I haven’t been doing a very good job at keeping this blog updated. I have several projects on the go right now, so I thought it would be a good idea to put together a review of everything I have been working on for the past few months. I am working on editing these projects into multimedia pieces, and it might be a little while before some of them are finished. But this will give you an idea of what to look out for in the coming months.
Casey Camp-Horinek, of the Ponca nation of Oklahoma, participates in a Mayan ceremony during the UN Climate Negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.
COP16 – Mexico
December 2010, I was working with the Indigenous Environmental Network as part of their media team at the United Nations Climate Summit in Cancun Mexico. So the beginning of 2011 was spent editing photos and video from the conference, and protests surrounding the conference.
Here is a selection of some of my photos from COP16:
Here is the video I put together covering the COP16, featuring members of the Indigenous Environmental Network delegation explaining why they came:
The Ecumenical Conference on Mining brought together church leaders from around the world to discuss the impacts of Canadian mining on their communities. I am currently working on a video with KAIROS, addressing some of the topics discussed at the Ecumenical Conference on Mining, the video will be hopefully be released within the next month.
Mining Injustice Conference
Here is aseries of large posters I made for both of these conferences:
Video of human rights protests outside Barrick Gold AGM:
South March Highlands
During the summer of 2011, I was invited to work on a project with Daniel Amikwabe Bernard, of the Algonquin Amikwabe Beaver Nation. Daniel has devoted his life to saving the South March Highlands in Ottawa from further desecration and development. The South March Highlands are sacred to the Algonquin people, but large parts of this urban forest is being torn down to make way for urban sprawl and housing developments. I am working on a short film about this forest and it’s historical and spiritual significance to the Algonquin people – featuring interviews with the late Grandfather William Commanda, Bob Lovelace, Paula Sherman, Mireille Lapointe, Nicole Lovelace, Robert Bateman, and Albert Dumont. I’m still in the early stages of editing this piece, but hope to have this one ready for spring 2012.
Here is a small selection of some of the photos from this project:
Oxfam Trailwalker 2011
Oxfam Trailwalker has evolved from a gruelling military exercise into a truly global movement that effects real change in the lives of millions of people living in abject poverty. It’s more than just a fitness challenge, Oxfam Trailwalker is a commitment to change the world, one step at a time. Teams of four commit to not only raising funds, but also hiking a gruelling 100km in 48 hours. The money raised from this fundraising event helps support Oxfam Canada’s initiatives all over the world. Specifically, Oxfam Canada is dedicated to supporting long-term development, advocacy, and emergency programs in 28 countries, and also provides emergency support during humanitarian crises.
“The climate has changed. There is no water here, nothing. Our land is dying and so are we” Ngorbob elders.
Ngorbob is a small Masai village near Arusha, Tanzania. Ngorbob has been severely hit by drought in recent months. They have not seen rain for over a year, and as a result their farmlands and livestock are dying. Many of the residents of Ngorbob have already been forced to leave their ancestral home in search of water and work.
I am still working on editing this photoessay which will soon be published in Tanzania by the Norwegian Church Aid.
Mining In Tanzania
While I was in Tanzania I had the chance to continue the work I had started in 2008. I’m working now on updating the photoessay from 2008, which will hopefully be online in a couple of weeks, and will also be putting together a video on this. Here is a selection of some new images on mining in Tanzania:
Someone Else's Treasure - Tanzania
Village Community Banking
“My life and family has changed, but the whole community has benefitted too because if you educate a woman – one lady – you are educating the whole community.” – Hadija, VICOBA member in Lushoto, Tanzania.
In Tanzania, Village Community Banking (VICOBA) provides a structure through which communities are able to organize themselves, provide skill-sharing, and capacity building in an effort to combat poverty. Inspired by Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, the idea behind VICOBA is the belief that poor people have the skills, capabilities and abilities to improve their own economic development and social welfare.
In a field that is increasingly becoming dominated by corporate models of development, these stories provide examples of alternative models that are based on the dignity and ingenuity of the people. These women-led initiatives empower communities to find local solutions to their own local problems. These often-untold stories of community role models transforming their own communities are at the heart of a stronger, more inclusive, healthier and more socially just model of international development.
