Monday, August 24, 2020

Falling Through the Cracks: One person’s experience of the Government’s Financial Assistance During Covid-19 Pandemic

As one of the millions of Canadians effected by COVID-19 I was excited to learn that the government would be offering financial support to those struggling. On March 25th the creation of the Canadian Response Benefit (CERB) was announced by the federal government. Under this benefit Canadians would receive $500 a week for up to 16 weeks (extended to 24 weeks in June 2020). To apply, you must live in Canada, be at least 15, have lost your job due to COVID-19, and had an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or the last 12 months. However this eligibility requirement left many Canadians like me out in the cold. I was one of those Canadians who either did not make enough money, who prior to the outbreak were unemployed, or were still working but had their hours cut down. In my case, I am a Black Woman who graduated out of university in 2019. As I am an inspiring snow boarder and love the mountains, I decided to move to Calgary to join a friend there. Unfortunately, it took me several months before I was able to find a satisfactory job in my career field. Finally, when I did manage to find a job in my field, I experienced workplace racism leading me to quit. Leaving an unhealthy workplace was great for my mental health but not so good for my financial health, as I quit my job prior to making the $5,000 in income, that would have made me eligible to apply in the future for CERB. Unemployed and with no funds to my name I moved to Toronto in search of better employment opportunities.

While many praised the government’s response many others voiced their displeasure and frustration at being over looked by the government. Credit to the Liberal government, they listened when Canadians spoke and a month later in April the government expanded the benefits to include part time employee’s making less then $1,000 a month due to reduced hours. But this was not without flaws. Many Canadians again fell through the cracks of the CERB as workers who made less than $5,000 in the previous year but were able to make over $1,000 a month would not be eligible. I, like many others, again sat back and watched the government announce another stimulus package that we were ineligible to apply to, having been unemployed prior to COVID and still unable to find work.

Then on April 22 the government announced a new benefit, the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). I thought finally I can apply! I recently graduated from school in the fall of 2019 and so with eager anticipation I looked at the eligibility of this benefit. The CESB set out that Canadian students or recent graduates unable to find work, or who are making less than $1,000 a month, would be able to receive $1,250 every 4 weeks for up to 16 weeks. However to meet the requirements of a student or recent graduate you have to be enrolled in post secondary institution, completed your post-secondary education in December 2019 or later, or be enrolled in a post-secondary program before February 1, 2021. This meant that, although having completed my program in September of 2019 and I feeling like I was just out of school, I was not considered recent enough to meet the requirements of CESB. So once again I was left with no financial resources and increasing debt.

My last recourse was applying for Employment Insurance (EI). Even researching this avenue was unnecessarily complicated and had a lot of hoops you had to jump through to even apply. The simplified requirements of EI eligibility are having been laid off and having worked a certain amount of insurable hours (typically between 420-700 hours in the last 52 weeks). This was the moment my heart truly sank. In the last 52 weeks I had been in school, then moved provinces, found a job, quit said job because of workplace racism, then moved back to Toronto just in time for Covid-19 to hit and experience the widespread workplace closures. In all those weeks I was unable to work the minimum hours needed to receive EI.

At this point I didn’t know what to do and could only laugh as I felt like the only person unable to receive any kind of support from the government. But as I learned in the coming weeks there were thousands of fellow Canadians negatively impacted by the pandemic that were left unsupported by the government. Unemployment is at an all time high and yet, as quoted in an article in Ipolitics, senior economist David Macdonald, estimates that 16 percent of all Canadians unemployed are without any support as they are not eligible for CERB, CESB, or EI. As the pandemic continues to surge and unemployment rages on, I like many Canadians have lost faith in the Federal government’s so called support measures and feel left out to dry.


By Adaku-Huggins Warner

(Adaku is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Black Lives Matter

Racism is not a new concept to racialized people, talk to almost any black teenager or black young adult resident of Regent Park and they’ll be able to tell you of their or their friend’s experiences of been stopped by police due to the colour of their skin, most often as part of Toronto Police Services TAVIS Program (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) for aggressive policing of Toronto’s low income neighbourhoods. In these encounters black individuals are carded and asked to confirm their Regent Park resident status or state the reason for visiting the area. The ten-year TAVIS program ended in 2016.

 


Regent Park is not alone, today most Black Canadians can also tell you of a negative experience they or someone close to them has had, due to the colour of their skin. Whether it is being unfairly targeted by the police, followed around in a store, being denied housing or employment, being over-looked on a dating site or passed over for a work promotion. Unfortunately for black people race plays a major role in how they are treated in society.

However, it wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd by the police that the whole world started paying closer attention to institutional racism. And although the issue is still being widely debated in America, after a few weeks of attention here Canada has once again mostly fallen quiet. Sure there were protests, credit to the black lives matter movement (BLM), and sure politicians did their song and dance but the truth of the matter is where racism in Canada is concerned it is all to often done politely behind closed doors. As Canadians we often look at America and think thank god that’s not happening here, but in fact it is happening here and Canada should not be pretending to be so high and mighty.

