made a permanent part of the CHPI fund.  A decision to do this needs to happen soon as municipalities are in the final stages of planning their budgets for next year.

While many municipalities like Hamilton created their own local programs to address the gap, some, unfortunately, did not.  But all municipalities need more funds to meet the need in their communities.

We are writing to political leaders to ask them to reinstate the program.  We hope you will too.
You can read the letter the community organizations sent on the Clinic's Fast Facts page at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/did-you-know.cfm

The letter and more background information is also available at http://www.incomesecurity.org/Make42millionpermanent.htm