Homelessness Strategy misses mark in York Region

Seems 'tis the season for all things poverty lately and the most recent thing being a report released by York University, which was researched by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. Like anything report (follow the money) related it has truth mixed with supposition and ideology and conclusion finding solutions based on those, so you get what you get which is a mixed bag.

On one hand, it points out the obvious, on the other, it's solutions are slanted towards creating a two tiered rental market, or even three or four, with the end result being landlords creating slums and exclusive areas. And it's actual definition of 'affordable" housing I also have issue with, although they do use the term " at risk of " a fair number of times to confuse one would suppose, leading me to believe they are really branding this point home for some reason. To me, second suite apartments are not affordable either, whereas to them, they are.

Formerly Homeless. With supports, now a Poet
Some bullet points I took from the report, to highlight some previous rants of mine that I'm often maligned for locally by those on the peripherals, include the fact that about 75% of all those using shelters are single men age 26 and over. I ask, of the 7 existing full time shelters in York Region that we have, how many full time beds do we house these homeless men in - bearing in mind a population of 1.1 million people? Guess?.....try one shelter with 26 beds. Instead, 75% of our shelters house women - so the national numbers show we've obviously missed the mark in York Region. I've chirped it for years, but it's certainly nice to get some more supportive stats to back me. Meanwhile Y.R. boasts the least amount of rental housing  / owned houses ratios in the country and rates among the lowest percentile of occupancy availability rates in all of Canada already. Housing is but one element for what ails anyway, especially if they plan to roll out everything based on current broken models, and, in the case of rent subsidies, an experimental one.

YR Councilor given another chance
For example Dan Philion has subsidized housing and is confined to a wheelchair with limited mobility. In winter he suffers more-so and is naturally less mobile outside his home, but even if he wishes to, it is always a stress. Is the snow shoveled? Can I afford it? Do I have the energy today - but they'll charge me for cancelling a fare? Each trip out is calculated in worth vs value. Each month he begins it knowing he has only $100 plus dollars for after bills disposable income, regardless if he managed to earn more money somehow, as they simply adjust his check amount - first should he make "too much", then also adjust his apartment rental amount, either way he can't get ahead, and having trouble writing makes it more unlikely for him to try and get through it all anyway. None of their
solutions eliminate or address this reality, and it is a loophole that needs correcting, adjustments if you will, and believe it is within the resolve and power of the current Ontario government and York Region to make such adjustments, and should do so.

Out of desperation, Dan, who is also Vice-Chair of the Poverty Action for Change Coalition of York Region, the group responsible for bringing York Region its first ever social audit in 2011, "Behind The Masks", has spearheaded an idea for a type of march, to be held in the spring of 2015, to draw attention to the plight of those already housed but living lives of misery. Dan hopes others afflicted by similar circumstances propelled by poverty, and individuals or groups who support their right to a better existence, will come out.

Oct 17 event drew awareness
Says Dan, when informed of the recent 1% raise for those on O.D.S.P., announced by the Ontario government to be added on his check,

" 1%, are they serious? What are we supposed to do with that? That's 3 bus rides."

And with that being the catalyst, the idea for an event that would raise awareness to his / this issue began, the end result being  

Stroll and Roll for freedom.

Dan is tired of living like he's just existing, and says he didn't ask to live in a wheelchair and to have limited abilities and adds why shouldn't he have more money? Good question Dan, especially from many of the same group who voted themselves 30% raises not so long ago... And he's not shy, asking for a 50%  increase in his monthly disability support check, up from the current ceiling of about $1200 per individual. The hope action event will start at one destination - tentatively the York Region headquarters on Yonge St - and would peacefully roll and stroll down Yonge St, ending at the M.P.P.'s office in Aurora where the Liberal M.P.P. Chris Ballard would greet us and agree to take something to parliament on behalf. Something tangible. TBD& A'd.

Dan Philon wants a life!
Dan feels he deserves to live each day, not worrying about if he'll have enough to last the month and feeling a real pinch from mid month on. We believe he also has a right. A penny pincher as is, he doesn't smoke and has an occasional beer, mostly at home if he does unable to afford much more than cheap karaoke night out once in awhile should he choose to, and even then, his home table-menu then suffers later on in the month.

As we "speak", we're having logo design's looked at so Watch for Stroll and Roll for freedom online and on FaceBook!

Politicians and Hip Hop make for Strange Bedfellows

Stone Soup Live!
I looked forward to International Day for the Eradication of Poverty this year. Although it's a day when you might hear tales of personal woe and misery, it has also been, for the past few years, an event for providing inspiration and not just free stuff - although the free pumpkins offered this year went a long way. It has also become a day to express messages through music and the arts.

I got the text somewhere in the aft of the day of, that the pumpkins had arrived and where did I want them? The 2 pm call caught me in between locations, having already been at Riverwalk
Commons Lions Hall earlier dropping off a first load of equipment and supplies for the outdoor event. Luckily for me, the town staffer I interrupted while eating his lunch, agreed to allow us a small area to store it as we retreated to get more, including the sound equipment. Typically, this day is very hectic but this year, with everything in place early, and enough low budget promotion to attract some people and voices and talent, I was pretty sure we were in for a good one.