This is not the first time the BLM has been in the media. Many Canadian readers will remember the last time BLM was in the headlines was in 2016 when they delayed the start of Toronto Pride parade by having a sit in to protest the treatment of black people by police and the role police had in the parade. Although many have now come out in support of BLM, back in 2016 it was a different story. People were not so charitable with many stating that BLM were being too confrontational and encroaching on an area they had no right in. I guess at that time they forgot that black LGBTQA members existed.

Still the message voiced by the BLM has always been the same. The treatment of black members of society, and likewise Indigenous peoples, by the police are rooted in racism. Indeed, there have been many studies done to support this belief. The most recent one, done by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), just came out this month and it has some damning statistics. It found that a black person in Toronto is nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by the police. Even in less serious cases the story is concerning. For example, the OHRC reports that black Torontonians represented 37.6% of people charged with cannabis possession even though they make up just 8.8% of the population and studies have shown they use marihuana at similar rates to white people. This mistreatment is not exclusive to black Canadians however. Indigenous people suffer at the hands of police in Canada as well. A study done by Pivot Legal looked at the last 17 years of police violence from 2000 -2017 and found that although the indigenous population in Canada is 4.8% they make up 15% of total fatalities cause by the police.

But can anything be done? Well if you listen to those voices behind the BLM movement you will know that yes there are actions that can be taken to uproot the system of racism in the police. BLM has been calling to defund the police and, although this might seem radical to many there is no denying that now is the time for decisice action. According to BLM - Defund the Police Canadian “taxpayers spend 41million a day on police services across the country”. By defunding the police, scholars argue, that the money could be funnelled into areas that are in desperate need of support and would help address social inequalities. For example, CBC reported that “70% of victims [of police violence] suffer from mental health and substance abuse problems”. Instead of so much of our money going to the police, we could be funding sectors that assist people with mental illness putting the emphasis on helping rather than harming. And defunding is not an unattainable dream – just look at Seattle where the city council recently voted to significantly cut their police budget so they can divert dollars into social programs.

Unfortunately, because Canada has yet to confront its problem with racism, the Defund the Police movement by BLM has been ignored by our political leaders. A recent vote at Toronto City Council on a motion to cut the police budget was defeated, with councillors being unwilling to cut the police budget by even a mere 10% leaving many black and indigenous people to wonder if the racism they face in Canada is really any better than in America.

Watch video in link below:
https://youtu.be/4kzhOxwvtZI

By Adaku Huggins-Warner

(Adaku is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Understanding Bill 184 with MPP Suze Morrison

The coronavirus pandemic has put thousands of people out of Canadians out of work, especially lower-income people and minimum-wage workers. The financial strain has made it nearly impossible for many to pay rent. Here in Downtown East Toronto, including such neighbourhoods as Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown, many residents are renters who may be working minimum-wage jobs in non-essential businesses. Bill 184 is a new piece of provincial legislature that seeks to address some of these issues, but it has been met with criticism and controversy. We talked with Toronto Centre MPP Suze Morrison to learn more about the bill and how it can affect renters.


 Bill 184 is an omnibus bill, meaning it contains a number of different topics. One of the most important changes lets landlords and tenants discuss payment options without the involvement of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). In theory, it’s supposed to make the negotiation process easier and more efficient. As Morrison points out, though, the LTB exists for a reason--to make sure both parties have fair representation and are not being taken advantage of. Tenants are especially vulnerable, especially in cases involving large property owners--larger corporations may have access to legal services and advisors that the average tenant can’t afford. As a result, the law has been dubbed the “Eviction Bill” by some politicians and activists alike.

Landlords, however, say the bill favours tenants and doesn’t protect their rights. For smaller, mom-and-pop landlords, the monthly rent payments are necessary for them to stay afloat and repay their mortgage.

Over the past few weeks, Ontario lifted both its provincial state of emergency and temporary ban on evictions. The provincial government, however, is still holding onto a lot of the powers that a state of emergency entails. Morrison calls this lack of accountability dangerous, and says it’s still too soon to re-open the eviction process. “[Tenants] are no more able to pay today then they were two, three months ago,” Morrison says. Though the pandemic has slowed down, the economy has not rebounded to the point where people can consistently make rent payments.

In response to the Covid crisis, the NDP developed a rent subsidy plan where tenants would receive a payment of 75% of their rent from the government, up to $2,500. Under this plan, tenants get help to pay their rent and Landlords get paid, and evictions would be banned for the next four months.

The pandemic has hit marginalised communities the hardest. Middle- and upper-class people often work white-collar jobs that can be conducted online, but lower-paying jobs (where women and racialised people are overrepresented) can’t work from home. As a result, they’re laid off or put on leave; either way, they’re not being paid and the income gap widens. People of colour, especially Black and Indigenous people, face systemic discrimination in housing and healthcare. Working mothers are staying home to take care of their children, since schools and daycare services are limited. Though these issues have always been present, they’ve been worsened by COVID.

Having a safe and secure place to live is one of the most basic of human rights, but many Torontonians are facing housing insecurity. Hopefully, we'll see accountability and action from the provincial government. No one should be worrying about whether or not they will end up homeless, especially not in the middle of a global pandemic.