This is another work in progress for me, putting together a photoessay which will be published in Tanzania by the Norwegian Church Aid, as well as producing a short film about VICOBA.
Village Community Banking
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) has governed and cared for their Indigenous homeland, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Aaki, since time before memory. In 2008, KI’s Chief and five community leaders were jailed for refusing to allow mining exploration which threatened KI’s water supply. The remote First Nation community succeeded in fighting off mining exploration by Platinex Inc. But now other companies are staking claims within KI territory. KI’s pristine waters, their sacred landscape, and the lake trout they rely upon are at risk. KI has a vision for the future of their lands and environment that benefits all life.
Here is a short film I made in collaboration with KI’s Lands & Environment Unit, Kanawayandan D’aaki: Protecting Our Land
Here is a selection of some of my photos from KI, featuring an aerial view of their expansive Indigenous homeland, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Aaki.
So that wraps up what I have been working on for the past few months. Most of these projects are still not completed yet, so I am working on multiple projects simultaneously which is why I’m taking so long with these. In the meantime I also have to spend some time updating this website. Apologies to those of you waiting patiently for these videos/photoessays, I’m getting there…
The City of Toronto is struggling to cope with an ongoing housing crisis, according to The Toronto Report Card on Housing and Homelessness published by the City of Toronto. The study on housing in Toronto reveals that 550,000 people here are living in poverty — that’s roughly 25% of the city’s population. With few options available to them, thousands of these people are finding themselves living on the streets where, in 2002, thirty-two-thousand different people stayed in Toronto’s emergency shelters — 4,779 of these were children. Add to this the fact that well over five hundred men, women, and children have died on the streets as a direct result of homelessness. With the financial crisis being felt all around the world, there are no indications that the situation is any better today. For one of the wealthiest cities in the world, how can this be allowed to happen?
The following photos tell the stories of a few of the people who have found themselves losing control over their lives, living in government housing or on the streets, as well as the stories of how some people are raising questions about the City’s priorities and looking for solutions themselves.
"My name is Chris, I've been sitting in the rain here for three hours." Chris has been living on the streets for two years since loosing his job after injuring his back. He worked as a furniture mover, but because his employment was "under the table," he is not eligible for workers compensation. Because of his back injury he is unable to find work and has to live on the streets and pan-handle to get by. "If I had any other option, I wouldn't be sitting in the rain at night in the winter."
S.T. (who asked me not to use his real name) has been on disabilities since he was 18 years old for his heart problems, weight problems and breathing problems. He uses an old respirator here to catch his breath after climbing the stairs to get to his small apartment. Because of his health problems, he is unable to find employment “I would love to get a job and everything else, but I am not capable because of the sickness in my body and people don’t understand that.” The small amount he does get from disabilities is just enough to cover the rent for his room, but after paying his rent he is left with just $250 a month to survive on. Most of this $250 has to cover his hydro bills and whatever is left goes to food, as a result he often has to turn to the streets to panhandle for enough money to put food in his fridge.
S.T. looks in his empty fridge. After paying his rent, there is very little left over to spend on food and other necessities. “How can a person survive on $250 a month with the cost of living in Toronto? And every year the rent goes up!” S.T. asks. “But I’m not the only one. There are hundreds of other people out there like me going through the same thing. I know a lot of people who get disability and have to pay high rent and do the same thing I’m doing. But I believe that if enough people speak out like I do, housing will definitely come down in price. Something just has to be done. There should be more low-income housing, the rent in Toronto shouldn’t be as high as it is; people like me don’t deserve this.”
Social justice groups are describing the City of Toronto itself as the worst landlord in Toronto, highlighting the deplorable living conditions in Toronto Community Housing buildings.
A delegation of government housing tenants along with members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) came together to attend the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) board of directors meeting. Their goal was for tenants to voice their complaints directly to the board of directors regarding the deplorable living conditions in government housing. They brought with them a compilation of about fifty reports on the conditions in different tenant’s homes.
