The Rooming House That Helped Save a Life

On my way to work today I had the opportunity to listen to an interview of a person we know and care about at The Dale. I was thrilled to hear Tom share his story of living in rooming houses in Parkdale, the most current being a really good situation for him. Tom shares openly and honestly, saying things I think we all need to hear, including reminding us of our shared humanity. I decided to create the following transcript of his interview with Matt Galloway on the CBC’s The Current. For brevity’s sake, some “ums” and repeated words are removed. If you can, also give it a listen. Tom’s voice is important. 

Matt: So, Tom why don’t you describe where we are right now. 

Tom: We are at Beattie at my new address which is a great place. I lived at 1521 Queen Street West a long time ago, and my living conditions are a million times better. I can’t say anything bad about it. It’s great here. 

Matt: Can you describe what it is like inside? We can’t go inside but describe what the living conditions are like in this building. 

Tom: Well it’s basically seven or eight guys. We have staff on call. We have security. We have our own cooking, like we can cook ourselves. We have our own rooms; we have showers in them. So, we are self-maintained. 

Matt: What is your room like?

Tom: It’s big enough for one person. Compared to where I’ve lived before, it’s a million times better. 

Matt: What do you like about living here? 

Tom: Here, the staff are always there for you. You know if you need help, they’re there. The people who live in the building, we get along. Some of us have our issues, but we work it out. You know, if they had more places like this to help people, it would be a lot better. 

Matt: If you weren’t in a house, what would be the other options be in terms of somewhere to live?

Tom: I’d be dead. 

Matt: Why do you say that? 

Tom: That’s being honest, I’d be dead. Well for one, I wouldn’t know where I am and for two, I’d panic and for three I would just cut my throat. That’d be the end of it. 

Matt: So, this is a lifesaving kind of place for you. 

Tom: For me, it is more than lifesaving. I’m in an area where I know. People know me around here. And I’ve been here basically all my life, so it’s like a Godsend. A lot of people look at people who have issues with their mind or whatever and they look at them and they look down on them. You got to remember one thing, you could be that person. Don’t look at them with disgust, look at them as another human being with a problem and they are trying to get help. A lot of times people don’t do that. 

Matt: You mentioned that this place is better than places you’ve lived before. Describe what the rooming houses are like you have been in before. 

Tom: 1521 was a room, a shared washroom. You had drugs going in and out all the time. Here, you don’t have that problem. Because we’re really maintained in that way. So, there’s no show for any sort of narcotic, other than prescription. 

Matt: You mention you had a shared washroom. What was that room like? 

Tom: That other place at 1521? I’d like to say it in my way. 

Matt: What’s your way of saying it? 

Tom: It was disgusting. A shithole. I mean that literally. It was run as a hotel, illegally. You had 16-20 rooms on that floor, on one floor. And it was like everybody was battling, you know like fighting and the drugs that went in and out of there were like water. 

Matt: Given how rough it is there, why would people stay there? 

Tom: Why would people stay there? Because the rent was cheap. A lot of places ask you for first and last. 

Matt: And people couldn’t afford to pay first and last.

Tom: That’s right, that’s the biggest reason. When you can’t afford to pay first and last and you get the option…okay, it may be a crappy place but you gotta have your head put somewhere. 

Matt: Do you worry? I mean this is a big building and this city is really expensive now. And you take a look even across the road- they are doing renovations there. There’s a lot of money in this neighbourhood and people are renovating and turning houses like this that are split up into one big family house. Do you worry about that- that a building like this could be valuable in somebody else’s eyes?

Tom: It is valuable in a lot of people’s eyes. The houses around here are not cheap. 

Matt: One of the other things, there are people in some neighbourhoods who don’t want houses like this near them. What do you say to those people? 

Tom: Ahh. Wait until it happens to you and tell me you don’t want a house like this in your neighbourhood where you get help. You need houses like this. Give em something to lift their spirits, show them that somebody out there cares. But a lot of people don’t care. And that’s the whole problem with society. 

Matt: Sounds like you landed in a good spot. 

Tom: Ya, very good! I’m very happy to be here. If I didn’t get this, I would probably be dead by now. That’s being very, very honest. 

Matt: I’m glad you are here. And I’m glad to have the chance to talk to you.

Shedding the Second Skin of Weariness

Since mid-August- however many weeks that is- my family and I have been on a rollercoaster. Dion’s health plummeted, then stabilized to a different place than before. He spent two weeks in a hospital setting that was and believe me when I say I am not exaggerating, terribly hard. An offer to a complex rehab program became available in what felt like the dark eleventh hour, a place that had not even been on our radar as an option but has proven to be the best thing for now. Just weeks ago, Dion, on top of everything, had to have surgery to remove a kidney stone, something that meant taking a few steps back in terms of his recovery. All along the way we have needed to push back on a broken system that is stretched too thin and often unable to meet the needs of the people within it. “Persist and resist” is the wise counsel I have received from a friend. And so that is what we do: persist with naming what we need for Dion to be safe and resist any options that are not.

How am I in all of this? That’s a challenging question to answer in a succinct way. I am sad. At times I am overwhelmed. I am determined to support and advocate and fight for what we need. Sometimes I feel okay. I am incessantly praying. Each day brings with it a mixture of laughter, gratitude, tears, fear, and hope. I think I have been wearing weariness like a second skin. 

One of the [many] gifts I have received at The Dale throughout this time has been the holding of space for me: my emotions, my need for flexibility to get to meetings at the hospital, my busy-ness, my grief, and yes, my weariness. People stop me on the street to ask how Dion is doing and rarely, if ever, respond with overused clichés. Instead, they meet me in the pain and are strikingly matter of fact about how hard this must all be. The Dale staff team walk with me every step of the way. 

I also am supported and strengthened by my family, friends, and neighbours. I am still whittling away at properly responding to their many notes of concern and care, all of which have made me feel less alone and very loved. I do not constantly talk about the importance of community as an academic exercise- it is something I have experienced first-hand. I have encountered many people who do not have anyone in their corner, and it is debilitatingly brutal. Without a community I don’t know how I/we would navigate all of this. 

The journey is not over. We have many things to figure out. I feel challenged every day to be present to the moment, and to take it all a step at a time- an exercise in restraint for this self-professed internal worrier. Dion and I are actively choosing to trust that the God we believe in is with us, whatever happens. We persist and resist. Just today though the light broke through and we feel closer than ever to a solution. And so, we wait with hope and in expectation. I might just be able to shed that second skin of weariness someday soon.