Chief Phil Fontaine and AFN receive Pope’s apology for abuse

ChiRo dreamcatcher::

Pope expresses sorrow over residential school abuses –

Papal visit results in apology

Pope’s expression of sorrow over deplorable treatment of First Nations native children in Canadian Residential Schools assimilation program where the Catholic Church ran 90% of the schools. Abuse was…

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Homeless prefer grassroots Out of the Cold program versus city run shelters

It’s spring right? I mean it’s getting warmer right?  Well, I don’t know about where you live, but here in Toronto there has been a dearth of fine spring weather. We’ve had more than our share it seems of unseasonably cold weather, especially cold, blustery winds and the perennial April showers. Most of us, we live with it, it’s an annual thing – how soon will it warm up – and doesn’t seem to affect our daily routine more than getting the car out of the garage and walking from the parking lot to work or other destinations. To our homeless friends on the street however, it is much more than an inconvenience.

Out of the Cold: for the homeless

Out of the Cold: for the homeless

Toronto’s Out of the Cold program has wrapped up again for another season. What this means for the few hundred homeless people who attend the Out of the Cold programs is that they are once again “Out on the Streets”. I was out with a small volunteer group a couple of weeks ago with the regular Project417 Sandwich Run outreach to the homeless on a Monday night. The streets have been particularly quieter this winter as far as the presence of the homeless (more on this later) but most of our route was busier that night and as we arrived at Nathan Phillips Square at the Toronto City Hall, there was a marked increase in our homeless friends that I haven’t seen since last fall.

Five years ago
, it was very different at city hall. Then Mayor Mel Lastman had unofficially condoned the homeless sleeping outside city hall all around Nathan Phillips Square “if they had no other shelter”. It was a year round phenomenon with upwards of two hundred people sleeping in a cardboard jungle right next to the front doors of city hall or just bundled up in sleeping bags on every available bench and corner protected from the wind and elements. That whole period in Toronto’s homelessness saga deserves a more detailed analysis. There had been a marked population boom when Home Depot and the city shut down Tent City down by the harbour, but suffice to say that upon the ascension to power of Mayor David Miller, the official policy changed, Streets to Homes was born, the 100 plus bed Edwards street shelter opened (now closed and slated for “affordable” housing) and city security quickly turfed the homeless residents of Nathan Phillips Square. This prompted one homeless bard to pen a lilting country tune, “How do You Sleep”, dedicated to Mayor Miller. One woman, who had slept on the Square for a few years, simply moved down a couple blocks onto a hot air ventilating grate across from a major hotel, where we see her every night we are on the street – yes, that’s right, she has slept in that exposed sidewalk location every night for the last five years. Again, Mayor Miller has demonstrated that he is not unfeeling when it comes to homelessness and more independent study is required of the touted success of the Streets to Homes program he championed, but this blog is about our friends still sleeping outside at City Hall.

Homeless on Queen Street W., Toronto

Homeless on Queen Street W., Toronto

During the winter months, Nathan Phillips Square is one of the stops on our Project417 Sandwich Run that has several routes spanning the downtown core from about Bathurst out to Parliament and from Bloor down to the Gardiner Expressway (with a van route that reaches more outlying areas). This winter – we go out on sandwich runs even during cold weather alerts of which there were many this year in temperatures below minus twenty – there has generally been only two or three homeless men and women sleeping at city hall. There has almost always been at least one – our dear friend Randy*, a double amputee, who sleeps there sitting upright in his wheelchair with his sleeping bag upside down over his head. During the recent celebrated Earth Hour on Nathan Phillips Square (I’ve never encountered such bright lights and high powered amplified music during any other “blackout”), we spent almost three quarters of an hour talking to Randy and looking on at the eco-revellers from Randy’s dark, hidden alcove just steps from the celebration. Randy practices “lights out” 365 days a year, except for the daily charge his wheelchair battery receives at a friend’s close by. Streets to Homes outreach workers are in constant contact with anyone, including Randy, who sleeps at city hall, but so far have been ineffective in convincing many chronically homeless men and women like him to choose the severely limited housing options available. [*Randy is not his real name]

Now during the spring, summer and fall
, the number of our homeless friends sleeping on Nathan Phillips still rises to more than a dozen, sometimes double that. On the recent Monday night, we had no sooner approached Randy than I noticed there were several more homeless in view under the walkway. As soon as they noticed us, they literally ran over, happy to see us, recognizing the tell tale bag lunches out team carries. “Hey Andy, we’re back”, a couple shouted. I’ve known many of them for almost ten years going back to the first time I ventured out on the streets to help the homeless with Project417 (Our director, Joe Elkerton has been performing outreach to the street homeless almost twenty years in Toronto). “Hey, I’m glad to see you!”,  I answered back, but in truth,  I was disturbed and profoundly saddened to see their familiar faces. Yes, they’re my friends and yes I missed them over the winter, but I had hoped that some had found a place to call home in the last four months.