“We have a situation”, said one delegate, “where people have lived in public housing for a very long time in totally unacceptable conditions. What we now have is a crisis of deterioration which is reaching the level where units are crumbling, where buildings are in massive disrepair, and we’re going to see a situation where … public housing in this city is going to be lost if there is no intervention … the city of Toronto is the landlord, and the landlord is responsible for maintaining the property.And if the city needs to change its funding priorities to insure that enough municipal money goes to do the job, then that’s what must be done.”
Val is a tenant of the Toronto Community Housing. Val has lived in government housing for 19 years. Over this period, she says, conditions have steadily gotten worse and worse. This is Val's apartment, where she has baskets and carpets tacked onto the walls to hide the crumbling paint. She describes herself, with a dry sense of humour, as the curator of the 'Tack Art Gallery.'
This is Val's bedroom, where she has baskets and carpets tacked onto the walls to hide the crumbling paint. The whole building is in terrible condition, there are holes in the ceilings, plaster walls are crumbling, carpets are stained and moldy, garbage collects in the halls, and the building is infested with vermin. Val says she does not feel safe in the building as there have been a number of shootings and recently a woman was raped in the laundry room.
M.L (who asked me not to use her real name) is a tenant of the Toronto Community Housing. M.L. is well educated and has a professional background but is now disabled and has arthritis, she is in constant pain despite being on numerous medications and painkillers. As a result, she is unable to find employment and is now completely dependent on community housing for her survival. "As bad as it is here,” she says, “the only other option for me is the street - I’d die."
M.L.'s balcony is completely infested by Pigeons. It is completely covered with eggs, feathers, and feces. There are baby pigeons nesting there and countless eggs, both hatched and unhatched. The TCHC has told her to clean it up herself, but she not physically able to because of her health problems."I just want to be able to grow a little garden out there," she says holding back tears of frustration, "I've tried cleaning it up myself but I break down in pain every time and they just keep coming back! I don't know what to do."
Many of the tennants in this Toronto Community Housing building have taped up the cracks around their doorways to prevent mice and bugs from entering their apartments.
Barbara is another tenant of Toronto Community Housing. After growing up in Jamaica, where she was friends with Bob Marley, Barbara moved to Canada and started a promising career in early childhood development. But Barbara lost the job she loved when Mike Harris’ government cut funding for a wide range of social programs. Barbara managed to find a job working in a big chain grocery store where she injured her back lifting boxes. Because of this injury, and the resulting health problems, she is unable to find employment now and has had to move her entire life and all her belongings into this one room apartment. For years now she has been fighting with Toronto Community Housing to have her transferred to another apartment where she can actually fit all her belongings, but the waiting list for community housing in Toronto currently stands at an astonishing 70 000 and many people have been waiting for decades.
The Mission Statement of the Toronto Homeless Memorial is: “We remember all those homeless people who have lived in the streets of Toronto, and died as a direct result of homelessness.”
Since the memorial was first put up in October 2000, the list has steadily grown to over 500 names.
Nancy Baker at the Homeless Memorial at the Church of the Holy Trinity near the Eaton Centre. Here she sits in front of a sign that reminds us that that we best not forget that any one of us could find ourselves loosing control over our lives. Her boyfriend was one of the hundreds of people who have died on the streets of Toronto.
Members and supporters of the Women Against Poverty Coalition (WAPC) leave flowers just outside the entrance to the Yonge-Bloor subway station in the memory of 33-year-old Bly Markis. Bly was brutally beaten and killed nearby. Bly had worked as a massage therapist in California before moving back home to Toronto. Back in Toronto, she was unable to get the proper paperwork together to allow her to continue her profession. With mounting personal and professional problems, Bly found herself living on the streets where she eventually met her killer. Bly, affectionately known as "California," was well-known and well-liked in the community and was working hard to put her life back together.
Candles are lit in the memory of those who have died on the streets of Toronto.
You can see the full list of 500+ names of the men, women, and children who have died on the streets of Toronto here
(note: this list was last updated in June 2008 the numbers now are closer to 550+)
About 20 to 30 people spent the night on the doorsteps of Toronto's City Hall in solidarity with the homeless men, women, and children across the city. Participants were demanding that the City make a clear plan to end the housing crisis in Toronto.
Toronto is in the throes of an affordable housing crisis that has seen thousands of citizens made homeless…. Property that could house people is going to waste.
