The COVID-19 situation continues to be incredibly fluid, and is changing rapidly.
I know residents across Toronto and Canada are concerned. Watching the unfolding global crisis closely, I share your concerns, especially the impact to those who are already living precariously housed, under-waged and financially marginalized in the most expensive city in Canada.
I think it is important we are honest about the glaring gaps in our social safety net that COVID-19 have made evermore evidently clear. In times of deep grieving after the Quebec City mosque shooting, Humboldt bus crash or the Van Attack, we have taken great pride in how Canadians take care of one another in times of need. This remains the case but we now need all governments to rise to the challenge and expectations of our citizens, who have worked hard, saved what they can, to now find themselves days or weeks away from the verge of financial collapse.
We must acknowledge that many people in our communities can’t work remotely, and those unable to work due to illness should have access to paid sick days. That small businesses employing hourly-waged workers rely on tourism and event crowds that have disappeared overnight for income. There are freelancers who rely on travel and contract work for their livelihoods. The erosion to OW and ODSP must not only be reversed, but strengthened to reflect the true cost of living so that those in receipt can actually pay for housing, food and transportation. We need detailed community support for people who are immunocompromised, elderly, without access to healthcare, or the ability to assess critical medication, who are homeless, who are abandoned.
Yesterday we learned that by Monday, ten Out of the Cold Shelters (OOTCS) in Toronto will be closing this essential service to protect their elderly volunteers and staff. The homeless populations they serve still need our care. We need all three levels of government to intervene with real, immediate support for those in our community who need extra help.
While I am relieved that the City of Toronto opened the Emergency Operations Centre this week to combat COVID-19, in my aching heart, I know City Council should have done this years earlier when I joined homeless advocates and progressive Councillors (not enough to win the vote) in calling for an homelessness emergency because of the overburdened shelter system. Now the job before us is even harder, compounded by the sheer volume of those facing homelessness and economic devastation brought on by a housing crisis and this global pandemic.
As more community programs and social services close, more cracks in our system will be exposed. We have a responsibility to minimize the financial risks for our residents, as much as the health risks.
This means Canada needs a monthly basic income guarantee for all residents, especially for those in hospitality who depend on tips, gig economy workers, domestic workers, artists, filmmakers, writers and other independent contractors who are not covered by the overly complicated Employment Insurance process, and who will see no support from the Government of Canada’s recent stimulus announcement.
Any federal compensation package should include immediate mortgage and rent freezes for all residents unable to pay due to the economic hardships caused by COVID-19. It should also freeze interest payments on credit cards, lines of credit and mortgages. There must be an immediate stop to reno-victions and predatory loan payments. Student loans should be cancelled so the next generation who we will call upon to help us rebuild the economy can do so without the unbearable yoke of debt around their necks
This means immediate pharmacare support for people to access the medication they need when they need it and not risk going into medical spaces unnecessarily.
This means immediately mobilizing resources for shelters and medical assistance programs to house people in isolation temporarily.
We know that intergovernmental tables have been convened to look at what other legislative tools can be implemented in the interest of containing COVID-19. It is imperative for the health and safety of all Canadians that our collective response include interventions for those in precarious financial positions.
We know that one day COVID-19 will be behind us. We know that together with the global community we will rebuild what was lost and mourn those taken before their time.
What pieces are left and how many we lose can be determined now and today by the actions of our governments. If governments continue to think small and act small, then Canadians will continue to struggle under the weight of structural problems that existed before this coronavirus.
Instead of thinking outside the box, I say it’s time for all of us to smash the box and take the opportunity to reconstruct the strongest social safety net and economy in our nation’s history. By truly investing in its people and working together to ensure no one is forgotten, we will not only defeat this coronavirus but also create a world healthier, stronger and more resilient than the one that we find ourselves in today.
I've shared the following list with our Mayor and City Manager. They're meeting with their Fed & Prov counterparts and I've ask them to consider adding these recommendations to the list of Toronto requests. You can help by sharing list with your networks, MPP and MP too.
- Housing Allowance - immediately expand, accelerate payment and increase amount to reflect true housing costs.
- Freeze all renovictions and evictions - immediately and without exceptions.
- Monthly Basic Income - immediately establish and distribute to every citizen.
- Employment Insurance - simplify and fast track the application, increase the amount to reflect true cost of living and expand to those traditionally not covered such as small business owners and independent contractors etc.
- Paid sick days - ensure all workers including salaried, hourly and contracted have access to paid sick days and forgo the requirement for doctor notes.
- Freeze commercial/residential rents and mortgage payments immediately.
- Halt all hydro, gas and water payments.
- Freeze all interest payments on credit cards, lines of credit, mortgages - the Bank of Canada has already dropped their rate and those savings are not being passed along to the borrower.
- Cancel all student and education loans - we can not ask the young people of this country to help us rebuild the economy when many of them are strapped down by punishing amounts of student debt.
- OW and ODSP - reverse any cuts and immediately expand, accelerate payment and increase amount to reflect true costs of living in Toronto.
- Childcare subsidizes - ensure that no parents or caregivers lose childcare subsidizes because of child care centre closures and service disruptions.
- Pay for Care Work - establish a fund to compensate those (mostly women) providing primary caregivers for infants, children and elderly relatives.
- Technical support for non-profits and small businesses - they need help to expand their capacity to deal with the crisis - most are simply shutting their operations or waiting for the City to tell them to do so, but have no contingency plans for remote working.
- Address gender-based violence - which dramatically increased in China as families went into isolation. When women, children and vulnerable ppl are trapped at home w their abusers, there is no where for them to go. Services are often exclusively accessed in person and almost none of our services providers provide text support and they can not make phone calls to the police, families, counsellors etc in the presence
- Intersectional analysis - women, people w disabilities, immigrants, non-English speakers, undocumented, poor, LGBTQ2S+, elderly, Black, Indigenous and racialized communities are always the ones left behind in the time of crisis. Any economic stimulus packages or enhanced social supports must incorporate an intersectional gender lens in their policy development and implementation.
- Provide immediate pharmacare support for people to access the medication they need when they need it and not risk going into medical spaces unnecessarily.
- Expand and mobilize resources for shelters and others working in the sector, plus provide medical assistance programs to house people in isolation temporarily.
- Denounce all forms of xenophobia and racism - Chinese and other Asian communities, especially children, are continuing to experience high incidents of racism as people are looking for scapegoats to blame.
Overall, governments need to provide enhanced financial and social supports as soon as possible and we need to cut the red tape on everything. Don’t make people fill endless forms and wait. People are scared of losing their jobs, homes and families. They needed help yesterday.