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Charter challenge aims to force governments to create public housing May 26, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Housing/Homelessness, Human Rights.
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Jennifer Tanudjaua with her childen in their home in Toronto’s Jane-Finch area.

Kirk Makin Justice Reporter

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, May. 26, 2010 12:12AM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, May. 26, 2010 7:04AM EDT

One major obstacle stands between Jennifer Tanudjaja and her goal of becoming a successful career woman rather than a burden on the social welfare system – paying the rent.

Struggling to stay in school, the 19-year-old mother of two children plows most of her child welfare benefits and student assistance loan into a $998 per month tenement apartment in Toronto’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood. Meanwhile, she is mired at the bottom of a 10-year wait list for public housing.

Ms. Tanudjaja’s plight lies at the heart of a Charter of Rights challenge being filed on Wednesday in an attempt to persuade the judiciary to force governments to create low-cost public housing.

A coalition of social welfare groups that is launching the challenge seeks to compel the federal and Ontario governments to provide affordable housing for those who are homeless or impoverished by the cost of putting a roof over their heads.

One of the case histories the coalition is furnishing is that of Ms. Tanudjaja, a social work student who aims to be a probation officer. Just 13 years old when her mother handed her over to child welfare authorities, Ms. Tanudjaja ran away from a group home at 15 and then spent more than a year “couch-surfing” from one friend’s home to another.

Now, she can barely eke out her rent cheque after paying for food and public transit to college. “It is honestly not worth what I’m paying at all,” Ms. Tanjudjaja said. “There are bedbugs and tiles popping out of my walls, and my pipes leak really bad.”

The legal challenge harks back to the early, heady days when activists saw the Charter as a sweeping document that could induce reluctant governments to spend money on social programs.

Tracy Heffernan, a lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, conceded that judges have become wary of poking their noses into expenditures of public money.

“But 25 years after we got the Charter, it is time to bring it back to the people,” she said. “To allow this crisis of homelessness and inadequate housing to expand and grow and further deepen that crisis is not a good thing for the country.”

The challenge is rooted in the Charter right to equality and to life, liberty and security. A legal brief prepared by Ms. Heffernan and lawyers Peter Rosenthal and Fay Faraday notes that the federal government once played a dominant role in providing public housing. They said that it later pushed public housing onto the provinces, which off-loaded it to municipalities, which lack the tax base to shoulder it.

The brief alleges that homelessness reduces life expectancy, causes single mothers to lose custody of their children and forces victims of domestic violence to return to abusive spouses. Cuts to social assistance have steadily added to the ranks of homeless people, it added.

“The result is that those in receipt of social assistance are often unable to obtain adequate housing, many become homeless, and many more are inadequately housed,” it said. “People who are homeless are perhaps the most marginalized, disempowered, precariously situated and vulnerable group in Canadian society.”

Ms. Heffernan said that a recent study conducted for the Senate found that, over a 10-year period, the homeless could be housed for half of what it will cost to treat the medical and social problems caused by homelessness.

The documents supporting the challenge also include an affidavit from Miloon Kothari, an Indian housing expert who served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing from 2000-2008.

“The most striking feature of my mission to Canada was the contrast between the abundance of resources available and the dire living conditions facing the most vulnerable in society,” Mr. Kothari said.

In another affidavit, Linda Chamberlain, a Toronto woman who is mentally ill, describes 30 years living in hostels or on the streets.

“Sometimes police would pick me up and take me to a shelter,” Ms. Chamberlain said in an interview. “You can’t imagine living in places infested with bed bugs and cockroaches or in a plastic bag, scared to death of being violated. I didn’t want to wake up because I was in such pain.

“You walk around like a zombie,” she said. “There is no hope there. You lose everything. If no one helps people get into a safe place to live, how can they turn their lives around?”


The Fight to Save Ontario Hospitals February 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Health.
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by Susan Rosenthal – Canada

“People First,” International Health Workers for People Over Profit (IHWPOP)

As the fight for a single-payer medical system heats up in the United States, Canada’s single-payer system is being dismantled to support corporate profits.

On January 30-31, two-hundred representatives meet in Toronto for a “Strategy Summit on Ontario’s Planned Hospital Cuts, Downsizing and Restructuring” convened by the Ontario Health Coalition. The OHC includes more than 400 labor and community groups that are committed to defending and improving the publicly-funded, publicly-administered health-care system.

The Strategy Summit was called in response to planned funding cuts that will affect every hospital in the province. If the cuts go through, Emergency Departments will close, local birthing services will be eliminated, hospital departments and beds will be lost, paramedical and support services will be privatized and fees for hospital patients and visitors will increase.

The goal of the meeting was to organize a province-wide campaign to stop the loss of these  services, and the first order of business was to counter the lies that justify the cuts.

The Cuts are Not a Response to the Recession

Back in 1994, the Ontario government presented its plan to transform the medical system into a cash-cow for the private sector.

“To have the effective launching pad it needs, the health industries sector must expand its share of its own home market. Steps must be taken to ensure that, as in other countries, the domestic market supports the development of globally competitive companies.”(1)

One of these steps was to scrap regulations that ensured a minimum level of daily care for nursing home patients. Major cuts to funding and services followed.

The cuts were so unpopular that the Conservative Party was voted out of office in favor of the Liberal Party. In turn, the Liberal Party has betrayed its election mandate and planned  this round of even deeper cuts.

In 2006, before the recession began, the Liberals passed the Local Health System Integration Act to dismantle the public hospital system under the guise of “integration.” The province was divided into 14 geographic areas, each of which was assigned a Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) with the power to reorganize and cut regional medical services.

Economists warn that hospital cuts will deepen the effects of the recession, because every lost hospital job will cause a second job loss in the community. Moreover, increasing wait-times for medical services will cost billions more dollars in lost work time and productivity.

The Cuts are Not about Improving Hospital Efficiency

Hospitals are not being cut to make them more efficient, but to support the profitability of the private sector.

Ontario hospitals are the most “efficient” in the country. Between 1981 and 2008, the hospital share of the Ontario health budget fell from 52 percent to 37 percent.

The Ontario government has cut funding for health and social services in order to  support corporate profits. Low corporate tax rates mean that only 15 percent of Ontario’s GDP goes to government funding, compared with 17 percent for the rest of Canada. As a result, Ontario has the lowest per-capita government expenditure: $6,905 in 2007 compared with $8,692 for the rest of Canada.

Hospital cuts also help to move medical services (and money) from the public sector to the private sector. This is accomplished in a two-step process.

First, hospitals are funded below the level required to match the rate of inflation and population growth. Years of under-funding have pushed half of Ontario hospitals into deficit and 70 percent are expected to be in deficit by next year.  Second, hospitals are forced to cut services to balance their budgets.

By Canadian law, medical services provided in hospital must be publicly funded and provided free of charge. Once these services leave hospital, they can be taken over by the private sector and provided for profit……….continue reading The Fight to Save Ontario Hospitals

Susan Rosenthal works as a physician in the Toronto area.