The first inkling of what was to come, came hours before the event's official start as I waited for the sound man and volunteers to arrive noticing various people wandering by the dozens of pumpkins adorning the stage, wondering what they were for? I'd then moved our sign over, as well as info about the event, as a focal point, within view of passersby facing Timothy Street, and explained the Int Day to others who'd inquire while offering a pumpkin should they want one.

One couple who'd wandered by by chance were thankful, but, ironically, homeless, and thus had nowhere to put a pumpkin. They were invited back for the after 7pm start too.

When asked, I'd been telling people the pumpkins were free but that we'd accept a donation if they were able. One man who looked as if he'd seen a few shelters in his day, and now lived nearby, approached, asking about them and looking sheepish upon my explanation, having approached, likely, after overhearing me say they were free. Sensing his hesitation I interjected, " Go ahead, take one ".... "Seriously?", he said. " Go for it. That's what they are for!" I replied. I then took the opportunity to tell him about the event. That is was a day to hear voices speaking out about poverty, and that the night would end with some great entertainment with an open stage should he know anyone who sang or played guitar. He returned later to take part, dancing and even singing some Elvis onstage with me. He felt welcome and a part of the community methinks.That was what it was about too. Inclusion.

Formerly Homeless poet meets anti-homelessness advocate
The pumpkins themselves arrived because of the need to want to help. Annette Brown a long time PACC supporter and community development worker and volunteer passed away and her last passion was making sure kids had pumpkins. She'd noticed while living and working communities in Newmarket and Georgina, that some kids / families, without cars especially, as transit was not as great, would go without pumpkins at Halloween so they'd arrange it so they did and also coordinate neighbourhood pumpkin carving parties. In mentioning this to Newmarket Food Pantry Director, Joe Sponga I had no idea he's arrange a crate load for distribution but every one went!

Mike Thornhill Youth Award Winner Jason Baulch
PACC Vice-Chair Dan Philion finds some warmth
The event featured some powerful testimonials, such as the poems read aloud by book of poetry Author David L Rogers whose poems from his book, "The Dark Road", reflect real life experiences, and act as therapy to those with addictions and suffer depression... and from displaced Farmer and former Markham mayoral candidate, Sam Orrico who's story may finally be seeing some light due to the attention we've been able to draw to his dilemma - as he's once again being moved without means. JAZZled youth COO Wendy  Marais spoke about youth scholarship and sponsorship opportunities as well, and we handed out the Mike Thornhill Youth Leader Award to 2014 winner Jason Baulch, Author Ivan Prokupchuk spoke from a seniors perspective while JustFlow's Justin Harris felt inspired to speak from a personal youth viewpoint. I touched on a few disability issues on behalf of PACC Vice Chair Danny Philion also attending in the crowd but not comfortable speaking on stage - Did I mention we had no ramp? Gulp - raising the issue about those in wheelchairs now being able to go out past 10 pm - in part due to our lobbying - was a point I wanted to make, and so did, as it's important to let people know about the wins we have in order to offer some kind of hope that through communication and inclusion we can create better systems that treat people more fairly, and with more dignity. Meantime Dan has $117 dollars left mid month to get him through including needing groceries.

Mixed Bag
Regional Councilor John Taylor likely squirmed a bit as I broached the wheel trans subject and then dwelled on the transit strike which affected Dan's community for 4 months through Xmas and let the town's Deputy Mayor know that was not forgotten. But added also that he was but one person and council vote and not solely accountable for the strike's handling. I also expressed disappointment in the lack of media around various poverty issues, but particularly during the transit strike, feeling the dilemma people were facing was not covered with much sense of urgency, or the devastation it caused some. And I would have said more, but wanted to try and get focus on some positive ideas and thoughts for 2014, like Walk & Roll, a march of sorts in the works for spring 2015 to draw attention to poverty issues in York Region.

Intense performance
The part I look forward to more and more each year for the The International Day is the addition of more music and arts, and this year in particular, with a focus on youth and the addition of hip hop slotted to end the night off with. It is just a great fit to the theme and encourages rappers and spoken word artists and hip hoppers to express themselves in what is already a natural forum for them to speak out in - already in theme even!

Passion from JustFlow
Maurice Weeks AJ Music
With hip hop roots coming from poverty it seemed a natural fit, and these young talented vocalists, including from walk-ons who happened by and had heard ' the scene", as well as from the Just Flow and Arthur Jr Music Family crews really gave it their all. These guys -  and GAL! - with female MC, Newmarket, now by way of Aurora's own Dean Wild of Stay Blessed Productions, were way passionate and also appreciative of being a part of such an important event, and, I got the sense anyway, of being included by the town if you will too. There's that word again - Inclusion.

And some of these performers represent the very faces of poverty in York Region, or the voices or hearts, and they may not be what a stereotypical face of poverty would be considered to be - but they are most certainly representative. Local Music Producer and Performer Maurice Weeks from AJM is one example of a local phenom talent as well as JustFlow who develop young talent as well. Their song Politics was a perfect fit for the show!