Watch Video:
https://youtu.be/8h_f0Yavdno

By Chloe Nguyen-Drury

(Chloe is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre).




Community Clean Up Initiatives – The Regent Park Way

If you’re at all like me you’ve looked around your neighbourhood and noticed the amount of trash lying around, anywhere from the odd food wrapper to the common cigarette butt. Littering is a common occurrence and lets face it we’ve all been there, either guilty of littering ourselves or witnesses to other people littering. Although it might not seem like a big deal to people, littering has a significant effect on the environment. According to the National Geographic there are “5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean”. Staggering as that number is, it will continue to grow as humans consume more and more plastics products that often end up improperly thrown away, or carelessly tossed onto our streets. This is particularly worrying given the shelf life of these plastics. Plastic can take up to 100 years or longer to decompose. For instance plastic bags take 10-20 years to decompose, where as plastic bottles take 450 years to decompose. It is no wonder than that we, as a society, need to start taking action towards creating a cleaner and greener world.

One great spear head in the fight against littering and climate change are Community clean up days. Community clean up days are a great way to clear the environment of trash and to fix up the neighbourhood. This type of action has a number of great results, not just for the environment, but also for the participates and their communities. Community clean up initiatives help build teamwork among participants, create a sense of community among members, and foster an appreciation for the area thereby ensuring members are more conscientious about the space going forward.

For Regent Park residents, Community Clean Up Days are nothing new and on June 20th, 2020, they held their annual community clean up day with roaring success. Despite the pandemic, Friends of Regent Park, an organization that puts on events in the neighbourhood, together with area residents and other community members, managed to hold their annual clean up day safely by using social distance between people and requiring masks. The participants tackled the Park, the Christian Resource Centre, the Athletic Grounds, Nelson Mandela School and surrounding streets. As Sean Brathwaite explains he hopes their efforts will spread a message to the wider community, “if people see us cleaning up the trash and litter, that they’ll do their part and they’ll also do the same thing and put the trash where it belongs in the garbage”. 

Although it seems like a simple and small step, cleaning up pollution from our communities has a far reaching positive effect on not just the community but the environment as a whole. And for this we would like to thank the Friends of Regent Park and the participants of the Community clean up day for your small but significant step in helping the Regent Park area be cleaner, greener and more beautiful overall.

Watch Video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OkoYMXnwJE


By Adaku Huggins-Warner

Adaku Huggins-Warner is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre


New TCHC Building at 150 River St.

Here at RPTV, we're committed to keeping you up to date on new construction in the Regent Park community. As buildings are readying for occupancy, it's important that we reach out to developers to learn more about these projects. We talked with Senior Construction Manager Robert Boyd to learn more about the new development at 150 River St. 


 This development is part of stage three of a five-stage plan to revitalize Regent Park. The end goal is to replace Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s (TCHC) old buildings with newer, safer housing. Though they have the option to leave Regent Park, all community housing residents are guaranteed a unit in one of TCHC’s new buildings.

Located at the corner of River St. and Oak St., this 11-storey building contains 158 TCHC community housing units with 33 affordable housing units. The TCHC units are rent-geared-to-income (or RGI), meaning your rent is based 30% of your annual income before taxes. The affordable units, though they are considered market housing, are listed at 80% of the average cost of a normal market unit in Toronto. They include one, two, and three bedroom apartments, and four and five bedroom two-storey townhomes for larger families.

Amenities include a community room, laundry facilities, underground parking, lounges, a rooftop garden, and a playground and courtyard. While market developers may include features like these in their buildings just to attract buyers, Boyd believes these shared spaces serve a greater purpose; they can help foster a sense of community among residents. “These communal bonds are so important for this entire revitalization to be successful,” explains Boyd. By creating these common spaces, people of different backgrounds--socioeconomic or otherwise--can talk, play, and live together.

Construction was completed in December 2019, and some tenants began to move in. With the pandemic, however, move-ins were paused to encourage self-isolation and prevent the spread and entry of disease. Occupancy is now starting up again, with increased safety protocols in place. High-traffic zones are sanitized twice a day, including laundry rooms, door handles, and elevator buttons. Common spaces were also temporarily closed, but are re-opening soon.

Aside from this development, TCHC will start excavation on a new building in September or October of this year. Located just west of 150 River St., this development will be the last of phase three before moving on to the final two phases of revitalization.

Though the pandemic has caused delays, Toronto Community Housing is moving forward and getting residents moved in as soon as possible. We look forward to seeing how 150 River Street and TCHC’s upcoming projects turn out.

 Watch Video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1DMPrBRvZg

By Chloe Nguyen-Drury

Chloe is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre





Thursday, August 20, 2020

Regent Park’s Food Banks

The COVID-19 crisis has forced non-essential businesses to close, particularly targeting the retail, hospitality, and service industries. Women, new immigrants, and people of colour are over-represented by these jobs, which usually pay minimum wage. As a result of the pandemic, many employees in these sectors have been laid off and unemployment rates are significantly higher than recent years. These employees often live paycheque to paycheque, so losing a job can have drastic consequences--especially in Regent Park, where many come from lower-income families or live in subsidized housing.

