Cristian “Sanchez” Castillo

I have no recollection of when I met Sanchez. Not remembering where and when I met someone is rare for me. I imagine it says something about the way Sanchez inhabited the neighbourhood. He was one of those people who seemed to be everywhere all at once: in the parkette beside the Health Centre, on the bench outside of what used to be the Coffee Time, by the steps of 201 Cowan Avenue, and always, always with his dogs, Maggie and Chica. 

Sanchez came to Canada from Chile. You could always hear the Spanish in his voice. Sometimes there was a language barrier between us, but in my experience, Sanchez always dealt with this patiently. Usually it made him grin, look down, and slowly shake his head while quietly saying, “I really need to teach you Spanish”. To which I would reply, “PLEASE. Please teach me.” 

I could usually recognize Sanchez, even from a distance. He had a recognizable gait and silhouette. Sometime this year he also started wearing a helmet, to protect him from the falls that were increasingly a nemesis. He didn’t seem to mind, if anything claiming it as a cool new accessory. I loved that about Sanchez. Though there was a lot that he struggled with, he somehow seemed comfortable in his own skin. 

If Sanchez was having a bad day, there seemed to be one thing that would bring him to life: talking about his dogs, especially Maggie (who was actually mother to Chica). These dogs were not simply pets, but true companions to Sanchez. If you look at his Facebook profile, the vast majority of photos are of them. It became a huge concern that Maggie had what at first seemed a growth but proved to be a tumour growing on her belly. Because the surgery required was cost prohibitive, The Dale launched a GoFundMe on behalf of Sanchez.

Heartbreakingly, though the money arrived, the tumour proved too much and Maggie died. I will never forget receiving the news. Nor will I forget what became a necessary support to Sanchez: me, Joanna, and our friend Sam going to pick up Maggie to transport her to the vet. We gathered around Sanchez, with Chica hiding close by, to hold him in the grief and pray. The last time I saw Sanchez was the day I returned with Maggie’s ashes in an urn. 

Not long after this, Sanchez entered the hospital. Because of Covid restrictions, we could not visit him. However, he and I started to communicate on-line. I would occasionally receive video messages- usually short updates and always ending with how much he missed Maggie. I think it is fair to say that recovering from this loss felt unimaginable to Sanchez.

Sanchez was released from hospital, though we had yet to see him. Just yesterday we were alerted to his death through a flurry of calls and messages. I know that I am not the only one in a state of shock. To be candid, it doesn’t feel real. On behalf of The Dale, I want to extend our condolences to his family. I extend the same to those who counted Sanchez friend. There has been a lot of loss in our community over the last few years, something that Sanchez felt acutely. Saying goodbye to a friend is never easy. 

Sanchez- thank you for all of the chats over so many years. No matter how hard the day was, you would always stop and say, “let me first ask: how are you?” I will miss seeing you in the neighbourhood. We all will. I don’t know what you are experiencing now, but I really hope you are tossing Maggie a stick and feeling pride every time she brings it back. Estoy agradecido por ti. I hope I have that right. I mean to say, I am grateful for you. 

Inhabiting a Neighbourhood by Sharing Space, Inside and Out

When The Dale gave up its own space a decade ago, one of the first questions people asked was: where are we going to go? A legit wondering. At the time, I didn’t yet know. Fortunately, the weather was improving and so I said, “if we have to, we’ll have drop-in at the park”. I also started to knock on the doors of buildings around the neighbourhood to see if there might be a willingness to open those doors to us. That was the beginning of inhabiting Parkdale in a new way.

People often ask me if we would now buy a building if we could. While I acknowledge there are definite cons to not having a space of our own, the pros outweigh them. Does that mean I am anti-building? No, absolutely not. The Dale relies on the buildings of our partners to do a lot of what we love. Also, I never want to belittle the importance of “place” for the many members of our community who do not have any to call their own. By not investing in the purchase of a building, The Dale can pour our resources very directly into what we do, while also supporting those who share property with us.

When The Dale spilled into the streets, we had the opportunity to learn from our core community about what it means to be transient. This was very important, especially for someone like me who, despite my proximity to people who are under-housed, have always had somewhere to lay my head. We also re-discovered the truth that the church is not a building. One Dale member would regularly remind me that, “we are living stones. Where we gather is less important than THAT we gather.”

I appreciate the pedagogy of my friend Jason McKinney around the power of property and the need to shift from having to holding. Jason’s church, Epiphany and St. Mark is the only building currently open to The Dale due to the pandemic (we trust our other partners will begin to re-open as the pandemic continues to settle). I see how he and his church are navigating away from the paradigm of property to the paradigm of commons, in other words they are helping create a community hub. The Dale is one of a number of organizations that reside at and co-create in 201 Cowan Avenue. I know the desire is to continue to grow in the way we all relate to and negotiate with land- land that was not ours to begin with. Together we are discovering how to deepen our responsibility and care for the ground we stand on.

