NO vacancy

Cole's Notes

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According to Mayor John Tory and his spokespeople, Toronto’s shelters may be crowded but they are not at capacity. Yet in recent evenings, during one of the coldest weather periods in recent local memory, city staff have told several people calling the shelter intake system that no beds were available.

There is ample proof, and has been for years, that Toronto’s shelters are indeed full, and that the city’s definition of shelter availability has little connection to the practical ability to access a bed. Through a calculated blend of wordplay, distraction, and a failure to provide meaningful data, Tory is misleading the public about the desperate state of emergency shelters.

Real capacity vs. stated capacity

Shelter availability impacts people on an individual and family basis. If a person or family needing a shelter calls 311 or central intake to ask for a bed, and is told a bed is not…

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Some suggestions for St. Nick’s naughty and nice lists

 

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By PAT WATSON

We do love receiving gifts at Christmastime, don’t we? The big feature at Christmas for almost everyone is the exchange of beautifully wrapped packages as expressions of our consideration for one another. But, there is another tradition that is frequently overlooked, yet should not be since it functions is as a motivator to ensure good and decent behavior throughout the rest of the year.

That’s right, not everyone is deserving of a reward at the end of the year. Saint Nicholas had quite the job until more recently deciding who should and should get the proverbial lump of coal. It used to be that he would spend the better part of the year compiling two lists: one for those who managed to maintain good habits and social responsibility – the nice list; the other with the names of those who did the opposite – the naughty list.

It is indeed a big task. So, to help old Saint Nick along, here are a few suggestions for the nice and the naughty lists.

On the nice list is African American Tarana Burke. Actually, Burke’s name would have to have been on this list going back a decade to when she first started the movement to support Black women and girls who faced sexual abuse, the #MeToo movement. It has brought the discussion of gendered abuse to the front and given rise to millions of conversations and hopefully real soul searching among men in particular who participate in this form of violence or among those who have witnessed it without stopping it.

Also on the nice list is Toronto journalist and activist Desmond Cole. Cole just received the 2017 PEN Canada award that recognizes “work that advances freedom of expression”. Cole remains a strong voice against social injustice especially as it affects the Black population. Lately he has been considering whether he will run for mayor of Toronto in next year’s election.

Federal Liberal Member of Parliament for Whitby, Celina Caesar-Chavannes is on the nice list for taking a stand on raising awareness of racism on Parliament Hill, as well as mental health. Earlier in the year, Caesar-Chavannes spoke publicly about her experience with depression, which would have to have been a strengthening moment for other Black women or anyone having a similar challenge. Speaking publicly on this matter is no easy task because of the stigma that often threatens to silence those who live with mental illness.

Caesar-Chavannes also wrote a Facebook post about the racism she has been confronted with in Ottawa despite being an elected politician. These small everyday acts of discrimination, micro-aggressions will not defeat her she says. In her Facebook post she wrote, “Glass ceilings do not get broken by sitting on the sidelines and watching. They break when you stand up.”

The Toronto Transit Commission receives a qualified place on the nice list because the new Line 1 subway extension has finally opened. Students who attend York University will now have an easier time of getting to classes.

Mayor John Tory’s name has found its way onto the naughty list because hizzoner refused to take the advice of advocates for homeless people on how to respond to the need for more shelter spaces. Tory’s idea of how best to respond to the need for more shelter spaces is to add more mats on the floors of already crowded locations. Shame.

Torstar and Postmedia are on the naughty list for making a trade deal that was immediately followed by shutting down some 40 community newspapers.

Toronto Police Service is on the naughty list for still carding Black people and people of colour while trying to make it appear that this dreadful initiative is no long in play.

Also on the naughty list, real estate dealer turned politician, Donald Trump for more reasons than there is space here to list.

A note of thanks and appreciation…Merry Christmas to Share readers everywhere. Thank you all for making the time to read the musings in this space. Here’s hoping that your Christmas sorrel drink has just the perfect amount of Jamaican ginger.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter @patprose.

New construction offers hope for affordable housing

By PAT WATSON

In August 2017, the Toronto Real Estate Board pegged the average overall price of a house in Toronto at $732, 292 and in September, the average rose to $775,546. And, there are houses, well mansions, in the downtown to mid-town area of Toronto that are listed in the multi-million-dollar range. They do not fall under the affordable housing heading.