One of the major and most necessary expenses is food--Torontonians spend an average of over $280 permonth on groceries (not to mention eating out at restaurants). For an employee working at the $14 minimum wage, that equals 13% of your net income. Many people may not be homeless, but they are still struggling to make ends meet. So where do you turn when you struggle to afford the most basic necessities? Community programs in Regent Park have been providing groceries and meals to those who face food insecurity.

The Salvation Army Food Bank has operated for about 20 years, but community engagement coordinator Brianne Zelinsky says they have seen an increase in the number of families using the food bank. They’ve gone from serving 25 to 50 families a week to upwards of 75 to 100 families after the outbreak of coronavirus. Because the number of staff had to be decreased to enforce social distancing, their hours have been cut to only two days a week. To make up for the limited new schedule, they are also offering grocery store gift cards to families.

The Muslim Welfare Center (MWC) has been serving free weekly lunches since 2014 as part of their Regent Meals initiative. They are still running the program, though they have transitioned to take-out only to protect volunteers and guests. Since the beginning of Regent Meals, they have distributed over 45,000 lunches to members of the community.

Second Harvest works with grocery stores and restaurants to distribute donations of food to schools, seniors’ centres, shelters, and food banks. Their items include fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy products, meat, and seafood, as well as non-perishable items like canned goods and granola bars. They have worked with Salvation Army and the CRC RegentPark Community Food Centre to provide free breakfasts and lunches, including halal and vegetarian options.

These organizations serve more than just food. The Salvation Army’s drop-in café is stocked with board games to encourage patrons to interact and socialize. The MWC provides clothing distribution, free tax filing help, and health information seminars. As Brianne Zelinsky of Salvation Army explains, “It’s about giving someone hope. We're a social lifeline. People come to our space because they’re lonely, because they don't have connections in the neighbourhood”. Now more than ever, people need to create and maintain a strong relationship with their community. Social distancing and self-isolation can make us feel like we are the only ones out there. Though the specific impact of the pandemic may look different for everyone, we are all in this fight together.


By Chloe Nguyen-Drury

(Chloe is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)



Ethno-racial Data Collection and the Future of Community Wellness

Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General has allocated 200 million dollars for the years 2019 to 2022, in support of the Community Safety and Well-Being Strategy. A key part of this updated strategy is the idea that,“…the majority of investments, time and resources should be spent on developing and/or enhancing social development, prevention and risk intervention strategies to reduce the number of individuals, families and communities that reach the point of requiring an incident response. Developing strategies that are preventative as opposed to reactive will ensure efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of safety and well-being service delivery across Ontario.”

And so you would think this would mean investing most of that funding into community organizations and preventative health strategies. Yet approximately 99% of the 2019 budget went to police forces (Toronto Police Services received $55.4 million on top of their budget of over 1.06 billion). This is one recent example of how a reallocating of police funding could better be spent to help communities, in this case, in the words of the government itself. This idea of reallocating funding where police services have failed to aid community wellness, is at the centre of the “Defund the Police” movement.

Another recent example of funding for community health and wellness being allocated to furthering the police budget is in response to Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to Defund the Police by 10% along with a series of other community based demands. The result (in terms of funding) was 50 Million dollars from the City of Toronto allocated to police for body-cams over the next 10 years.

Cheryl Prescod (Executive Director of the Black Creek Community Health Centre) weighed in on the connection between race, health and bloated police funding. These highly interrelated topics, has been widely brought to the mainstream media’s attention in large part thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. Remarking on the movement’s response to initial criticisms leveled against them for organizing street protests during a COVID pandemic, Cheryl argues that their perspective is, “I’m not going to die of COVID. I’m going to die of racism,” says Prescod. “That’s much more of a threat to me than even COVID.”

Prescod and Paulos Gebreyesus (Regent Park Community Health Centre Executive Director) are two members of a Coalition of Black Health Leaders of the Alliance for Healthier Communities. The Alliance put out a statement further elaborating on the interconnections between health, policing and race.

“‘Good health’ is a product of access, social, cultural and economic factors. Similarly, structural and systemic inequalities are contributors to poor health outcomes.”

“Research continues to validate what our communities know from lived experience; the continuing legacy of anti-Black racism means that Black people experience disproportionately higher rates of poverty, poorer health outcomes and we are over-represented in the criminal justice system.”

 


In a later statement, these Black Health Leaders in Toronto made the following suggestion (among others related to ethno-racial data collection):

“[We therefore demand] the collection and use of socio-demographic and race-based data in health and social services now as relates to COVID-19, and more expansively to inform overall health system planning and resource allocation.”

Cheryl explained to me that, “when COVID started [the Black Health Leader’s Coalition of the Alliance for Healthier Communities] were reading [the data] about people in the U.S. who are poor, black, Latino, living in shelters, living in precarious situations-- these were the people hardest hit and dying from COVID. We [have long known] that the same things are happening in our communities.”

Some of the figures from those American COVID-19 race-based statistics are as follows:

“Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.”

“In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it's more than four times greater.”