The reason they are back out on the streets at night is, as I mentioned at the start, the end of the Out of the Cold Program until next November. For those of you who don’t know, or who may have been misinformed, Out of the Cold is not a City of Toronto or other level of government program. What it is,  is a grassroots success story – a faith based program started by Sister Susan Moran and her St. Michael’s School students back in 1987 and a coalition of  local downtown Christian church communities. Indeed it has developed into a multi-faith initiative with representation at 23 facilities from different faith and organizations taking part now. Very simply, the model is:  local downtown churches open their doors one night a week to provide a hot meal and a place to sleep “out of the cold”. In Toronto, more than three thousand volunteers help every winter to feed and provide shelter to about five hundred of our homeless friends. The majority of the food, materials, supplies, shelter and other costs are funded by the local church members. (Note – The city does fund the program peripherally – a local non-profit social service agency -currently Dixon Hall- has an annual contract to send one or two safety and security personnel to some sites, some transportation of guests and the supply/ laundering of a limited number of blankets and sleeping mats. They also provide counselling, housing worker and referral services to the guests. A separate community health care provider offers a registered nurse at each location) Only 16 of the churches fully opt in to these city services with several preferring the freedom and intimacy of program delivery funded and guided by their own community resources and principals. This model has spread nationwide and Sister Susan was recognized with the Order of Canada in 2006 for her contribution.

Why the streets see a surge of the over five hundred homeless when Out of the Cold ends is because the majority of them would not step foot in a city run shelter. They just plain like the Out of the Cold program sites and the volunteers who run them. They tell me the food is better by far – the people are friendlier – the rules less stringent – the atmosphere more inviting and they enjoy the other programs run concurrent to the Out of the Cold like, music nights, sports, foodbanks, clothing banks, crafts and personal hygiene care services. The sleeping arrangements are often more primitive than city run shelters, usually just thin mats on the floor placed in open areas like church gyms, but still our homeless friends praise the program and bemoan the fact that it runs only November to April.

There are over three thousand city run emergency shelter beds at numerous locations from small 20 to 30 bed operations to the 600 bed monster on George Street – Seaton House, (affectionately dubbed Satan House by it’s inhabitants) and this number has dropped due to budget cuts and the questionable recommendations of the infamous city sponsored “homeless count census” – a limited, one day snapshot of street populations. The Out of the Cold program has remained stable or grown over the same period. Our homeless friends eagerly attend Out of the Cold shelters, many making the trek across the city several nights a week to the next church location that is open that night. There is one Out of the Cold program that operates more than one night a week.  University Settlement House, an independent non-profit, United Way partner agency and City of Toronto supported community center next to the Grange Park,  runs an Out of the Cold Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the winter and Saturdays, Sundays only in the summer. It is one of the best liked shelters amongst our street friends, and they all miss Fridays now that spring has come.

Love on the street

Love on the street

It’s time the city reviewed their emergency shelter programs and borrowed a page from the Out of the Cold program’s success story. The city shelters are efficiently run, relatively clean and safe to a certain degree – but they are still shunned by many of the homeless. Many lack the humanity and compassion shown to them by Out of the Cold volunteer efforts. Our friends are homeless – not just house-less. What is the distinction? What makes a house a home? – LOVE – A commodity in short supply evidently when payed for by tax dollars and delivered by bureaucrats. Thank God, Toronto’s faith community has a surfeit of love and compassion – I only wish, for the five hundred more men and women we’ll be serving now out on the streets with the Project417 sandwich runs,  that communities could see that people need to come in out of the cold year round.

If you’re interested in volunteering with or donating to one of the local Toronto Out of the Cold sites, the best way is to contact them directly.  There is no formal or central  “Out of the Cold” foundation to receive donations, each location is self-supporting through their local congregations – and the OOTC schedule link above is maintained by Dixon Hall, a separate non-profit. So I’ve taken the time to compile this list of the 2008/2009  Out of the Cold locations:

Knox Presbyterian Youth Dinner & Foodbank

630 Spadina Ave (no overnight program)

University Settlement House

23 Grange Rd. Year round Out of the Cold program

St. Patrick’s Church

141 McCaul Street at Dundas

St. Margaret’s Church

156 – 6th Street (Islington and Birmingham)

