Why We Fight

(As the Budget Committee wraps up its review of the 2013 budgets today, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke want to post the text of a deputation made last Tuesday. It boils down in just over 900 words exactly what’s at stake when we make budget decisions — it’s people we’re talking about not numbers — and how this one is hardly the “good news budget” Councillor Ford claimed it was on his radio show yesterday.)

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My name is Emma Saltmarche. I am a resident of Ward 19 in the City of Toronto.

Thank you to all of the councillors here for listening and being present for this deputation.

I come here today to speak to you as both a health care provider and research coordinator in health promotion, and from my own lived experience of supporting my father through a period of homelessness and poverty from November 2010 until his death on March 17th of last year.

I am here to ask that you respond to federal and provincial cuts to housing and homelessness services by taking ownership over the health and well-being of our city’s homeless and precariously housed. I ask that you reverse your decision to flatline contributions to Shelter, Support and Housing, and invest $40 million dollars into Shelter, Support and Housing and new municipal affordable housing initiatives in the 2013 City of Toronto budget.

Here’s why I ask this now.

My dad. He loved Toronto. He was a 365-day/year cyclist, a user of libraries, a lover of parks and city spaces, and a supporter of Toronto’s arts community, programs and projects. Following a series of personal and professional losses in 2010, he became a recipient of Ontario works, could no longer afford market rent, and in November transitioned into utilizing both community and municipal shelters. In December of 2010 he was diagnosed with Cancer. Once he qualified for ODSP we began searching tirelessly for an affordable apartment, although we learned very quickly that the amount was still insufficient to secure anyplace liveable. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was an extremely challenging time for all of us – my sister, brother and I, with little but love and social support to offer him, watched as he grew increasingly wary from the combination of fatigue, very, very poor shelter conditions, freezing temperatures, and an uncertain future. We spent our days in the library or in coffee shops, searching and advocating together to find him a safe space to live.

In March of last year, dad became a surgical candidate and the surgeon had very high hopes for his recovery. As he awaited surgery, we were informed by the hospital social worker that there was a chance he could get onto a priority ‘short-list’ for affordable housing due to his ‘terminal illness’. Since the start of this whole ordeal, I had not seen him look so hopeful. He told us that he couldn’t wait to cook us dinner as a thank you for all we had done for him.

3 days later, two days following his surgery, dad died. We never did find out if he made it onto that list.

And here we are today.

To learn of the $72 million in federal and provincial cuts to housing and homelessness supports was very disappointing to be sure. But to learn that our city, my dad’s city, has again responded to the expiry of federal and provincial funding for housing and homelessness services by flatlining its contributions to Shelter, Support and Housing and allowing $24 million dollars to be cut from affordable housing projects caused a great visceral reaction within me. Overall, these cuts translate into 30,000 households facing potential eviction, while a growing list of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 160,000 people will wait even longer for their chance for a safe, clean, affordable housing. I wonder – how many more people will die waiting for the chance to find a decent, safe place to live?

In both of my professional roles I have spent extensive time exploring the relationship between social equity and health. Sadly, my dad’s story reflects the strong body of research evidence that clearly links the experience of homelessness and precarious housing to very poor health outcomes. This is a health and social crisis of great consequence; it places a huge financial burden on our health care system, and, more importantly, threatens the social and economic health of our city. By flatlining funds to housing supports and services and failing to compensate for the budget shortfall caused by the shameful decisions of our federal and provincial governments, you are complicit in allowing hundreds of thousands of Toronto’s residents to grow poorer and weaker in wait of the supports they need and deserve.

What can you do? So much!

Your role in the future, as the ambassadors of our city and the voices of our people, will be to demand the provincial and federal governments invest meaningfully and responsibly into eliminating homelessness across the country.

Your role today is to listen to these people here and show our hundreds of thousands of neighbours, friends and family members living in poverty and without a safe, secure place to call home that you care about their health and you care about the health of our city. We need your leadership to fill the gap left by the province and the feds. Reverse your decision to flatline contributions to Shelter, Support and Housing and invest in affordable housing. In support of this request, I declare now my support for an increase in municipal property taxes, sufficient to ensure our communities are responsibly invested in. I also recommend and support the introduction of a vehicle registration tax.

Please listen to what has been said here in the last two days; we all have moral responsibility to care for each other and support equity within our communities, and we are willing to contribute what is necessary to see this happen in Toronto.

submitted by Cityslikr

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