The city of Toronto itself has began collecting race-based data (in part, in response to pressure from activists in Toronto fighting for health equity) and put out a statement on the City of Toronto website stating:

“There is growing evidence that racialized populations and low-income groups are more at risk of COVID-19. The reasons for this are unclear but could include; Existing health disparities linked to social and economic factors ; Stress caused by racism and other forms of discrimination; Challenges in participating in the public health response to COVID-19, including difficulties in limiting COVID-19 exposure because of being an essential worker, and difficulties in physical distancing because of overcrowding; [and finally], Inequitable access to health care and social services”

The City’s findings identified that Arab, Middle eastern, West Asian, Black, Latin American, South Asian, Indo Caribbean and South East Asians are over-represented in the data in terms of the rate of COVID-19 cases among specific ethno-racial groups versus the overall COVID-19 rate for Toronto.

Whether or not one agrees with a full abolition of policing in Canada or a 50% redistribution of the 1.2 billion dollar gross operating budget for 2020 (plus part of the grants such as the 199 million dollars from the Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General and the City of Toronto’s 50 million dollars for bodycams), or you don’t think the police budget should change at all, one thing is clear. Prevention, risk intervention and generally avoiding violent incident policing responses, are the way of the future, and nowhere is that of more urgent import than in racialized communities like Black Creek and Regent Park.


To watch the interview with Paulos Gebreyesus (Regent Park Community Health Centre Executive Director), click the link below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9R3Onh9DMo


By Fabio Heredia-Caslins

(Fabio is a journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)



The impact of Covid-19 on 611 Purple Factory Barbershop

611 Purple Factory is a barbershop that is located in the Regent Park area, at 611 Dundas Street East, right across for the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre. The shop’s area of service focuses on the hair cuts, shape ups, fading and more. The shop is owned by Martin Ferreira.

Barbershops, unfortunately, is one of the non-essential services ordered to close as part of Ontario Premiere Doug Ford’s announcement on Tuesday March 23, 2020, that all non-essential store and services would be ordered to close, in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

The closure has caused a lot of hardship for small business owners like Martin. Yet, despite the closure and loss of revenue, Martin took the news in stride and was even positive about it. According to Martin, this was his first summer break in over ten years. Most summers, “we just cut hair stand inside and watch the seasons change through the windows. This summer I was able to enjoy the outdoors and have fun,” said Martin. 

 
When the news came that non-essential businesses including barbershops were finally able to reopen, Martin did not know until his clients started to contact him to open. Nevertheless, Martin did not wait; he took it upon himself to clean and sanitize. He also called in a cleaning crew to assist and stayed in his shop till the wee hours of the morning before opening day, to properly prepare. As part of the new normal, mask wearing & hand sanitization is required and he only takes clients by appointment only which allows him to put limits on how many people are in the shop at any one time.

Martin was surprised to see how many big company’s and franchise’s closing down due to the pandemic considering all the money these businesses make. Martin believes that you have to hustle to run a business and that it is important to be relentless and have the right attitude.

When asked why he started a business in Regent Park, Martin replied, “I didn’t choose Regent Park…Regent Park chose me”.

Martin’s relationship with Regent goes way back, much prior to the start of the redevelopment. “I had friends and family here and I am blessed and honoured to be here”. Martin believes that Regent Park is a historical neighbourhood with a rich heritage and culture. The history is very deep and a lot of people don’t know about it even people who moved into the area from other parts of the city. “I feel the need to educate them. This is not just another Starbucks, I am part of this heritage,” says Martin.

For all of Martin’s reminisces about the neighbourhood Martin insists that, “the past is the past and it ain’t coming back”. Instead Martin hopes that the 611 Purple Factory will contribute to the future of the neighbourhood. Even if it is just conversations with young people or condo owners in the Barber’s chair at the 611 Purple Factory. 

Watch the Interview with Purple Factory Barbershop here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaKm5xL_Ny4


By Gaelle Kosi with contribution by Adonis Huggins

(Gaelle Kosi is a summer journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre).



Thursday, August 13, 2020

Construction Crane Collapses in Regent Park

Construction cranes are generally perceived as very mundane fixtures in the rapidly-upward expanding metropolitans across the world. Invading roof-types and transforming city skylines into never-ending symbols of perpetual development and change. Most city-dwellers have grown accustomed to the spread of cranes across the city of Toronto. But more than that, new concerns are growing from these metal towering machines.

In 2018, a 23 year old “thrill-seeker” Marisa Lazo, climbed on top of a construction crane at the corner of Church and Wesley, to take a selfie as part of an Instagram trend called “roof topping”. Marisa ended up stuck on the crane, which resulted in a rescue operation by Toronto firefighters. She succeeded in her attempt for “fame” for her selfie and was dubbed “Crane Girl”, in newspapers across the country and social media internationally; Also landed herself a $100 dollar fine. A part from creating infamous social media personalities, intentionally risking their own lives on cranes, cranes themselves have posed a danger to on-lookers below.

On August 6th, 2020 at 10:30 am, a Daniels Corporation construction site in Regent Park, at the corner of Dundas and River, sounded an alarm to evacuate their site upon discovering a few bolts had broken off one of their construction cranes. In their attempt to clear the area of workers, pedestrians and vehicles, the crane instantly started to collapse. The sound of it collapsing sent many people running for their lives. A cyclist had to quickly abandon her bike as the crane collapsed on to the street smashing into her bike and narrowly missing another bystander who was later treated for shock. This occurred 3 weeks after a previous crane collapsed, on a PCL Constructors Canada site at Wellington and Simcoe.

