WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, March 6

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, February 27

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

How-To With Fiona Crean: Creating Equity from the Ground Up

This is part of a new series on the WiTOPoli blog: a series of How-To posts with women who have made change in their communities by working with (and sometimes fighting against) the institutions that make our city work. These women inspire us and remind us that though the challenges to having our voices heard are many, they are most certainly not insurmountable.

By: Lauren Atmore

crean

“What inspires me is the idea of having everyone included in the city. That’s the aspiration, what keeps me up at night, what drives me.”

As Toronto’s Ombudsman (the title is actually gender neutral), Fiona Crean is tasked with ensuring equality and equal access to information, services and opportunity in Toronto. Though her role is abhorred by some and lauded by many, her office is undeniably in demand: Ms. Crean says that requests for assistance are up 128 per cent since the office was created in 2009.

The Ombudman’s office is happy to review any municipal issue pertaining to fairness of services or the delay of them, though the majority of Fiona’s time is spent focusing on Toronto Community Housing (TCH) and how City Hall operates.

The Problem

When asked what task she has found the most difficult since taking on her role, Fiona says that “probably the most challenging was the one around seniors being evicted from Toronto Community Housing. That was certainly the most difficult, the most painful.” In 2013, the Ombudsman’s office completed an investigation into the eviction procedures concerning seniors relying on TCH services after the death of Al Gosling shortly before his 82nd birthday, five months after being evicted from his home of 21 years. The Ombud’s office looked at seventy-nine cases and concluded that the “[Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s] application of its eviction prevention policies was either inconsistent or inappropriately used”.

The Goal

In undertaking this review, and in all her work as Ombudsman, Fiona explains that “it’s about making the systems better, more comprehensible, more transparent, more communication, in order for more citizens and residents to be included. I’m trying to bring equity and fairness to a greater number of people.” Her intentions echo not only the values set out by the Ombud’s office values but the results they are able to achieve through their work.

The Steps Taken

The Obudsman’s office looked at 79 cases of eviction of seniors in Toronto Community Housing. While the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) had already identified a severe issue with the inconsistent or inappropriate application of eviction prevention policies, Fiona’s investigation conclusions were “more unsettling in this case than previous investigations and inquiries, because the TCHC’s prior undertakings and promises remain unfulfilled.” Her team took the time to understand the systemic cause for abrupt eviction and provided the TCHC with several realistic steps to apply reasonable policy more fairly.

The End Result

After realizing where many of the cracks were forming during her investigation, the Ombuds’s office established a report called A Duty to Care. “What we established at a systemic level was that there was no capacity for the City to deal with residents with diminished capacity,” notes Fiona in regards to special social support some residents require. While this report was inspired by a situation unrelated to TCH, it still strives to put “a system in place so that everybody working for this government understands where they can go for help and how they need to treat and interact with citizens.” Fiona points out that the very nature of government doesn’t allow it the flexibility to change as demographics do.

The Advice

Fiona’s advice for those looking to make a change goes back to the basics. “Do your research. Talk to your councillor if that’s appropriate. Be tenacious, persevere, be persistent, keep records. I cannot overemphasize. Even as simple as the resident calls 311 with a problem and they don’t take down the tracking number. If you’ve got the tracking number then you’ve got your evidence as you work your way through the system.” If going it on your own doesn’t work, Fiona does suggest calling the Ombud’s office. “You’ll be given a straight answer and advice on how to navigate the system, and it is a complicated system.”

Having confidence and determination in your position is paramount to being heard and seeing results. But our Ombudsman is optimistic for women looking to make a difference in Toronto. “In terms of policy work for women, in terms of access and inclusion, the City probably superior to most governments,” Fiona notes before acknowledging the reality of the systemic disadvantages women face more generally, not to mention the other intersecting oppressions many women face. She urges women to consider their intuitiveness, relationship building skills and capacity to include as strengths in an atmosphere where “bossy” and “aggressive” are words used to describe only women.

And for those who shy away from rocking the boat? Take it from Fiona: “so long as somebody is angry with you, you’re doing okay.”