In the face of those realities, the cry continues from the low- and middle-income segment of the population for adequate, affordable shelter. Many still aspire to the great Canadian dream of home ownership. Never mind the annual property tax, water fees, utility payments, property maintenance, homeowners’ insurance and whatever other costs come with having one’s name on the deed.

Home ownership comes with status and, more fundamentally, is considered a solid form of investment security. The message hasn’t taken hold yet that the dream is nearly impossible for a new generation coming into adulthood. The expectation is still there.

The low interest rate that the Bank of Canada held on to for close to a decade along with a surge in arrivals to this city resulted in a rush on real estate transactions that help keep the economy solvent during hard times, but at the same time resulted in ridiculously inflated prices.

Periodically, the opportunity is offered up to allow a few to be blessed with owning the dream. Along those lines, condominium units and townhouses offer better possibilities for home ownership among lower- and middle-income families. Of course, depending on willingness to purchase in the farther reaches of the city and suburban areas.

A recent planned groundbreaking is what brought the affordable shelter issue into focus. Under the Build Toronto plan, construction is going forward for 68 townhouses of one- to three-bedroom units in the Rogers Rd. and Bicknell neighbourhood with the special feature that it is aimed at middle-income earners. The units start at $300,000 and the project is being constructed on lands that had been within the Toronto Transit Commission portfolio.

Move-in is set for October next year, in time for Mayor John Tory and Councillor Frank di Giorgio, representative of Ward 12 York South Weston where the construction is being built, to highlight it going into next year’s municipal election campaigning.

An interesting feature of the purchase plan, which is part of Build Toronto, is people who earn an income below the median – that would be below $78,000 in Toronto – can receive a second mortgage from Trillium Housing that would be repayable at the time of resale. This offers hope for those who can show – whether below the media or not – that they have a stable income.

Adding to possibilities, the province is also freeing up land within the city in the West Don Lands area and at Yonge and College for residential construction for mixed income households. For those who need affordable shelter right now, that massive open space along Yonge St. cannot be completed fast enough.

So, there is room for hope on the horizon for affordable housing for some people in Toronto. The real concern is the slow pace at which these properties come into being. The Build Toronto Loop project has been at least three years in coming. Furthermore, these are projects aimed at home ownership. There are 170,000 other households that cannot afford to purchase a property. Those people just wish to be able to find a place to rent and still be able to afford a reasonably healthy lifestyle.

A note on a tipping point…

As names are revealed in the news of serial abusers, can we begin to hope that the centuries-old norm of using sexual harassment and sexual assault to exert power over women and girls is about to undergo a significant shift?

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter @patprose.

This opinion column ran on page 6 in the November 16, 2017 issue of Share newspaper. http://www.share news.com

 

 

Please Help Bird Conservationists in the Caribbean After Two Dreadful Hurricanes — Petchary’s Blog

BirdsCaribbean is reeling after the onslaught of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, this hateful month of September, 2017. As I write, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques, the north coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Southeastern Bahamas are all under Hurricane Warning, as Hurricane Maria continues to batter […]

via Please Help Bird Conservationists in the Caribbean After Two Dreadful Hurricanes — Petchary’s Blog

Climate change? What climate change?

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Photo:Alvin Baez/Reuters

By PAT WATSON

The thing about living in large urbanized regions such as Toronto, or any other big city for that matter, is that we can become largely disconnected from the subtleties of the natural environment. Apart from those individuals given to studying the messages that Nature gives as conditions change, most people do not pay too much attention to what the Earth does. Rather, the common concern is what we can get from Earth – air, water, food, wood, oil, gas, and minerals.

We pay greater attention when Nature sends up a monster. During the weeks that have just past, monsters have come along. Hurricane Harvey will go down in weather history as a category 4 storm; that is, carrying winds of 209- 251 kilometres per hour or 130-156 miles per hour.

In the hours, yes hours, following Harvey’s assault along its path across St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados and Grenada over to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and then on to Texas and Louisiana in the U.S., news came of Hurricane Irma.

The history of the word ‘hurricane’ has its origin among the Taino people taken by Spanish explorers arriving in the 15th century in the region we now call the Caribbean. The translation is ‘god of the storm’. On the other side of the world, the same type of storm is referred to as typhoon, translated as ‘big wind’.

