In solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Women in Toronto Politics stands in strong solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM TO) and the global Black Lives Matter movement. Our team, which includes Black women and allies, are angry at the systemic violence and exclusion that is killing Black people in our city. We are inspired by and grateful to the courageous organizers leading this movement for turning that violence and exclusion into love and inclusion, and centring women, queer, trans and non-binary voices in this movement.

We share BLM TO’s vision for a world that doesn’t justify the murder of Andrew Loku. A world where Alex Wettlaufer isn’t killed while holding a phone. A world that asks questions about the death of Sumaya Dalmar. A world that sees a pattern of authorities using excessive force against Black community members and calls it what it is: racism, often intersecting with other forces such as ableism, classism or transphobia.

We demand a system that uses de-escalation methods with people in crisis. A system that recognizes its responsibility and accountability to all people, instead of insisting it has performed due diligence or that it does not owe us further explanation. We demand a system that places no limits on what kind of Black lives matter, what spaces Black lives can occupy, or how Black lives can exist in our systems. We demand a system that does not compromise dignity, equality, or human rights with practices like carding; and we demand a system that prioritizes community,humanity, and accountability over protecting those in power from the criminal consequences of their actions. We believe in a system that doesn’t intrude and intimidate, doesn’t conduct immigration raids, and doesn’t inflict violence.

BLM TO is fighting for Black people’s right to live free of systemic racism and violence, while bravely opening dialogues for so many other marginalized groups. In two weeks, the movement has helped mobilize community action to reinstate Afrofest, and compelled Toronto City Council to investigate transparency and fairness amongst Toronto Police and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). It has fostered deep solidarity and community amongst people in Toronto, across Canada, and around the world.

BLM TO’s bravery has created an important opportunity to address our city’s racism problem and for all of us to recognize the city’s institutionalized anti-Black racism in particular. The motion City Council passed to review how police services are provided in Toronto and how SIU investigations deal with people from racialized communities is important. But as BLM TO has highlighted, there is so much more work to be done.

Women in Toronto Politics implores people in Toronto to publicly support BLM TO’s demands. Reach out to City Councillors to demand the names of officers who killed Andrew Loku and Alex Wettlaufer. Call on Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory to be accountable to BLM TO organizers and all Black Torontonians – meet with them, listen to them, involve them in decision-making. Condemn Toronto Police’s violence against BLM TO members and supporters at #BLMTOtentcity. Hold City Council accountable throughout their review of police services and SIU investigations, so we can ensure the review centres families of those killed by police violence and addresses anti-Black racism in meaningful ways. Finally, stay vigilant, self-critical and vocal about anti-Black racism in our day-to-day lives – at work, on public transit, at the grocery store, or around the dinner table. Our solidarity is needed to ensure that Black Lives Matter to institutions and people in all corners of the city.

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#TOBudget2016: Make Emergency Shelter Funding a Priority

By: Lauren Atmore

With the city’s 2016 budget deadline looming, the familiar fear of which services are going to be cut is creeping in. One area that is chronically underfunded are Toronto’s emergency shelters and drop-in centres, and unfortunately 2016 doesn’t look any more promising.

Although the City of Toronto website tells us there are 47 emergency shelters and hostels for our city’s most vulnerable, they are frequently over-populated and often have trouble meeting demand, especially in the winter and in poor weather conditions. When it comes to low-barrier options, there are even fewer options.

Many emergency shelters do not provide to low-barrier access for those who need them. With low-barrier access services, “the aim is to have as few barriers as possible to allow more people access to services. In housing this often means that tenants are not expected to abstain from using alcohol or other drugs, or from carrying on with street activities while living on-site, so long as they do not engage in these activities in common areas of the house and are respectful of other tenants and staff.” Essentially, these types of drop-in centres allow people to access services quicker, with fewer stipulations in place.

According to the Wellesley Institute, low-barrier access is important because “people should be able to get the help they need with low psychological barriers and procedural hurdles.”

Sistering is one of Toronto’s only low-barrier 24/7 drop-in centres. Executive Director Pat O’Connell says the lack of municipal funding for these services is at a crisis level. As she outlined at WiTOpoli’s 2016 Budget Explainer, the city and other channels of funding are only able to go so far, offering just band-aid solutions to a systemic issue. While healthcare is funded in part by the federal government and managed by the province, Pat explains how emergency facilities like Sistering are expected to pick up the slack. She often sees women dropped off at the centre by hospital or police services, only to have Sistering not have the necessary resources to handle someone in such dire need, and the clients being turned back to the very same services that brought them.

The silver lining is that organizations like Sistering focus on harm reduction which is an effective strategy in helping women avoid emergency services like hospitals, and saves nearly $1000 from our healthcare system with each trip avoided. They give women access to basic necessities like regular meals, hot showers and safe places to sleep which are the building blocks for women to get back on their feet.

But with the threat of reduced funding year over year, those working closest with the people who use shelter and drop-in services worry about making ends meet – or worse, having to turn people away. Advocates like Pat urge Torontonians to use their voices and harness political to make change. Many of the people in the emergency shelter system aren’t able to campaign for their needs as they struggle to make sure their basic needs are covered. While the goal is to ultimately build up our support systems to help people avoid poverty and the need to use emergency services, what Pat says we need right now is more places for women to go.

By writing, calling, tweeting and contacting our councillors and representatives at higher levels of government, we can let them know that the safety of those in need is a paramount concern that requires action now. Here’s a draft letter you can use when writing or e-mailing your councillor on this issue. Be sure to contact them ASAP – the budget will be presented in council this week on February 17th and 18th.