The recent collapse sent many without power in Regent Park and as far North as Cabbagetown. Local residents from Regent Park, Oak Street Cooperative and Corktown came out to see the disaster and to ensure their friends, family and neighbors were okay. Several members mentioned seeing clouds of dust and electric wiring snapping apart, as the crane collapsed on top of the Dundas and River intersection.

Onlookers were shocked and amazed at the result of no injuries and quick thinking of the construction crew that went out to clear the area minutes before the collapse. However, many members of the community said they are now uncertain about the safety in-regards to construction cranes. This being in a neighborhood with several buildings currently in early phases of construction as part of the revitalization of Regent Park. 

 

The Daniels Corporation, Mayor John Tory and Doug Ford have all released statements following the incident.

The Daniels Corporation: “Construction at the site has been temporarily suspended and we are fully cooperating with investigators. We have also initiated our own internal investigation into the incident.”

Mayor John Toronto: “My office has reached out to the Minister of Labour's office and asked them to make sure clear direction is sent to the construction industry as soon as possible and that they consider additional inspections,” Tory said in a statement.

“Toronto Building has sent an inspector to the site to assess if there has been any impact to the surrounding building structures."

Premiere Doug Ford: “I can't remember the last time a crane collapsed like that so obviously there’s an issue," Ford said. "I don’t know if it’s the same company or when they erected the crane itself. But I have confidence in the Ministry of Labour that they’ll get down to the bottom of it.”

 As of August 9th, Power has since been restored to the Regent Park community and the collapsed crane has been dissembled and removed from the street. River and Dundas has re-opened for traffic and pedestrians.

 

Watch video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04GxjxFLggg

By Tyrone-Maclean Wilson

(Tyrone is a staff journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)



The Masjid Omar Bin Khatttab, A Mosque in Regent Park

Regent Park is currently home to approximately 12,000 people. Many of the residents are of the Muslim faith. A mosque is a house of worship for Muslims. It is also a place to gather for special events. It could also be used as a community centre.

The Omar Bin Khattab Mosque, located on 232 Parliament Street between Dundas Street and Shuter Street, serves all these purposes above and is a safe place where Regent Park Muslims could come together and celebrate their faith. 

Imam Said Rageah who is a prayer leader at the Sakinah community centre and a volunteer at the Omar Bin Khattab Mosque, sat down with us to talk about the importance of this mosque in the Regent Park community and the history of mosques in Canada.

 
According to Said, the Omar Bin Khattab Mosque was established by a diverse group of Muslim men in 1992, to fill the needs of a masjid (Arabic word for mosque) in the community in response to the rising number of Muslims settling in the Regent Park area between the late 80s and early 90s. Even though it is officially a place of worship this mosque acts as much more. This mosque serves as a place of worship, a place to bring community members together while strengthening their faiths, and providing services such as grief, education, and marriage counseling. They also support a large amount of youth in the Regent Park community by providing daily programs and services. These efforts are shown through programs such as Big Akhi Big Ukhti ( BABU) which is a mentorship and leadership program for troubled Muslim youth in the community.

In our interview with Imam Said Rageah, we talked about the history of mosques in Canada. Said informs me that the first mosque built in Canada is located in Edmonton Alberta. The Al-Rashid Mosque opened its doors on December 12, 1938, through the leadership of Hilwie Hamdon who was born in current day Lebanon in 1905 and who immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta where she raised her family. At the time there was 700 Muslims living in the City when Hilwie Hamdon approached Edmonton Mayor John Fry, requesting that the city provide land. Hilwie then led the efforts to organize the funding and building of the mosque. Hamdon died in Edmonton in 1988. In 2017, Edmonton officials named a new grade school, the Hilwie Hamdon School, in her honor.

This was a truly insightful talk with Imam Said Ragaeh, if you have access to the video you should definitely watch it as it goes into more details about the importance of mosques in the Muslim community.

By: Jamelia Parnell

(Jamelia Parnell is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

TCHC Needs To Do More to Address Tenant Complaints!

On March 17, 2020, Ombudsman Toronto, led by Ombudsman Susan E. Opler, released a report titled “Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) Complaint Trend Data and Related Recommendations”. The Toronto Community Housing Corporation, or TCHC, is a social housing agency that owns and manages subsidized housing properties in Toronto.

The report and response has particularly strong implications for lower-income families residing in TCHC communities such as Regent Park.

Regent Park is one of the oldest and largest public housing developments in Canada. Many of its residents are underemployed new immigrants struggling to find adequate, meaningful work. Though it’s recently transitioned to a mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhood, a large percentage of people still live in subsidized housing managed by TCHC. In addition to adding rental and market housing, replacing all the TCHC subsidize units with new housing is an important part of the revitalization and the first step towards building a stronger cohesive community in Regent Park. Unfortunately, not all of TCHC properties have the privilege of undergoing a revitalization.