Regardless of what name humans attach to these monsters, the devastation is the same. They were monsters a millennium ago and they are monsters today. But, there is something more. The emerging effects of our changing planetary climate conditions appear to have added more fury to these mega storms.

As is often the way in reporting these effects, news has been measuring the effect of Harvey in the billions of dollars. One report projected that Hurricane Harvey would leave $180-billion in damage on its wake. Then there is the cost in lives lost, an estimate of 60 so far just in the U.S.

Because media tend to focus on the nearest spectacles, it is perhaps no surprise that the more devastating floods that hit parts of the African continent received less notice here. But, an estimated 1,500 people died in recent floods there. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, the mudslides that came with floodwaters in mid August caused a catastrophe. Floods hit Niger’s capital city Niamey, took the lives of 200 in Ituri, Congo and left more than 110,000 households displace in Benue state in Nigeria. In South Asia, the heaviest monsoon rains in 15 years caused serious flooding and left buildings collapsed in Mumbai, India.

Even here in the Greater Toronto Region, the spring and summer came with more than the usual amount of rainfall and cooler temperatures.

What then can we make of this? The climate change debate has become a political football and has also given rise to climate change deniers. The notion that the accelerated pace in the increase in global temperature can be blamed on human activity has become the battlefront. But, the basics are these: the oceans are warming and with warming oceans there will be stronger, more powerful storms, like category 4 Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

Someone recently explained it neatly. If a baby’s temperature rises two degrees above normal, a parent would be concerned enough to seek medical help. As with the baby, so with Earth’s atmosphere.

We need to get on with corrective action and solutions, because it looks like weather conditions are becoming more furious.

Originally posted at sharenews.com

Allow backyard chickens in Toronto

 

By PAT WATSON

My grandmother in Jamaica had a chicken coop in the backyard. Decades on, I still remember the rich taste of the eggs that came from those chickens. In fact, my grandmother’s place in Kingston had a rich, growing food supply. Food bearing trees included breadfruit, avocado, grapefruit, limes, ackee, and mangoes. Space will not permit the whole range. There were all kinds of beans and edible plants and roots as well.

Immigrants to Toronto brought with them some of the same edible gardening culture as practiced in the old country. Summer into fall is the best time for sharing, neighbour-to-neighbour, the abundance that grows quickly. There is just such pleasure in the rich flavour and higher nutritional value of homegrown cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes for instance.

I mention this because there is a debate going on in Toronto about allowing raising of chickens in backyards.

Many activities that would be healthy and community building are forbidden in this city where hyper-caution is a reflexive response to so much that is just commonsense. Therefore, in typical Toronto Council fashion, a pilot project will be launched. How much do you suppose the environmental assessment study will cost?

There is hardly the need to run a pilot project for a home-based activity that is millennia old. But, if councillors want to create a few positions for backyard health inspectors, then okay.

But, recall the pilot project that was run a few years ago on ‘ethnic’ food carts, which was micro-managed into failure. If City Council starts insisting that coops and other related equipment be bought only from council mandated suppliers, then flags should start going up.

If this goes forward though, anticipate that the city will likely require permits that will cost a fee.

Aside from political meddling, one concern about raising chickens in backyards in Toronto has to do with land ownership. The scramble to purchase residential real estate and the forbidding price tags attached to houses with land space would mean the possibility for eating fresh, free-range eggs then becomes a class issue.

Imagine that a longtime cultural practice among peasant people could move up the social status ladder and sit next to other markers like owning a Labrador retriever or being able to afford a third or fourth child.

Already, the talk on Council regarding the pilot project is selection of wards where homes have enough backyard space. Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore would be included since Justin Di Ciano, councilor for that ward, brought forward the motion for the pilot project.

The vote on this pilot project would have taken place by now, but was delayed when the last council meeting before the summer break ended early upon news of the death of Councillor Pam McConnell. Now, the vote won’t take place until this fall, with the pilot project not coming until next spring.

In the meantime, backyard chicken lawbreakers would be well to organize to ensure they have strong advocacy to support backyard freedom.

Let City Hall know all about the benefits of raising chickens and how much they fit into the home gardening ecology. They control bugs in the garden and chicken waste is very good fertilizer enriching the soil for food plants in the home garden. Furthermore, hens are not noisy. And, the closer we are to nature the more respectful we are of it.

With the growing threat of global warming, which is a consequence of human disconnection from our natural environment, that respect is urgently needed.