After 15 years of championing the cause of the city's poor and homeless, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is finding itself poor and nearly homeless.
In an e-mail plea for help sent out earlier this month, the group says it's unable to cover basic operating expenses: $5,000 a month for the salaries of two organizers and rent for office space at Queen and Sherbourne.
The notice highlights the group's recent good works, such as the battle to expand the number of welfare recipients getting the Special Diet Supplement and organizing efforts to open a basketball court in a north Etobicoke housing project, and asks supporters to become monthly contributors by sending a void cheque.
"OCAP has always struggled to carry on its work with the absolute minimum of resources," reads the e-mail.
Unfortunately for OCAP, funding has been a fickle beast because of the org's often controversial in-your-face tactics.
Ostracized by the unions that supported it only a few years ago, OCAP has had to rely heavily on individual donations - and on campaigns capturing the public's imagination. The group's recent efforts to prevent the city's evicting Chris from his home under the Gardiner is one of the more memorable of these.
But more often than not, OCAP has found itself under attack.
Organizer John Clarke attributes the cutting off of big labour's subsidy to "a more conservative climate in the union movement."
He says the Steelworkers stopped sending money because of OCAP's criticism of the NDP.
Steelworkers spokesperson Pat Van Horne says shutting off the funding tap had to do with "tactics that the union did not agree with."
As for losing the Canadian Auto Workers' support, it's about OCAP tossing bricks and other projectiles during the infamous rally-turned-riot at Queen's Park in 2000. The CAW had bused in retirees to support the OCAP action, which ended in several arrests.
"We told them, 'We can't be an ally if this is going to continue,'" says CAW president Buzz Hargrove.
While that was the "final straw" between the CAW and OCAP, Hargrove says the union's support for other anti-poverty groups never faltered.
He says the CAW continues to "do a lot of work with homeless kids and people in poverty, but we don't do it through OCAP.
"Our union hasn't changed a bit," claims Hargrove. "John can try to hide behind something else, but he knows it's not true."
A few smaller locals still provide some financial backing for OCAP. CUPE Local 3903 at York University gives enough cash to cover most of the office rent, and a regular small donation comes in from CUPE Local 4308.
In the case of 4308, representing the community workers at Central Neighbourhood House and Senior Peoples' Resources in North Toronto, the $100 a month OCAP receives is in large part thanks to its president, Kelly O'Sullivan, a former OCAP volunteer.
The union sees it as a way to improve OCAP's public image.
"If you pathologize OCAP as this violent, uncontrollable stereotype, then regular people may not feel connected to it and its causes," says O'Sullivan. "That prevents the momentum for further change."
The city offers grants to NGOs, but Councillor Pam McConnell, vice-chair of the city's affordable housing committee, figures city funding isn't an avenue OCAP would consider, because it carries with it too many stipulations.
"In order to apply, you'd have to become a non-profit, and there's a whole bunch of bureaucracy. I just think they want to go out and do their guerrilla theatre, get media attention and raise issues. They've chosen a certain road, and part of that has been to be outside of the rules," says McConnell.
She thinks OCAP does what it does well, but it wouldn't be the end of advocacy for "silent" issues if it ceased to exist.
"There are many other people outside that organization who do similar sorts of things," McConnell says. "Whether or not there's an office or whether or not they're in OCAP, there will always be movements for social justice in this city."
Clarke, for his part, confirms that asking for government money is "in the realm of fantasy," but he admits he'd think hard about the option if it came down to it.
What if money to pay the bills does not roll in? Clarke, ever the fighter, insists that wouldn't spell OCAP's death.
"If we were in a situation where our phone got ripped out and we had to close our office, we'd regroup around someone's kitchen table."