“You promised safe space”

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On November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I attended a rally put on by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) with some of the other social work students.  At the rally, we were given signs to carry as we marched down Yonge Street.  The sign I was carrying said “you promised safe space” and was directed at the City of Toronto.

There is a crisis in Toronto and no, it is not transit.  Our crisis is housing, shelters and safe spaces.  On any given night, people are turned away from City of Toronto shelters due to overcrowding.  Women and trans people face particular risks when they are turned away from shelters and forced to spend a night on the streets.  Just over a year ago, a homeless woman was sexually assaulted by two different men as she slept outside near Dundas and Sherbourne.  Incidents like this are not rare and emphasize the safety issues of sleeping on the streets.

OCAP and allies began to mobilize and put pressure on the City of Toronto to open a 24 hour safe space and drop-in for women and trans people.  After relentless advocacy, the city acknowledged the need for this space and promised to open this space before winter.  Winter is upon us and there is no safe space and drop-in.  The city has stalled, forgotten its promise and decided to put this issue on the back burner until next year.  The safety and lives of people are not something to be put on the back burner.

November 25th was a day of action to highlight the city’s unwillingness to address this critical issue and acknowledge the shortcomings of its own shelter system.  After a rally at on Charles Street, we marched down Yonge Street to 21 Park Road.  This building is utilized by the City as part of its Shelter, Support and Housing Administration.  After arriving at 21 Park Road, five women took over the building to demand the City address shelter occupancy issues and fulfill its promise for a 24 hour drop in space.  Since the city refused to open up safe space, they were going to.

Throughout the entire rally and march, there was heavy police presence; more than I had ever seen at similar demonstrations.  The City decided to violently arrest the five women instead of opening safe space.  They are being charged with trespassing and mischief.  The real “mischief” is letting those who are homeless be sexually assaulted and die on the streets.  It’s time for the City of Toronto to realize that their actions of bureaucratic stalling on critical issues such as shelter contribute to lack of safety and possibly the deaths of people in Toronto.

I encourage all citizens, voters and decent human beings of Toronto to get in touch with the City Manager to demand a drop-in space for women and trans people.  The City Manager can be reached at 416-392-8673.