Evangel Hall

552 Adelaide,   E. of Bathurst

York Region Mosaic Interfaith community

Yorkminister Park Baptist

1585 Yonge Street,  N. of St. Clair

Holy Blossom Temple

1950 Bathurst at Eglinton

Eastminster  United

310 Danforth Ave. at Chester

Blythwood Road Baptist

80 Blythwood Road
N of Yonge/Eglington

St. Matthew’s /  Our Lady Peace

3962 BloorSt W

St. Brigid’s

Woodbine & Danforth

Beth Sholom / Beth Tzedec
1445 Eglinton Ave W

First Interfaith at St. Matthew’s

729 St. Clair Ave. W

All Saints Kingsway Anglican

2850 Bloor W

Beth Emeth Bais Yehudah Synagogue

100 Elder St

Chinese Gospel Church

450 Dundas W

Knox United

Agincourt

St. Aidan’s

70 Silver Birch Ave

St. Michaels Cathedral

66 Bond Street (St. Mike’s parish)

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship 1307 Bloor St. W;
(Overnight tba Community dinner only, year round)

To volunteer for a Project417 Sandwich Run to the homeless visit Project417.com and check our online volunteer calendar and read about other volunteers’ stories. More than two thousand people helped us last year – come on out and see!

Red River Flood Watch – Thursday April 16 Winnipeg Declares State of Emergency

Latest Update Monday April 20, 2009 – Canada News – aerial photo of flooding Red River looks more like the Red Sea…

Thursday April 16, 2009 – The City of Winnipeg officially declared a state of emergency just after 11:00am this morning due to the rising flood waters of the Red River. The crest is expected to flow through the city between today and tomorrow. Residents of low lying areas affected by the flood are being told to cooperate with emergency personnel … more [including video of flooding in St. Agathe]

Winnipeg Red River Flood Watch – Wednesday April 15 – Update and photos

Red River Flood Watch – Update, April 15 – Latest photos …more

Winnipeg Red River Flood Watch – Wednesday April 15 – Update and photos

The latest news from EmergWeb is that the threat of flooding is not over, with the city responding to changing river conditions and shifting flood fighting efforts to the north and central areas of Winnipeg. New calls for volunteers (at least 500 needed) continue to be posted. In the local Winnipeg calling area – call 311 – to register to volunteer or visit the EmergWeb volunteer page
The need for volunteers today is urgent.

From the Province of Manitoba EMO
A continued rapid melt is contributing to higher levels on Red River tributaries and resulting in further forecasted increases for some areas of the river. The 2009 flood will now surpass 1979 and 1950 levels in areas from St. Jean Baptiste to the floodway inlet. This makes 2009 the second-greatest flood since the floods of the 1800s. Levels for the 1997 flood were still about 0.6 metres (two feet) higher than crests expected this year. Many areas of Manitoba are also experiencing overland flash flooding caused by frozen, saturated soil and crests in many locations are lasting longer than usual. This combination of events has resulted in a serious flood situation that could last for several weeks.

Evacuations – A partial evacuation is underway from Peguis First Nation through the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters (MANFF). MANFF has started an evacuation of 119 residents to Winnipeg this afternoon. An evacuation of the personal-care home in St. Adolphe will begin this evening as a precautionary measure. Approximately 40 residents will be moved to Winnipeg. The St. Adolphe Personal Care Home, the South Eastman Manitoba Regional Health Authority and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority are co-ordinating the placement of residents according to the level of care required and the location of family. Family members of residents are being contacted.

Disaster Assistance – An office is being set up in Selkirk to help residents who have been affected by the flooding. Visit the EMO website for more information

Webcam – Live view of Winnipeg Red River Floodway gates

Photos –

Visit Winnipeg Free Press on Flickr

Visit Winnipeg Free Press on Flickr

[thumbnail source – Winnipeg Free Press on Flickr]

I’ll keep adding updates as they come in from all the feeds as well as mirror on the MissionLog, and post volunteer updates at project417.com. If you have links to photos or videos post them in the comments here. Thanks.