Which is also why it is so important that The Dale’s largest presence is outdoors. When we were permanently housed the people had to come inside to find us. Now we go outside to find our people and it is where they know to look for us. It matters that we get rained and snowed on together, that we can share a snack in the park, that we can slow down and linger for chats anywhere along the street, that we can grow things in our community garden plot. We move from observation of the neighbourhood to participation in it.

Is this an easy way to operate? Not always. Is it messy? For sure. I can honestly say though that not having a building, which was definitely born out of crisis, has turned into one of our greatest gifts. Also true is that becoming a part of a larger community hub, both at Epiphany and St Mark and in other spaces around the neighbourhood, one of our greatest joys. We get to witness amazing things happening all over the place and grow in our awareness that love is present all around us: in and out of a building.

Building the Trust of a City Street

Imagine that the sun is shining and there is a light breeze as you and I set out on a walk around Parkdale, a Toronto neighbourhood. This is the place that The Dale inhabits, a section of the city that is in the west-end, and just north of Lake Ontario. We start at 201 Cowan Avenue, an address that belongs to Epiphany and St Mark Anglican Church, but is used as a sort of “commons” for a variety of organizations, including Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, Greenest City, Flick the Switch Art Studios, a social enterprise kitchen called Aangen, and The Dale.

We meander across the street to a park with a concrete wading pool, a play structure, a concrete table that gets used either for ping pong or sunbathing, and the HOPE Community Garden in which The Dale has a plot. I share that we tend to grow a lot of herbs, lettuce, and some tomatoes, though last year we tried our hand at miniature pumpkins. Right now, the garden lays fallow, though it will soon be time to plant. To me, this spot feels like a bit of an oasis.

I invite you to walk north on Cowan to Queen Street West, one of the main thoroughfares through Parkdale. There is a community centre to our left, and a Public Library on the right. We run into a friend who is sitting on a bench. He tells us about what is being served for lunch at St. Francis Table (most of us refer to it as “The Table”), a Franciscan Friar run restaurant where you can get a good meal for $1. I suggest we head that way in order to notice the contrast between St. Francis Table and the very hip and high-end restaurants that litter the same block.

This dichotomy is apparent throughout our walk. Once one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the city, Parkdale shifted to be known as gritty and well-acquainted with poverty. While there were many contributing factors to this, two big ones were the building of the Gardiner Expressway, a highway to our south that made people feel cut off from the lake, and the deinstitutionalization of mental health care (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, once Queen Street Mental Health is very close by), which meant psychiatric survivors were released and subsequently sought home in the area. Now Parkdale is a study in gentrification- the process by which the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, changing housing, and attracting new businesses.

I point out a few things as we walk: the popular vintage store called Public Butter, a poster for a protest about affordable housing, the yellow box that looks reminiscent of a Canada Post mailbox but is a receptacle for used needles. We stop to say hello to a group of people in the parkette beside the Health Centre, all of whom are community members of The Dale. One person comes out from the bushes, where they are sleeping rough. Another engages with you about where you are from and tells you an embarrassing story about me. We laugh. We comment on the nice weather before fist bumping a goodbye.

From here we walk south along a very residential street. I point out how you can tell if one of the mansion like homes is a single-family dwelling or a rooming house. We notice young families, a statue of Mary in a front yard, and Tibetan monks in burgundy robes. I suggest we get some Momos, Tibetan dumplings from a place called Loga’s Corner. I introduce you to the owner who gives a lesson on how to eat one, and graciously adds a few extra to our order.

We wave at the proprietor of the laundromat, chat with people hanging out in a bus shelter, and stand in awe of the woman who feeds the pigeons and has birds hanging out on her shoulders and head. We walk along Jameson Avenue, a street lined with mid-rise apartment buildings. Eventually we end up back on Queen Street West. I invite us to stop, close our eyes and take a deep breath, taking active notice of the sounds and smells of the neighbourhood. As we end up back where we started, we discuss your questions. I share a few more stories. We talk about the obvious diversity and resulting richness of Parkdale. We depart with a hug.

Jane Jacobs said, “The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts… Most of it is ostensibly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all.” The work of getting to know one’s neighbourhood takes intentionality. For me, walking has been integral to becoming connected to and rooted in Parkdale. It is something I have done since 2007 and that as a Dale team we do on the regular. The arguably trivial moments have led to many profound interactions, deep friendships, and a lot of opportunity to love and be loved. I am always glad to walk and love the opportunity to do so together.

Beginning Again

I have very vivid memories of the beginning of Covid, especially at The Dale. Just the week before the world shutdown, we held our Monday Drop-In as usual. In that moment we had no idea of what was to come. We encouraged people to use sanitizer, as well as our little hand-washing station, one that almost looked like something you would find in a dentist office. I even suggested that we didn’t want to be alarmist about the just-starting-to-make-the-news-virus during our announcement time. Within days everything changed.

The first few weeks we cooked hotdogs for people on our little charcoal BBQ and served them outside. No longer able to meet indoors for our Breakfast and Art Drop-In, we began making breakfasts to go: hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, juice, and a muffin in a brown paper bag. We gathered beside the building where we would normally be hanging out inside to distribute the meals, until it was clear the police were watching and began to encourage us to move along. Then buying groceries became a challenge because stores would only let me buy one dozen eggs. The volume of food we needed for The Dale was perceived to be fending and hoarding for myself- something I could explain if given the opportunity, though that was not always possible.

