|Canada, Media, The Hope Squat.|
With the Pope Squat – The ongoing occupation of an abandoned rooming house at 1510 King St. W. – the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty has done more than just give a handful of Toronto?s homeless new digs, if only temporarily. With this phenomenally successful occupation (success, of course being measured by days activists delay being tear-gassed by fed-up politicians, multiplied by the amount of media stories run by Big Media) OCAP?s direct action in Parkdale is slowly gaining momentum like few of the Coalition?s strategies before.
Remarkably 1510 King St. is the longest OCAP squat in the organization?s twelve-year history.
They chose Parkdale because as organizer Sarah Vance said, the neighborhood is notorious for derelict rooming houses that are cut adrift by the municipality, and only revisited to evict tenants when a buyer comes sniffing.
Such was the case with 1510 King St. in October 2000 when the City and 459105 Ontario Ltd. A Mississauga firm with title to the building booted everyone out. Almost two years later 1510 was empty and the City still has over $15,000 in liens against the firm and close to $40,000 is owed in back taxes.
OCAP?s success in Parkdale is due to the meticulous research conducted by the group prior to occupation. This preparation has exposed the indifference of ostensibly pro-housing authorities who prefer to yell about the dearth of affordable housing while ignoring – or not even being aware of – prime properties that sit empty.
For years OCAP?s disruptions haven?t made them many government friends. And the usual cast was out for the Pope Squat, dismissing the action as yet another pain-in-the-ass OCAP protest. Parkdale-High Park Chris Korwin-Kuczynski called OCAP ?a violent organization that tries to do things the wrong way? as he put the motion forward to council asking the province for ownership of the building so it could be turned into affordable housing.
Despite the group?s bad reputation, the only nastiness during the march to the Pope Squat from Masaryk-Cowan Community Centre on July 25 came from a police officer. The fresh-faced cadet used his mountain bike to cut off an OCAP supporter on a low rider. The girl was knocked down hard and the cop – - looking to impress his superiors – cycled away with a smug grin.
It?s pretty difficult not to side with OCAP?s Pope Squat, be you politically apathetic, or Parkdale new money, just waiting for a Starbucks at Queen and Sorauren.
Through the beautifully simple art of street protest and relentless investigation the Pope Squat demonstrates that municipal and provincial posturing about a new deal for Toronto is little more than hot air unless it?s supported with tangible action. And you can?t get more tangible than listening to the grateful tenants at 1510 as they mull about looking forward to not sleeping 15 to a room at the shelter.
And OCAP isn?t finished. In a July 29 letter to Mayor Lastman, OCAP said they are ?currently investigating the legal situations of other dormant properties in the neighborhood.? They also call upon Mayor Mel to ?do the same and enter negotiations regarding all properties in a similar situation.?
When and where the next squat opens up is unclear. But when it does, you can all but guarantee a bigger turnout for the march – by activists and politico-backed police alike.