To mayors and councillors: Predictable does not mean inevitable
Municipal elections came, and municipal elections went. To many, these elections felt entirely predictable, and the results, with a few exceptions, were indeed just that.
Something else feels entirely predictable: winter. While many of us in southern Ontario got a welcome warm spell this week, we have already felt the chill of autumn. Those of us with parkas and toques have already pulled them out of storage; those of us with homes have already turned the heat on.
And what about people without homes?
As has been reported in recent weeks, the City of Toronto has started moving people out of the hotel rooms that functioned as shelters during the pandemic. Emergency shelters are no longer required to keep beds two metres apart, so they will be operating at “full” capacity this winter despite the persistent threat of COVID-19 (and other infectious diseases). Full to capacity, shelters will be forced to turn people away every night. Some people will choose not to seek a space in a shelter in the first place because they do not feel safe or that their dignity is respected. People will be out in the street. They will suffer frostbite and hypothermia. Some will die. We can predict this because it happens every year.
Let’s not confuse predictable with inevitable. People freezing in the streets is predictable, but it is not inevitable. On the contrary, it is preventable – but preventing it will require leadership from our mayors and councillors.
To our newly elected mayors and councillors: We need to do things differently. Year after year, our cities do the same thing – effectively, nothing – and predictably, year after year, we see the same results. We need you to move beyond the stable hand of management, to articulate a vision for our cities and build towards it. We need you to work with the new, diverse voices on council, who might bring new approaches to these long-standing problems. We need to you to listen to voices that are typically ignored, and cultivate better ways for people to participate in public decision-making. To make decisions that are unpopular but to do it anyway because our human rights are not negotiable.
Because as our elected leaders, you are responsible for protecting the human rights of every single person in your city – and not just the people who voted for you. You are responsible for those who voted for one of your opponents. For the people who are not eligible to vote, and the people who chose not to. Preventing people from freezing in the streets is just one example of what people need from you, now.
Police forces will continue to operate in ways that criminalize poverty and homelessness, and in ways that disproportionately harm Indigenous, racialized, and low-income communities. Public transit fares will increase, and service will remain slow and unreliable. Use of food banks will continue to rise. Waiting lists for social housing will continue to grow.
All of these are predictable, but none of them are inevitable. All of these are issues that affect our human right to an adequate standard of living and to live with dignity. All of these are issues that you, our mayors and councillors, have powers and tools to address.
You must act. We cannot afford more of the same dithering and delaying.
None of this is new. We have said this before. And we will continue to add our voice to the many dedicated advocates and organizations who have been left to pick up the pieces as governments fail again and again to protect the human rights of people without a stable home.
Many of the problems that our cities face are predictable, but the terrible consequences that people must bear are not inevitable. You can change these outcomes. The elections are over. Winter is coming. Get to work.