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MEDIA RELEASE: Anti-poverty Submissions to City of Greater Sudbury Committees

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty logo
Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty logo

Jan. 19, 2015.

For Immediate Release

Contact: S-CAP at 249-878-7227.

S-CAP Submissions to the Community Services and Operations Committees of the City of Sudbury

Even though the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP) has been denied the right to address the Operations and Community Services Committees of the City later today on the grounds that these are orientation meetings for new City Councillors, S-CAP members will be present to distribute the attached statements to members of these committees and to answer any questions from City Councillors who wish to speak to us. S-CAP is pushing for action on Handi-Transit access and anti-poverty action. These statements are included below. Crystal Kimewon, who was arrested last week, as part of the S-CAP 3 at the Out of the Cold Shelter for doing support work for a person living in poverty will also be available to speak to any media who are interested at the Community Services Committee (see the statement below).    

Contact: S-CAP at 249-878-7227.

----------------- 

 Jan. 19, 2015

We Need Anti-Poverty Action Now! The Out of the Cold Shelter Needs to be a City Shelter with no arbitrary exclusions; we need CSUMB funding and policies for CHPI funding; the SAMS crisis cannot be allowed to hurt people on social assistance or OW and ODSP workers. 

Dear members of the Community Services Committee:

The Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP) is an activist anti-poverty group that fights for the needs of all people living in poverty in Sudbury. We engage in support work for those with a grievance against Ontario Works (OW), the Ontario Disabilities Support Program (ODSP), or employers for low-income workers, and also regarding the needs of the homeless. We also campaign against government policies (at the federal, provincial and municipal levels) that hurt people living in poverty.  Our demands for action are drawn from the concerns and needs of the people living in poverty we talk to and who contact us. We need immediate action on the matters addressed below.

1). Homelessness and the Out of the Cold Shelter: The Out of the Cold Shelter must be a City Shelter with no arbitrary exclusions.

Studies demonstrate that at any point in time there are at least 600 homeless or near homeless people in Sudbury. Last year and this year S-CAP was very involved in making sure the Out of the Cold shelter was set up as a City Shelter that did not have the restrictions of the other Shelters in the City most of which are run by the Salvation Army. We are very glad that the Out of the Cold Shelter was finally opened on Dec. 1st  and since then most nights it has been at or above capacity with more than 500 people using it so far.  It is clearly meeting a major need in the City and we need to be talking about how it can be expanded and can become an all year City program to address homelessness and social exclusion.

Unfortunately after being set up as City shelter with the Salvation Army providing staffing, after the Red Cross provided staff for the first three nights, it has increasingly become more like another Salvation Army Shelter. This became most clear to us when we were informed by City staff that any concerns or complaints we had about the Shelter arising from our discussions with homeless people should not go to them, or to other City officials as we expected, but instead to Major Valerie Hennessy of the Salvation Army, who is not stationed at the Out of the Cold Shelter. Even though this shelter was set up specifically to be free of the restrictions of the other shelters and to meet the needs of people excluded from other shelters, we soon learned of people being barred from the Out of the Cold Shelter even though it was not supposed to have the same restrictions as the other shelters.  At first these barrings seemed to be related to alcohol use in the Shelter and we tried to make it clear that although these individuals should be asked to stop drinking since this is not the ‘wet shelter’ that the City still desperately needs they should not be barred from staying at the Shelter even for a few nights.

Then on Monday Jan. 12th we were approached by a man who had been barred from the shelter on arbitrary grounds and on the basis of information that the shelter should not have collected and should have had no bearing on him staying there. He was not involved in drinking. He did not have a place to sleep as temperatures dipped down to 30 below and he was barred from the Out of the Cold Shelter. Members of S-CAP met with this individual in the afternoon and with this person’s support it was decided to go to the opening of the Shelter that night to see if they would reconsider and allow him to stay there. This is a standard part of the support work that S-CAP engages in to advocate for people living in poverty. Unfortunately Salvation Army staff, with the support of Major Valerie Hennessy, decided to call the police rather than listen to what the S-CAP members were requesting. While the situation for this individual was being resolved through discussion and negotiation other S-CAP members waited in the lobby so they would not interfere in any way with the life of Shelter.

