Tatamagouche Summer Free School

Monday, August 21, 2006

Interview: Halifax Coalition Against Poverty

Cole and Jill (and one other, whose name I unfortunately forget) of the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty gave a free school session about their organizing. Hillary Lindsay interviewed them via email.


Could you explain the purpose of HCAP?

HCAP is a direct-action anti-poverty organization based in Halifax, NS. We organize to defend individuals from evictions, welfare termination and abuse from employers. As well, we launch campaigns against regressive government policy and the institutions that perpetuate poverty. We believe that there is dignity in resistance and that the poor, homeless, and their allies should organize to fight back. As social services are continuously clawed back and the gap between rich and poor widens, the need to resist becomes increasingly urgent. Hundreds sleep on the street and in temporary shelters due to desperately inadequate social housing. Welfare and disability rates cannot sustain a decent standard of living and the minimum wage provides no escape from impoverishment. Our economy centralizes wealth in the hands of the few while government policy protects property and profit, keeping the poor in their place. HCAP believes this can change by uniting the struggles of poor and homeless people with those of workers, students, women, First Nations and others. A movement must be built that is capable of winning concessions from power. Only then will we have the strength to challenge the existing power structure and ultimately transform society.

Why is advocacy work an important part of what you do?

For an anti-poverty organization with anti-capitalist vision it is essential to be able to deal with the day to day symptoms of poverty. In and of themselves, actions such as defending tenants rights at a tenancy tribunal of getting welfare recipients a bit more on each check by working the policy do not challenge the systematic oppression. Our advocacy work is first and foremost a means to politicize and mobilize poor people to broader political action. Advocacy work builds our membership and recruits new activists who have experience advocating for themselves.


Why do you use direct action as a tactic?

We use direct action because we understand the system we are up against. Winning justice for poor people is not a matter of convincing those in power to give us more crumbs from the table through research and strong moral arguments. Winning justice in the context of a capitalist society means forcing a redistribution of wealth by disrupting and confronting those institutions and individuals in whose hands wealth and power is currently concentrated.


Could you give an example of one of HCAP's actions?

In the winter of 2004 a rooming house on Mitchell Street was shut down through HRM by-law M-100. HRM did not make any attempt to have the landlord pay for the repairs nor did they take that responsibility on themselves.

14 low-income tenants were given 2 weeks notice of eviction. Most of these people ended up on the street. These 14 fell under an umbrella trem of "the hardest to house" people with drug and alcohol abuse issues and physical and mental illness. Their slum land lord was providing a service that to other person or organization in the city would do.

You may have the impression that Halifax's shelter system would be adequate enough to deal effectively with these people.

Wrong: lots of people fall through the cracks because of discriminatory policy.

In response to the building closure HCAP demanded:

1. M-100 be amended to make landlords and/or City responsible for doing repairs.

2. That a shelter of last resort designed to accommodate anyone be funded.

HCAP prepared a presentation for City Council but were rejected when we applied to be on the next weeks agenda. We came anyway with 20 or so of our members that included people who had been evicted from Mitchell Street.

When the time for new business came around we all stood up and made our demands heard against the wishes of Council.

When nothing came out of this, we decided to repeat the same simple, disruptive action. Wanted to send the message that while people are forced to risk harm from exposure sleeping on the streets, business will not go on as usual.

After a second disruption Mayor Kelly got on the ball. A meeting was called of all anti-poverty and service providing groups in HRM reps from over 30 organizations came to meet with the Mayor and David Morse, then the Community Services Minister. At that meeting DCS commits to fund Pendleton Place, a temporary wet shelter for the winter months.

Between December 2004 and May 2005, the 40 bed shelter is packed every night to capacity, sometimes housing upwards of 60 individuals according to Saint Leonard's Society.


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