Winnipeg Red River Flood Watch – Saturday, April 11

Flood Update – Monday April 13 – click here for Canada News Blog

::

News Alerts – Sunday, April 12, 2009

Flooding, evacuations and rooftop rescues of stranded residents in St. Andrews and St. Clements Saturday night – Major flooding caused by ice jams – many homes damaged by ice as well as flood water (more)

Red River Flood Watch – April 11, 2009 – Updates: Winnipeg, Manitoba area and Fargo, North Dakota

Alerts – Saturday, April 11

EmergWeb Updates – City of Winnipeg – Local calling area, call 311

At-risk property owners still required to leave dikes in place.
Ice jams moving slowly northward, somewhat reducing threat
Flyover of river system shows positive change in water and ice conditions this morning
Volunteer efforts not required at this time

More Updates –

Winnipeg flood response eased but ice jams still greatest threat:
The Floodway continues to flow smoothly and a major ice jam dislodged Friday -resulting in a few hundred volunteers being sent home as flood threat eased. The area is not entirely past all risk of flooding due to the presence of ice in the floodway, which is not meant to be opened in the presence of major ice flows. At least one large ice pan is still in the floodway – this has the risk of causing another ice jam and flooding.

:: photo Angela Ward / Winnipeg Free Press

Areas at the greatest risk of flooding, are north of Winnipeg , concentrated for now in Selkirk, although there has been some flooding to the south as well. At the Manitoba U.S border area Highway 75 has been closed for a few days and should remain so for another week or so. It is also difficult to say what the impact will be of the water diverted through the Floodway on ice jams to the north. Because ice is flowing through the Floodway, when it exits the northern outlet, all the ice will then meet existing ice jams near Selkirk and other communities if they have not dislodged by then.

The outlook is that flooding will still come – the slow moving Red River crest is in the Emerson to Letellier area and is expected at Morris on Monday. It should reach the south end of Winnipeg on Thursday. Warmer temperatures expected Sunday and Monday will also speed the spring thaw and increase local surface runoff into the river basin.

North Dakota , the Fargo area, is seeing a second major crest in the Red River . Though not as severe as the end of March when many were evacuated, threats to dikes are severe and flooding is taking place in several areas. Manitoba residents will also have to be on the lookout for this second wave of elevated river levels as it moves north into the region again.

There are no plans to send out our Toronto team of volunteers yet as the situation is being handled well by local volunteers. I’ll continue posting the updates both at the Canada News blog as well as her on the MissionLog from WordPress.com and will post volunteer opportunities for Toronto area folks wishing to get involved at the Project417 website – project417.com

Red River Flood Watch – Latest Update April 9 – Winnipeg Manitoba

Flood Watch Updates mirrored at Canada News Blog

Red River Flood Watch – April 2009 – Updates including Winnipeg, Manitoba area and Fargo, North Dakota

Alerts – Thursday April 9

  • Red River Floodway has been opened.
  • Highway 75 will be temporarily closed from Winnipeg to approximately 20 kilometres south of Morris starting Tuesday at noon. It will reopen when the flood threat has passed.

EmergWeb Updates – City of Winnipeg – Local calling area, call 311

At-risk property owners advised to raise dikes due to ice and rising river levels: Temporary evacuation of specific areas recommended based on river conditions – The City of Winnipeg is advising at-risk property owners on Kingston Row and Kingston Crescent to raise their dikes an additional foot. This is required due to the risk of additional ice jams in the Kingston Row area. More…

Ice Jams still greatest threat
The Winnipeg Floodway has been opened diverting huge volumes of rising Red River water around the city to the north. The greatest risk continues to be the unpredictable nature of the ice jams – there have been instances of jams dislodging, and waters receding, only to rise dramatically again in a few hours when the ice jams at a new location only short distances down the river. ( The Red River flows south to north in the Winnipeg area). Areas at the greatest risk of flooding, with many properties being flooded already are north of Winnipeg, concentrated for now in Selkirk, although there has been some flooding to the south as well. At the Manitoba U.S border area Highway 75 has been closed for a few days.

In some unsettling reports – a new flood fighting method tried out by the city and province is proving to be unreliable. Water is getting past some “tube dike” deployments in Winnipeg. The province purchased more than 60 of the tube dikes – long rubber tubes then filled with water – less than two weeks ago, as they were supposed to be faster than sandbag dikes to deploy.

It is also difficult to say what the impact will be of the water diverted through the Floodway on ice jams to the north. Because ice is flowing through the Floodway, when it exits the northern outlet, all the ice will then meet existing ice jams near Selkirk and other communities if they have not dislodged by then.