You can hear more from Fiona Crean and hang out with her, as well as other folks who share your interests, at our WiTOPoli Winter Warm-Up mixer, being held next Tuesday, March 3, at HiLo Bar in Leslieville. You can find details here.

WiTOpoli Weekly: February 20, 2015

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, February 13

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

How-To with Idil Burale: Building bridges for community safety

This is the first post in a new series on the WiTOPoli blog: a series of How-To posts with women who have made change in their communities by working with (and sometimes fighting against) the institutions that make our city work. These women inspire us and remind us that though the challenges to having our voices heard are many, they are most certainly not insurmountable.

By: Cherise Seucharan

How do we prevent crime instead of always having a reactive response to it?”

This was the question Idil Burale began to explore in the summer of 2012 when gun violence in her Rexdale community rose to an alarming high. Idil, a former MaRS Studio Y fellow and a columnist for Spacing.ca, worked to establish the Toronto Police Service’s Somali Liaison Unit. The initiative has reduced the crime rate through developing bonds between community members and police officers.

idil headshot

Step 1: Identify the issue

A longtime Rexdale resident, Idil had not been involved in her community until the gun violence in her neighborhood began making headlines. “I started recognizing a lot of Somali names in the news,” she said, referring to the almost bi-weekly reports of gun deaths that summer. She started asking questions, and was soon invited to a community meeting of mothers concerned about their children’s safety.

Step 2: Get involved

From that community meeting, an ad-hoc group called Positive Change was formed, with the goal of creating a safer neighbourhood for Somali youth.

The group created a 10-point policy for community change, and Idil involved her local MP Kirsty Duncan and MPP Mike Colle in the process, who then brought it to the federal level. However, the slow political process meant that they still were not seeing the immediate, community level change that was desperately needed.

“One thing that we could do with our two bare hands, that didn’t require money, was reaching out to our local police,” she said. The relationship between the community and the police of 23 Division in Etobicoke was tense, and fear of speaking to the police was major factor in the number of unsolved murders. For the safety of the community, it was clear to Idil and her collaborators at Positive Change that the relationship with police was in dire need of repair.

Step 3: Build a shared understanding

“We walked into our police division and we just had a frank meeting with them,” Idil explains. “We said that this is not working for us, and we don’t think its working for you either.” At the time, the Toronto Police Service was already developing a policing model that dedicated officers to high-risk neighbourhoods. Positive Change met with the two officers assigned to the Dixon area, and discussed how they could begin to develop a relationship.

The group brought the officers to community events, and set them up with cultural sensitivity training to better understand the community’s needs. The officers also got involved in local programs, such as running basketball programs for youth.  Some proved to be unexpectedly successful; an initiative in which officers helped to paint donated bikes was very popular with the young boys.

However, ingrained attitudes on both sides were still a barrier to building trust. Rexdale residents were suspicious that the officers were only there to collect information on them. The officers working in the community also struggled to work within a police culture that didn’t understand the type of “social work” they were doing. “It took a mind shift- not only for [the officers] but for the community,” Idil said.

Step 4: Improve continuously

Slowly, the project grew roots and the crime rate in the community fell dramatically. The project faced a major hurdle in 2013 when a big police raid intruded upon residents of Dixon Road. However, the local officers committed to rebuilding trust, and the continued success of the Somali Liaison Unit has attracted press coverage and political attention. The TPS has now extended the project for another two years, and scaled it across the entire service, reaching Divisions 31, 51, 12, and 32.

Idil has continued to work with the TPS, and is currently on the committee of the Policing and Community Engagement Review (PACER) which oversees improvements to policing.

You can do it!

Idil recommends that anyone with an interest in community safety to contact their local division, or attend the Community Police Liaison Committee, which occur every month at every police division. She is adamant that anyone with an interest in improving their community can make a positive contribution, no matter how small the act. “Political engagement is an everyday transaction,” she says. “You can build your city Monday through Sunday, at any time.”

WiTOpoli Weekly: February 6, 2015

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.