Unfortunately when the police arrived they just immediately asked the S-CAP members to leave. Police called for reinforcements and at least 5 police cruisers arrived causing a major disturbance at the Shelter. When Crystal Kimewon, an indigenous women who was there with her son, said she was not going to leave until the situation for the person S-CAP was there supporting was resolved she was immediately and forcefully arrested. She was dragged along the floor and pushed into the glass window by police officers as she attempted to look back and call for her son. Two other S-CAP people were arrested outside the Shelter, including one who was on the sidewalk outside. The S-CAP 3 are now facing ‘trespassing’ and creating a ‘disturbance’ charges and the police on the initiative of the Salvation Army have now criminalized doing support work for people living in poverty in this City. This includes the imposition of draconian non-association conditions on the S-CAP 3 so they cannot even communicate with each other to organize their own defence.

The City must make it very clear that even though the Salvation Army is currently staffing the Out of the Cold Shelter that it is a City Shelter and arbitrary exclusions have no place there. S-CAP is quite prepared to meet with City and Salvation Army staff to discuss these issues but it is important for the City to request that these arbitrary charges be dropped and that support work for people living in poverty be supported and not criminalized.   

More extended hours

In our discussions with homeless people in the City they always mention that the shelter needs to be open for more extended hours (preferably on a 24 hour basis) since it is very cold during the day in the winter and shelter and warmth are required at these times as well. City staff contend that there is no need to extend the hours of the Out of the Cold Shelter since there are other programs that operate during the day. But these programs do not meet all homeless people’s needs, and some homeless people have been barred from these programs and spaces, sometimes on very arbitrary grounds. Some homeless people will be forced to stay in malls, stores and restaurants and other places for warmth and can face policies of social exclusion and even criminalization in these places. This is why the Out of the Cold Shelter must have at least extended hours into the morning and be open earlier in the evening. Is the City going to leave many homeless people out in the cold and vulnerable to legal charges from 7am to 8pm every day? 

Shelters like the Out of the Cold Shelter are absolutely crucial but they are not a long-term solution. To address the social roots of homelessness the City must also make available safe, accessible and affordable housing and social assistance rates need to be increased dramatically so that people can afford the rental housing that is available.

2). CSUMB Policies and Rates for CHPI Exceptional Circumstances Funding

One of the important sources of funding for community start-up needs used to be the provincial Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) which was a mandatory benefit that allowed people to move, to set up their household and to get necessary items, to prevent themselves from becoming homeless and to flee abuse and violence. Included in the CSUMB was the ability to get extra funding in exceptional circumstances regarding evictions, fires, bed bug infestations, etc. whether one needed to move as a result or not. Unfortunately the Liberal government abolished this vital program and downloaded a smaller amount of funding to the municipalities in the form of the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) which the City of Sudbury now administers through OW. S-CAP affirms, and this was backed up by the focus group we held in the fall of 2013 with people on OW and ODSP, that the City must maintain the policies and rates of the CSUMB for CHPI funding.

Right now under City policies a person who needs a new bed (mattress and box spring) because of a bed bug infestation for example -- but who does not need to move -- is not eligible for exceptional circumstances funding and is only allocated a maximum of $400 (under the City Discretionary Benefits policy) rather than the $799 they would have received under the CSUMB. They are therefore only getting half the amount of funding support that they would have received under the CSUMB and we challenge you to find an adequate bed and box spring for this amount in Sudbury. This must be changed to allow people in poverty in exceptional circumstances the funding that they require. We are asking for an immediate change in the present City of Greater Sudbury CHPI Guidelines (June 2013) to remove the criteria of “necessity to relocate” from the “catastrophic event” (flood, fire, bed-bug infestation) section so that the full funding of $800 could be available for the applicant.

Recently S-CAP supported a request by a person on ODSP who had suffered a bed bug infestation and whose mattress was destroyed while being treated for the bed bugs. Initially he was only allocated $400 under the City discretionary benefits policy which was far below the expense of the mattress he needed because of his back pain. When we pushed on this through our support work we got the amount raised to more than $1,000 under the City Discretionary Benefits policy. We argue that this should establish a precedent for all those in similar situations who must be allocated far more than $400.       

 

3). SAMS (the new computer system) is not working for people on social assistance.

