More than 40 people joined the Poverty and Housing Advocacy Coalition (PHAC) in Tom Davies Square courtyard on Friday, Dec. 17 to make their calls to the provincial government. With members of the PHAC, including the Sex Workers Advisory Council of Sudbury (SWANS) who offered and emotional and poignant presentation from their theatre piece, Project ArmHer, making six demands of the Ford government, each one specifically targeted to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in Sudbury. This includes sex workers, and several speakers noted the day the protest was held: Dec.17 is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
Their demands began with the need for an increase to income supports like Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program; to commit to “immediate, major investments in affordable housing;” to decriminalize all drugs and invest in addiction and mental health care and supports as well as decriminalize sex work and implement workplace health and safety protection for sex workers; to provide supports for people living jail and other institutional care, as well as honouring the treaties and Ontario’s obligations to UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)
The Poverty and Housing Advocacy Coalition formed in November of 2020 in response to the crisis levels of homelessness in Sudbury. The group is made up of several representatives from different agencies, outreach workers, people with lived experience and activists. “And it's the people with lived experience that give our coalition its strength, because they're the ones who let us know what's really going on on the ground,” said Laurie McGauley, coordinator of the event and Coalition member. “And we have some amazing outreach workers in the city.”
McGauley told Sudbury.com the targeting of Premier Doug Ford and the provincial government was the next step in their journey to advocate for the vulnerable populations of Sudbury.
“We started off by focusing on the city, because the city at that point was tearing down encampments, and we were trying to stop the destruction of encampments,” said McGauley. “But we've now decided we need to start focusing on the Ford government, because we can see the city is now struggling to try and respond to this crisis. But the crisis originates from the province and the federal government; it originates from those policies, it doesn't originate from municipal policies.”
She said the higher levels of government are responsible for things like income supplement and housing policies, and that is what needs to be amended. “We can try and alleviate the suffering by not kicking people out of encampments, for example. But nothing is ever going to change, if those kinds of policies don't change.”
Present at the event were Sudbury MPP Jamie West and Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas. Gélinas told Sudbury.com as a provincial politician it is her duty to represent the people of her community. “I am a provincial politician, and these people need to be heard by their provincial politician,” said Gélinas. “And I guarantee you I will bring their faces forward, like we have been doing for a long time. I'm hoping to give them a little bit of hope, at the same time as bringing back my message to Queen's Park into the government that the health of these people are in their hands.”
Gélinas said the homelessness crisis is growing bigger every week, and with the temperatures dropping, people cannot stay outside. As well, she noted the opioid crisis and its direct connection to homelessness.
“Add to this the opioid epidemic, there is a huge role for the provincial government to play to prevent this, but also to fix it. We (the NDP) have been asking to declare a public health emergency on the opioid epidemic, it would be a game changer for so many people who are homeless, and we need to have affordable housing, it's as simple as that."
As these aspects are all the responsibility of the provincial government, Gélinas said “this is on their shoulders.”
“Every week, we lose a few; this is on their watch,” said Gélinas. “Most of those deaths would have been preventable and I don't want to lose anybody else from my community or anywhere else in Ontario.”