Members of the radical Ontario Coalition Against Povetry (OCAP) began blocking traffic at Canada’s busiest intersection, during the lunch hour rush today [Sept.17]. OCAP had earlier staged a rally and meal at Toronto City Hall and marched up to Yonge and Dundas as it concluded. Upon reaching Yonge-Dundas Square, a few dozen activists, allies and supporters rushed into the middle of Yonge and Dundas and began laying flowers and wreaths around the perimeter of the intersection, preventing traffic from moving by blocking lanes using large signs, banners, flowers and their own bodies.
OCAP’s mainfesto claims to be protesting “the ongoing crisis in Toronto’s shelter system and the City’s continual refusal to abide by its own 90% occupancy rate cap.
Demand more shelter beds
“The need for shelter beds is more pressing than ever, with demand having increased over 10% in the last decade and the entire system operating at full capacity nearly every day of the year.
“It was conditions like these that led to 4 freezing deaths on Toronto streets during the winter of 2015, including one that occurred steps away from today’s blockade, at the bus shelter on the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas, where a man in his 50’s froze to death in January.
“OCAP and our allies want to honour the memory of this man while, at the same time, acknowledging the preventable nature of his death and the rage that such a senseless loss of life engenders. Every night, homeless people across the GTA must make a decision, deciding between sleeping in an overcrowded, decrepit and underfunded shelter system or braving the dangers of sleeping in the street.
“If the City took its responsibility regarding the provision of basic shelter for homeless people seriously, it is a decision no one would be forced to make. OCAP and our community allies are demanding that the City of Toronto begin to take this obligation seriously. The ongoing closure of shelter services, including, most recently, the Hope Shelter and the Second Base Youth Shelter, means that the City effectively wants homeless people to disappear, to simply go away.
“We will not allow that to happen ;if the City wants homeless people to vanish quietly, we will ensure that we fight alongside them, placing their struggle front and center, disrupting City government’s neoliberal agenda that the shelter crisis is but one facet of. Today, we mourn the lives already lost and will stand and fight to prevent any further loss of life. Today is the first step in an escalation that will see actions in the weeks and months ahead, all demanding the same, simple, basic thing: #shelterforall.
“OCAP intends to hold this intersection to demonstrate that even a small number of people can effectively disrupt the operations of a gentrifying downtown that has left poor and homeless people in the figurative and literal cold. We acknowledge the inconvenience this action may cause motorists and pedestrians during a busy part of their day, but whatever frustration you may feel, we ask that you look over at the bus shelter a few meters away and remember a man died there not even 12 months ago because the shelter system failed him and, as winter approaches, more people will die unless the shelter crisis is addressed immediately.
“We ask that you extend us your solidarity and patience as we bring vital public attention to the unfurling disaster that is Toronto’s shelter system. OCAP and our allies have, again and again, negotiated in good faith with the City, its politicians and its bureaucrats and we have no results to show for it. [The Sept. 21 protest] represents a new phase in our struggle to ensure no more homeless people die avoidable deaths due to the inadequacies of the shelter system. We are finished with pointless dialogue and empty concessions. The City will address the shelter crisis or we will continue to stage actions and disruptions until it does so. There can be no peace when our friends and loved ones freeze to death on the street.”