TCHC is Canada’s largest landlord and it manages just under 60,000 units, 50 million square feet of residential space, and 2100 buildings - most of which are over 50 years old. Given the sheer size of this portfolio and chronic under funding, it is not surprising that many of TCHC buildings are unsafe and in desperate need of renovation and proper maintenance. The question is, can resident concerns for safety and their needs for renovation and maintenance be managed better? 

 The Ombudsman surely believes so. When residents have a complaint, they can report it to TCHC management and address the issue internally. Unfortunately, according to Ombudsman Toronto, the process is caught up in bureaucratic red tape and is not well-publicized; many people don’t know that the internal complaint process even exists. This prompts residents to take the complaints directly to the Ombudsman.

The most contentious issue is Maintenance, making up over a third of all cases reported to the Ombudsman. Sufficient lighting, heating, and water are all basic human needs, but according to the Ombudsman, TCHC often fails to address these problems and enforce administrative fairness. Administrative fairness refers to the set of expectations outlined by Ombudsman Toronto when addressing complaints. It includes fair process (access to relevant policies and procedures and reasonably quick service), fair outcome (apply rules consistently and make decisions without bias), and fair treatment (being treated with respect and having clear and accessible communication). Poor communication makes up over half of administrative fairness complaints.

Two major conclusions were drawn from the Ombudsman’s report. First, complaints sent to Ombudsman Toronto were mostly premature--that is, tenants hadn’t exhausted the TCHC internal complaint system before directing their issues to Ombudsman Toronto. Second, TCHC often refuses to communicate or poorly communicates with tenants about their issues. It’s evident that TCHC’s lack of clear and timely communication left residents frustrated, making them turn towards Ombudsman Toronto as a last resort.

To combat these problems, the Ombudsman made two recommendations. The TCHC management board should take steps to publicize its internal complaint system to tenants, staff, and members of the public. In addition, all employees should receive training on how to properly communicate with residents in a “transparent, fair, and timely way”. The board was given until the end of the year to implement these changes. TCHC CEO Kevin Marshman responded to the report, promising to publicize the complaint process with an improved website and posters about in all buildings.

In response to Marshman’s plan, Ombudsperson Opler said: “It’s too early to know how effectively TCHC will follow through on our recommendations, and whether their efforts will result in fewer complaints to Ombudsman Toronto and better service to tenants. Time will tell and we will be watching.”

 To watch the video click here.

 Ombudsman Toronto’s Report on TCHC: Link to report

By Chloё Nguyen-Drury

(Chloe is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Escaping An Abusive Marriage – An interview with Samra Zafar

As the Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic continues to plague almost every single country in the world, the issue of domestic violence is becoming a cause for concern among nations’ leaders including Canada’s. According to reports,  domestic  abuse cases are on the rise as women’s shelters and hotlines grapple with the influx of calls being received by individuals in precarious situations. Many believe that this increase is the result of pandemic associated factors such as financial insecurity,   stress   and   uncertainty   leading   to   increased   aggression   in   the   home. Domestic violence also increases whenever families spend large amount of time together often because abuses are able to control large amounts of their victim’s daily life and families are socially isolated in their homes.
 

Among immigrant and refugee communities in Canada, such as like Regent Park, the problem of
domestic violence is compounded by additional vulnerabilities, including a women’s lack of proficiency in English or French, challenges understanding and navigating available resources and   supports,   problems   of   poverty,   unemployment   and   underemployment,   and   issues   of sponsorship preventing women from leaving an abuser.


We reached out to domestic abuse survivor turned advocate Samra Zafar, who is an author of, A
Good Wife: Escaping the Life I never chose.


According to Samra Zafar, each year there are over 12 million girls under the age of 18 who are
forced into child marriages.  Many regions and countries practice child marriages but it is most
common in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and many parts of Africa. Even in United States and Canada, child marriages are legal. In Canada the federal Civic Marriage Act was amended in 2015 to permit marriage as young as 16, if they have their parent consent.  Samra believes that cultural practices and traditions should not trump human rights, and child marriages under the age of 18 years should stop.  Samra shared her ordeal as a child bride and an abuse survivor. Born in Pakistan, Samra Zafar was a teen bride who was, at her parent’s insistence, married off at the tender age of 17 years of age, to a man much older than her, that she knew nothing about. Shortly   after   getting   married,   Zafar   migrated   to   Canada   with   her   new   husband.   Samra   was terrified. She had no friends or family in Canada and it was a very different environment from the country she grew up in and had no idea how things are done in Canada.  Her only dream was being able to go to school but she was forced to stay home. Within a matter of months Samra went from being a confident and ambitious teenage girl to living in a strange country as a wife, a daughter in law and soon to be mother. Samra lost all independence and agency of her life. 


The emotional abuse, Samra says, began almost at day one.  The physical abuse began with one
slap. Then it began increasing incrementally and escalating over the years. Samra didn’t even
know this was abuse. It was just something she accepted as part of their marriage. Initially, Samra had contact with her family back in Pakistan and began reaching out to for support.  Soon after she was restricted from doing so and told that she shouldn’t be talking to her family anymore because her husband’s family is her family!  