I’ll continue posting the updates both at the Canada News blog as well as here at the MissionLog on WordPress.com and will post volunteer opportunities for Toronto area folks wishing to get involved at the Project417 website  – project417.com

Red River Flood Watch – Update, April 7 – Winnipeg, Manitoba and area, Fargo, North Dakota

Red River Flood Watch – April 7: Winnipeg, Manitoba Update – Fargo, ND

Red River Flood Watch – Update, April 7 – Winnipeg, Manitoba and area, Fargo, North Dakota

You’ll notice at the Canada News Commentary blog that I’ve been following closely the Red River flood situation in both Manitoba and North Dakota. This news watch on the flooding has also been twinned here at the MissionLog blog at WordPress.com

My goal is to gather the latest news from the most reliable news sources on the scene in the areas and present an accurate synopsis both to residents of the affected areas and concerned people across the country  worried about families or wondering how best to help – with an emphasis on volunteerism. The latest flood updates and links to news articles are just below. [sources- cbc.ca; WinnipegFreePress.com; Government of Manitoba; City of Winnipeg winnipeg.ca]

::

I work with Project417, a small grassroots non-profit in Toronto. Normally, we work out on the streets with the inner city homeless population. For the past several years, Project417 has also been directly involved in Disaster Recovery work, specifically organizing volunteers to go and help those rendered homeless by disasters. Homelessness can befall anyone by environmental disaster as well as other circumstances, and we have experience in helping our neighbors across North America – as they are usually no more than a couple of days drive.

Relief efforts Project417 has  responded to include:  Hurricane Ivan, Grenada, fundraising for YWAM – Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, first response mobile canteens, emergency distribution center, crisis counselling, Lower 9th ward home rebuilding – Hurricane Ike, Houston Galveston County, first response mobile canteens, emergency distribution center, San Leon home rebuilding – City of Toronto, 2008 propane explosion, 2008 Secord Avenue Hydro vault explosion, 2009 East and West end apartment explosions, food and refreshment services at community evacuation centres – City of Vaughan and Region of Durham, emergency exercises – Thunder Bay, Ontario, Trillium provincial emergency exercise. For many of these we partner with the central region Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services, while for Hurricane Katrina and Ike, Project417 has directly organized the home rebuilding efforts with hundreds of volunteers.

Emerson area road flooded - cbc.ca photo

Emerson area road flooded - cbc.ca photo

Ice Jams UnpredictableManitoba

In the Winnipeg area and elsewhere in Manitoba, the greatest risk reported right now from the rising levels on the Red River are from the widespread ice jams along many stretches of the river, combined with still extensive ice pans still covering much of the river. Winnipeg officials are confident that the recent relatively good weather conditions are reducing the risk of serious flooding. The good weather also assisted in making the job of hundreds of area volunteers who turned out over the weekend in increasing the sandbagging levels within Winnipeg city limits and in communities north such as St. Andrews and Selkirk, as well as south in Emerson. ( Ice jam raises river in Selkirk, threatens homes, April 7)

In addition, the province is making use of its Amphibex ice breakers on the ice pans and ice jams in several trouble spots on the river. The city’s Floodway, built to divert rising waters around the city during floods, can not normally be opened until ice jams and pans have melted or cleared, as letting in the ice could cause structural damage withing the Floodway. Officials are reported to have decided to open the floodway this week however and are taking steps to clear the jams.

The unpredictability of the ice jams makes it difficult to asses the impact of the cresting waters. Currently waters are expected to crest at just over 6 metres withing flood wall and dike protection, with sandbagging raising levels to about seven and a half metres for safety.

Similarly, on the border of Manitoba, Emerson is going to be the first facing this week the rising waters heading up from North Dakota. The CPR rail line is already closed by flooding in the area, but Emerson officials are similarly confident the town is prepared to meet the flood and don’t expect levels to reach catastrophic levels seen in the past. However they expect Highway 75 to be flooded, the main highway between Manitoba and the U.S. with expected lengthy delays for truckers and travellers.

Winnipeg area residents wishing to volunteer can call from the local calling area Winnipeg’s 311 information service, or email 311@winnipeg.ca with their name, telephone number and times of availability. You can also visit the area’s EmergWeb site at http://winnipeg.ca/emergweb

The Salvation Army and Red Cross in Manitoba has been out providing relief to volunteers and residents. Project417 volunteers remain on call.

Fargo, North Dakota may face second wave of floodwaters.

The U.S. Weather Service has issued new warnings to North Dakota residents that Fargo could face a second surge of floodwaters later this month and officials are watching reports closely. Just last week, Fargo and area residents escaped the worst as the Red River flood crest was lower than expected and the majority of dikes and sandbagging efforst held. More than 1,000 National Guard are still in the area to help if conditions should worsen again – as well as the combined forces of Salvation Army Emergency and Disaster Services and the Red Cross.

I’ll post more updates here as soon as I can and at Canayjun’s Canada News blog. If there are any volunteer efforts being organized from Toronto, I’ll also post them here and at the Project417 website. Post a comment here if you have any volunteer information or breaking news.

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