I was really impressed and some performances brought to mind words of wisdom from another event I'd worked a judging panel on with Canadian Idol's Farley Flex. At the end of that event, Flex had taken time to talk with the contest performers and flat out told some of them they sounded like American rappers

" But you're not even American. Be yourself. Tell your own story. It's those that stand out from the rest who will make it, not those who sound like everyone else."

Farley Flex, former Canadian Idol Judge

Jackie Playter plays middle person
Great advice. And these youths showed more class than some of our politicians who I take it were mostly too busy to attend, with only Councilors Taylor, Sponga and Tom Veigh showing up. I guess they are taking their cue from the mayor who hasn't seen fit to show up in several years, opting for a Photo op at car dealership instead in 2013 and who knows in 2014. In Mayor Tony Van Bynen's defense, he used to come out, until I got very critical one year, sort of ambushing him with negative comments about how the region / town was doing on the issue. Perhaps a less abrasive approach would be more affective to get him to the table in earnest, and, to that end, look to the future for just that - or with a new mayor - whichever plays out.

Jeanine with Wendy Marais from Jazzled.
Council hopefuls also showed they cared enough about all our residents by braving the cool air including Newmarket mayor candidates, always supportive " Elvis" Dorian Baxter, as well as Chris Campbell, School Trustee and anti-bullying advocate candidate, Bessie Vlasic, Council hopefuls Doug Crosse as well as Wasim Jarrah who seems to have a community conscience, and Regional Councilor hopeful, Darryl Wolk who has pledged support on the issue for some years, as well. Ward 2 Newmarket council candidate Bill Kukulewich was granted an opportunity to speak into the open stage mic as his platform impressively includes a 7 point plan to eliminate homelessness, even offering to put up his salary to offset some of its cost if elected!

Die hard supporters Mary & Linda
In between, people got a chance to chat and it was great to have so many come up and say " We've met on face book but not live" and "maybe our politics aren't so far apart", or " I really appreciate what you're doing" etc..It was great to also see many of the town's leading residents attending, such as Jackie Playter who volunteers relentlessly and sits on a number of boards, as well as supportive business owners such as Olga and Glenn from CanadaT.com on Main St. who want to sponsors shirts now for next year, having now caught the meaning and spirit of this great event through attending.

Does Councilor Taylor ever take a bad picture!?
You see, when you get off the computers and go meet people in person, wonderful things can happen. Common ground is not that hard to see if inclusive in our decision making towards this - and any issue (and in our boardrooms) - you allow yourselves to look for it. If we are, we will make much more real headway. If only in small incremental ways to start, that is fine, so long as we move forward in unison as best we can toward a common goal. Speaking of computers and common goals, the event's volunteer school youths also saved the day with their knowledge of technology to access our back beat sounds, while getting valuable experience and meeting some industry people. Just a great event and day overall in so many ways.

The biggest scandal to rock this year's show was during a youthful performance towards the end when the enthusiastic performer decided to smash a few pumpkins, agreeing mid-rap to clean it up afterward which they did! In my day we'd have stuck it to the man! Ha. Respect. Another Word of The Day.

The only regrets for 2014 I have, are not spending more time having and nurturing conversations between hosting duties and making intros,  

"I never got to meet that politician wanting to end homelessness...I'm homeless!" Farmer Sam

Food bank Director and Councilor Joe Sponga with Yappers
and the lack of representatives from most local charities, churches, and non profits, especially after they have been pushing for more " collaboration" and "sustainable systems', yet stayed away from a forum allowing face to face interaction with "clients" within a productive environment, and resist having grass roots committee members. And we sure could have used someone organizing / dishing out some free hot food like in years past too. We do thank Deli House Catering for use of their hot chocolate dispenser though!

The Yappers rock the stage @Riverwalk Commons
International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was actually the first official event ever at Riverwalk Commons aside from the grand opening in 2011. Next year, Oct 17 happens on a Saturday and we shall endeavour to make it the best ever, with more elements and performances, and maybe expand the arts part of it even more with the Newmarket Arts Festival seemingly running during the same time frame in the same area of town.

Dean Wild, left, breaks from the stage with her dog

Who knows!? Maybe we'll get an inclusive town council that will come out and shout to the world how proud they are of this event too and show it the respect it deserves like they do the Newmarket Jazz + Festival...Hey! We can use the photo op! Our entire budget was $500. What was theirs?  And, after all, there should be no doubt as to which date is more important in the world.

More event photos here courtesy of Glenn Rodger Events Photography. Show elements provided by TPE Productions.

The @PACCMan Report
Chris Campbell and Wasim Jarrah
Tom Vegh, Councilor and Habitat for Humanity York Region

Doug Crosse with Bessie Vlasic...Who knew he was funny?
The help!
Local Home Boy
Poverty makes for strange bed fellows..Thank-you very Much!

And an End Of Night Good Time had by all!