It starts so hopefully, this gathering in Cawthra Park of 150 women, children, trans folk and supporters led by the Women Against Poverty Collective. Too bad the day (Sunday, June 3) wraps up with a phalanx of cops on horses dragging off protestors.
In the park, survivors of domestic violence share their stories while activists urge a 40 per cent increase in social assistance and right-to-housing legislation.
The spirited crowd then marches, bicycle police in tow, to 4 Howard, an abandoned rooming house awaiting redevelopment near Sherbourne and Bloor. Four squatters slip inside as boisterous protestors set up tents on the lawn and across the street.
By about 7, however, heavy rain is falling and demonstrators run for shelter while mounted police replace the bike squad. Shortly thereafter, the new tenants of number 4 are forcibly removed and protestors dragged from the site. Five women are arrested.
The Howard squat is no more, but organizers say the next building takeover is just a few planning meetings away.
"We have petitioned and lobbied, but those haven't won housing for survivors of violence," says Jen Plyler, one of those arrested. "So we decided to go back to direct takeovers."
There are 70,000 people on the waiting list for affordable housing, says WAPC's Anna Willats, and many women are "trying to leave violent situations and living in shelters because they have no place to go."
The wait for housing can take eight to 10 years, though women coming from violent circumstances get priority. Problem is, say WAPC types, they only get fast-tracked if they're living with their abusers, a requirement that rules out those currently in shelters.
According to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing's Brad Duguid, the province is constructing 1,000 units for survivors of domestic violence.
Not nearly enough, activists counter. The current shortfall means that when women lose their homes, says the WAPC's Josephine Grey, they lose their kids. "Families are being torn apart."