S-CAP is concerned with the ways that the new provincial Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) has created major problems in the lives of people on social assistance (both OW and ODSP) and also for workers in OW and ODSP. We are aware of people not getting cheques or other necessary benefits, people experiencing delays in getting badly needed support, or receiving the wrong amount on cheques.  People are also reporting long delays in their workers getting back to them. This has dramatically added to the problems many people on social assistance face.

We also know from talking to OW and ODSP workers that with SAMS it now takes much, much longer to do their work and this means that they have far less time to meet the needs of the people on social assistance that they work with, especially given their very high case-loads. We fully support the issues and grievances raised by both the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) regarding SAMS. SAMS has not been working and this problem needs to be resolved immediately.  The needs of social assistance recipients demand immediate action to end these problems!  

These are some of the concerns that the Community Services Committee must  address as soon as possible.

For more information contact: S-CAP at 249-878-7227        

 ------------------------------

 Jan. 19, 2015

For Handi-Transit Access for all people with disabilities who cannot use conventional public transit.

Members of the Operations Committee:

The Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP) is an activist anti-poverty group that fights for the needs of all people living in poverty in Sudbury. We engage in support work for those with a grievance against Ontario Works (OW), the Ontario Disabilities Support Program (ODSP), or employers for low-income workers, and also regarding the needs of the homeless. We also campaign against government policies (at the federal, provincial and municipal levels) that hurt people living in poverty.  Our demands for action are drawn from the concerns and needs of the people living in poverty we talk to and who contact us. We need immediate action on the issue of Handi-Transit Access.

Handi-Transit Access

Many people with disabilities are people living in poverty. As an anti-poverty group we are deeply concerned that the policies of Handi-Transit in Sudbury are discriminating against people with non-physical disabilities. The City of Sudbury is currently denying Handi-Transit service to some people who need it and should have access to it. Both the information booklet for users of Handi-Transit and the city web site specify that “the goal of Handi-Transit is to provide transportation to persons who have physical disabilities and are unable to use the regular transit system.” The new eligibility application and evaluation process are established to effectively deny people who have non-physical disabilities use of this specialised service. Not only is this policy discriminatory but it contravenes the intent of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which is to remove barriers for all people with disabilities.

The City policy for eligibility for Handi-Transit users must be changed. This means that the motion passed by the Operations Committee in September 2013 and by Council as a whole in October 2013 must be modified or a new motion passed clearly specifying that all people with disabilities, who are unable to use conventional transit, are eligible for Handi-Transit service. Even the study cited in the 2013 Sudbury City decision by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Canadian Code for Determining Eligibility for Specialized Transit, (2013) as justification for the restriction to physical (mobility) disabilities argues instead for the need for people with cognitive disabilities, visual impairments, people with seizures, and with psychiatric conditions to be able to access specialized transit like Handi-Transit. It also argues that it is “critical that the disability community be involved in the development of an enhanced eligibility process.”  For the City to maintain this restricted category of disability as only relating to mobility problems is to discriminate against other people with disabilities who also cannot use conventional public transit.

This also means also that there must be professionally competent people to make an eligibility assessment for people having disabilities that are non-physical and not just someone who focuses only on mobility issues. Basing eligibility entirely on a person’s physical mobility needs is completely inappropriate when these are not the basis of their disability.

The need to change Handi-Transit policy is pressing.  Right now the City of Sudbury is causing anxiety and hardship to people who are being denied access to Handi-Transit because their disability is a non-physical one. An appeals process is important and is a legislated requirement but it is not sufficient.  The Handi-Transit policy itself must be changed so that people do not continue to be unfairly cut off or denied access. We urge the Operations Committee and City Council to change this discriminatory policy as soon as possible.

It is also important to understand that refusing rides to Handi-Transit users on the excuse of being ‘at capacity’ is denying people with disabilities the accommodations that provincial legislation mandates. S-CAP is aware that users who need this service are recently being told it is ‘at capacity’ and so are being refused rides for classes, medical appointments and to do necessary shopping. These are people who do meet the present eligibility requirements but this argument is being used to deny service.

People with disabilities have the same right and need as other people in Sudbury to access public transit. These issues must be resolved without any further delay.  

For further information contact: S-CAP at 249-878-7227


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