When communities assert a collective right to their own neighbourhoods, municipal policy should support them, not oppose them.” – Abandonment Issues
Abandonment Issues is a Toronto-based coalition of housing activists fighting to get abandoned and underutilized buildings and spaces in the city turned into affordable housing. Abandonment Issues has drafted a Use It or Lose It bylaw that lays out the framework for implementing this goal.
After being turned away by Police for trying to break into the abandoned building behind him, an anti-poverty activist shouts out to the crowd surrounding this abandoned building. Organised by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), housing activists attempted to enter abandoned buildings in Toronto in order to convert them into affordable housing to alleviate the growing housing problem in the city. They were met with resistance from dozens of Police officers who were under strict orders to defend these abandoned buildings, located in the wealthy High Park neighborhood.
These housing activists were were met with resistance from dozens of Police officers who were under strict orders to defend these abandoned properties located in the wealthy High Park neighborhood. Tempers flared on both sides and many of the participants accused the police of being overly aggressive. Some of the demonstrators pointed out the irony of the fact that their tax dollars were being used to pay police forces to "protect" these abandoned buildings, rather than on providing viable alternatives for poor people living on the streets.
after forcing anti-poverty activists away from this abandoned building, police officers stand guard to keep the activists away.
after being forced away from the abandoned buildings by police the anti-poverty activists marched to Mayor David Miller's residence nearby. Here, they are gathered on Miller's doorstep shouting angrily about the Mayor's lack of interest in alleviating the growing housing problems in Toronto.
The Women Against Poverty Collective (WAPC) organized a housing takeover of an abandoned building in downtown Toronto. WAPC is a group of women and trans people who are working together to advocate for safe, affordable and accessible housing for women experiencing violence. A small group of women broke into the building before demonstrations began, and before police could find out which building would be targeted. Police surrounded the building with the women inside. “We’ve learned through history that sometimes we don’t get anything unless we struggle and demand to get it,” says Anna Willats of WAPC, "(today) we will create our own housing. Housing that is controlled by us, for us, that is safe and accessible.” Willats explains that the building being taken over is one of hundreds of buildings in downtown Toronto that have been sitting empty and unused for years.
With the police surrounding the four women inside, demonstrators gathered outside the building, surrounding the police, in solidarity with the women inside. Demonstrators set up tents in front of the house and in the park across the street prepared to camp out there as long as it took for the police to back down and allow the women to begin setting up the building as a safe house for disadvantaged women and trans people.
As the tension mounted down below, Jenn Plyler, one of the women inside the building, led the chants "Housing for women by women now! Housing for women by women now!"
Later in the evening, waiting for the rain to come pouring down (making it very difficult to document), the police decided to make their move. They surrounded the demonstrators, trampled over the tents, and began forcing the demonstrators back away from the building. During the scuffle, one officer can be seen here attempting to restrain a colleague who is getting overly aggressive.
Despite the surprise move by the police, demonstrators refused to back down, linking arms and responding to the police with songs and chants. After the initial struggle, rows of police and demonstrators squared off in the middle of the street staring each other down, waiting for someone to make the next move.
As the rain continued to pour down, rows of police and demonstrators squared off in the middle of the street. Both sides can be seen here taunting one another.
With over 500 homeless people dying on the streets of Toronto since 1989, housing activists accross the city are calling on the City of Toronto to make use of the hundreds of abandoned buildings scattered accross the city so they can be converted into safe and affordable housing for the poor.
Allan Lissner is an award-winning independent photographer and filmmaker who was raised in Ethiopia, Liberia, USA, Nepal, Lithuania, Denmark, Jordan, Bangladesh and Canada.
For the past six years Allan has been working on collaborative multimedia projects with remote indigenous communities, documenting their efforts to protect their territories and preserve their ways of life. This ongoing work includes projects with over a dozen communities in the Philippines, Guatemala, Tanzania, Papua New Guinnea, Australia, Chile and Canada.
Some of the organizations Allan has done work with include Amnesty International, GlobalAware, the Indigenous Environmental Network, KAIROS, Oxfam, Make Poverty History, the Norwegian Church Aid, the Ontario Council for International Cooperation, the United Nations Development Program, and the United Nations Women’s Association in Bangladesh.