Although Samra considered leaving her husband in those early years. Samra had no work experience or education, had a young daughter and was completely dependant on her husband financially. Samra also did not have any friends or any where to go to. Other barriers like social
stigma and the and feelings of dishonouring her family in Pakistan was also present. According to Samra, there was a lot of pressure to stay and conform and “be a good wife.” – someone that tolerates abuse, is quiet, is submissive and protects the family’s honour. 


With little or no contact with the outside world, Samra Zafar suffered in silence. However, after enduring twelve years of an abusive marriage, Samra began taking a weekly university course and   assessing   the   campus   personal   counseling   services.   There   she   learned,   that   what   was
happening to her was abuse and that there were resources and support available to her. She also learned that the underlying threat of losing her children was not real. With that knowledge came power. Soon after going to counselling, Samra left her marriage. At the time her daughters were nine and four years old.  Samra regrets not leaving sooner.  By the time her older daughter, was a teenager she started showing a lot of signs of distress and trauma. Samra tells us that sometimes women stay in abusive relationships for the “sake” of the children. Instead women should leave abusive marriage for the sake of their children, says Samra.  Children, Samra argues, “don’t need a two parent family; they need a family where there is love, support and respect. And if that is not happening, it is very damaging to them.”  

Samra Zafar today, is now the author of her memoir, A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I never chose, which will be turned into a movie in the near future. Samra is also a speaker and founder of Brave Beginnings a non-profit organisation that lends support, mentorship and empowerment to women who have been victims of abuse.


By Loretta Bailey with contributions from Adonis Huggins
(Loretta Bailey is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
According to a statement provided to FOCUS Media Arts Centre from Honourable
Maryam Monsef, who is Canada’s Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural
Economic Development.
 

“As part of the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE)
received $40 million to address the immediate needs of women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and
other front-line organizations providing gender-based violence (GBV) services and supports across the
country. Of this funding, $30 million has already helped address the immediate needs of shelters and
sexual assault centres as follows:
 

• $20.54 million to Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC) to distribute to 432 violence against women shelters across the country (excluding Quebec).

• $3 million to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) to distribute the funding to 93
sexual assault centres across the country (excluding Quebec).

$6.46 million to 110 women’s shelters and 44 sexual assault centres in Québec, through an agreement between Canada and Québec.


The remaining $10 million in funding is being distributed to other front-line organizations that provide
critical GBV supports and services.

 

Watch Interview with Samara Zafar, here

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on the Dundas Beauty Hair Salon

Dundas Beauty is a hair salon that is located in the Regent Park area, at 442 Dundas Street East, close to Parliament and Dundas. Their area of service focuses on the versatility of hair including braiding, weaving, wigs, hair dyeing and more. The shop is co-owned by black business owner, Theresa Betou.

Theresa was forced to close her shop shortly after Premiere Doug Ford announcement on Tuesday March 23, 2020, that all non-essential store and services would be ordered to close as of Tuesday March 24th, in an attempt to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Hair salons and barbershops have everything to do with neck up and prior to Covid-19, few people would ever think that they would see a time when you would not be allowed to get a hair cut because it is unsafe. Unfortunately, hair cutting requires close client contact and touching the heads of clients and as a result is considered an easy way for the coronavirus to spread.

The closure that was only supposed to last 14 days ended up being about 3 months. This has caused a lot of hardships for small shop owners. Shops like Theresa’s relies on the income she receives from customers to not only pay the rent of the business but also to pay for her personal rent and expenses. Not having clients means no money for the rent of her shop, for her employees or for her own personal expenses. Yet she still has to fulfill payments to the landlords even though the space is not being used.

At one point, Theresa and her partner, were considering selling the business and was receiving offers to do so. Instead they decided to wait and see what would happen. Luckily their landlord was understanding so Theresa was able to work out an agreement to pay what they could as well as to pay increments.

For some of the shop employees who relied on the shop’s income, Theresa allowed them to make their own decision to open up their homes to cut the hair of loyal customers, but she didn’t feel that was safe especially if they had families, and she chose not to do that.

When the news came that non-essential businesses including hair salons were finally able to reopen, Theresa was caught off guard. Despite people calling for hair appointments, Theresa needed two weeks to top up on products and sanitize the store. Safety is important to Theresa and not only is mask wearing was required she only takes clients by appointment only which enables her to put limits on how many people are in the shop at any one time. This is still difficult because the shop also sells shampoos and other hair products in which people normally can walk in from the street to purchase. As Theresa says, “it is a little tough right now but we will just need to take some time to readjust to the new normal then we can figure out a way how business can be improved while staying safe”.

For Theresa, one big take away from this pandemic is making sure that she puts her and her employees health first and business second.

“We used to be open to all hours of the night, right up to 1 am to meet the needs of our customers. Staff also often had to limit their lunch breaks. Now we only take certain amount of appointments per day and stress the importance of taking care of our selves first,” says Theresa.

This led me to the opinion that perhaps the new normal, at least for shops like Dundas Beauty, won’t be so bad after all.

Click to watch the interview

By Gaelle Kosi with contribution by Adonis Huggins

(Gaelle Kosi is a summer journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre).