|Canada, Toronto, Call to open the Pope squat. Saturday, July 27, 2002|
Toronto is facing a serious housing crisis. Rent controls have been eliminated, the provincial government has enacted the blatantly pro-landlord law ironically named ‘Tenant Protection Act’, and landlords have been raising rent to levels that quite simply put the basic human need of shelter outside the reach of thousands of people. Throughout this crisis all levels of government; city, provincial, and federal have failed to adequately respond and build the tens of thousands of units of social housing that is required.
However, the housing crisis we’re facing hasn’t stopped the city from spending millions of dollars on the Pope’s visit to Catholic Youth Day 2002. These millions should be spent on providing basic necessities of life to Torontonians, not on a scheme to take huge amounts of public money and subsidize an event that will create huge profits for private businesses. We clearly identify our opponents in this struggle as the City, Provincial and Federal governments who refuse to build housing and not any of the Catholic youth, church or communities. In fact, we are hoping to work with many progressive Catholics that agree with us for the need to open social housing.
It is for these reasons that we are calling upon all poor and working people, Catholics and social activists to open an abandoned building on Saturday July 27, 2002, during the Pope’s visit when the world’s spotlight will be on Toronto, and create self-managed, social housing and a community center.
We are calling for the opening of ‘The Pope Squat’ (slang for occupying an abandoned building) because we feel that the Papal visit, the large number of Catholic youth delegates that will visit our city, and a wide show of support from social justice organizations and unions, will help create a political situation that will make the regular brutality the police show towards poor people and squatters very difficult. We see the Papal visit as an opportunity to literally get our foot in the door. After the Pope leaves we will rely upon the tremendous popular support that exists and we are working to deepen in our neighborhood.
As poor and working people we have decided that waiting for the city, province and federal government to open social housing is a waste of time. We’ve been waiting, agitating, protesting, lobbying and asking for social housing to be built for years. We have seen thousands of friends and family evicted. We have seen our rent shoot through our decaying roofs. We have seen hundreds of people die on our streets. We can wait no longer!
If the various levels of government refuse to build social housing in the amounts required then we have no choice but to open it ourselves, for ourselves. Not only do we intend to open social housing for ourselves we also intend to make the building a community center that will provide space to neighborhood organizations, events, and programs. Due to downloading and City cutbacks our community centers are not able to meet the needs of our neighborhoods. Again, we have no choice but to provide for our community ourselves. We will also use our building as a space to organize with other tenants in our neighborhood against slumlords and yuppie developers who want to either keep us living in holes to line their pockets or drive us out of our neighborhood all together.
While first and foremost is our desire to directly open up self-managed social housing and a community center, we also have modest demands that the various levels of government need to meet in order to even begin to address the housing crisis we’re in. They are: A massive drive to inspect and order repairs on all unsafe and substandard housing; A stop to economic evictions; Abolishing the housing tribunal, which has only served as a rubber stamp for landlords; Restoring the cuts to social assistance. Raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour; No unlimited rent increases on vacated units, restoring rent control; And building 2000 units of social housing a year in Toronto.
While this squat is being organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty we need vital support from other poor and working people as well as social activists to ensure success.
1. We need endorsements of the squat action. Please send your endorsements to OCAP by June 15th 2002. Show the city that we are united in our demand for social housing.
2. We need squatters. If you are interested in directly participating please contact us ASAP. Whether you can commit to a day, a weekend, a week, or a longer term you are needed for the Pope squat to succeed.
3. We need outside supporters & observers. Please bring your banners, flags, members, friends and family for a mass demonstration when we open the squat.
4. We will need cooks, artists, musicians, and performers of all types for a family-oriented festival to celebrate the opening of the building.
5. We will need both the donation of skilled and unskilled labour to transform an empty building into a livable, safe, and enjoyable social housing and community center. We will also require the donation or lending of tools, lumber, hardware, furniture, food, other equipment and monetary donations.
We plan to hold a public meeting for everyone interested in supporting this initiative, as well as community meetings and meals in our neighborhoods. If your social activist group, union local, tenants association, or other organization is interested in hearing more about this project and our broader housing campaign please contact us and we will supply a speaker for one of your upcoming meetings.
If the city won’t build social housing, then we will!