I will never forget having to write a letter for each of our staff proving that we were front-line workers, therefore allowing us to be out in public during the lock-down should we be pulled over. It made the situation glaringly real. I still have mine in my backpack. More importantly, I will never forget the impact on our community. For those able to shelter-in-place, but with limited resources, the isolation was devastating. For those without housing and unable to access the shelter system, there was truly no where to go: no bathroom access, no places to warm-up, no benches to sit on without harassment. And The Dale, an organization without our own building, could not offer any indoor alternative.

The good news is that The Dale was able to readjust to the new reality quickly, being already both nimble and nomadic. In retrospect those early days were easier than what we are faced with now: having to figure out how to re-open. Our partner buildings are understandably still discerning how to open up for themselves, let alone for an external group like us. The Public Health guidelines for high-risk settings like ours are more stringent than the general public. None of this makes our own launching into regular-ish life straight-forward. It all feels a little too…unimaginable. But that is not who The Dale is. We are always looking for a way and are certainly willing to try and try again until we find the sweet, albeit messy, spot.

For now, we continue to provide meals-to-go. We spend a lot of time outdoors, even when the weather is terrible. Our Sunday gathering is the only thing happening indoors again, and for that we are exceedingly grateful. We go where we are needed, whether that be to someone’s home for a visit, or to drop off groceries, or to say hello on a street-corner. Though we wish they were not necessary, we are able to hold funerals again, meeting a need that Covid truly stole from us. Throughout it all, we are finding ways as a community to honour that every one of us has something to both give and receive. I am being cared for, just as I get to offer care. Every person holds a unique role, because each one brings their own gifts.

The last two years have been admittedly brutal. I remain so grateful for and proud of our community, one that teaches me about resilience, creativity, and hope, even in the most desperate of times. While we haven’t been able to do things the way we prefer, we have tried very hard to “Dale-i-fy” (that’s one of my new favourite words) everything. Can’t sit around a table? At least we can drink hot chocolate together in a park. Have to line-up for a meal? The staff can be in the line with our folks. Can’t gather on Sundays indoors? We will pitch a tent in a parking lot. Have to sleep outside? We can provide new blankets and sleeping bags. Must be isolated? We will show up at the door to say hi and bring needed supplies. I am confident that as we navigate this next transition, we can make sure to Dale-i-fy it too. Your support as we try is deeply appreciated.

My Friend Ronnie

I’m not sure when I met Ronnie, though it was most likely more than a decade ago. I can’t remember a time in Parkdale without his bellowing voice. For a while it seemed he was everywhere: I would roll down my window as I drove past the corner of Dunn and Queen to shout hello, only to see him moments later at the Health Centre, and then again by the Library. I would tease him about how much he got around. With a twinkle in his eye he’d say, “oh, you know me- always around. I’m a fixture.”

Ronnie would routinely come to our Monday Drop-In, always sure to greet us as he entered the room. He loved to chat. I learned a lot about the art of checking-in with people because of Ronnie. No matter what he was going through (and it was often a lot), he would stop, look me in the eye and ask, “how are you, love?” He would then ask about life in general, my family, Cate, and finally, about my heart- in other words, how was I coping? Oftentimes he would chat and listen for so long that others would try to interrupt. His response would always be, “can’t you see I’m not done? I’m talking to my people”. 

Ronnie also taught me about asking for what you need. He was not shy in this regard. He would follow up any request with an acknowledgement that though we may or may not be able to help, it mattered to him that we would always try. Whenever possible, Ronnie would do anything to help us too. We liked to finish conversations by acknowledging the importance of journeying together and taking care of each other. “That’s it, love: we gotta help each other”. 

In 2017 Ronnie’s mobility declined. He would show up to Drop-In using a rickety walker, more often than not with a story about constantly tripping and falling down. It was clear that he needed a mobility scooter, and so in true Ronnie fashion, he asked for us to try and find one. I will never forget the day we actually got what he needed and presented it to him. We were all crying. It didn’t take him long to make it his own, including a sticker on the front that ironically said, NO FUN.

Just this past Sunday the Dale team was walking the neighbourhood. Ronnie was seated in a familiar spot, but obviously not doing very well. We talked, trying to sort out what would be the most helpful for him. As we prepared to keep walking, Ronnie grabbed my mittened hand and pulled it to his face. We stayed like that for a moment, as I rested my free hand on his head. He wanted me to bless him. We both said, “love you”. As Meg and I moved along, I shared about how that interaction was scaring me. Ronnie really didn’t seem okay. 

Yesterday we learned of Ronnie’s death. I am still in disbelief. Wanting the news to be false, we have waited on sharing this until now. Oh, Ronnie. The block will not be the same without you. Thank you for everything: the check-ins, the little gifts, the laughs, the tears. You were the opposite of NO FUN. You lived life hard, and I so hope that you can now enjoy some much-deserved rest. I am very sad that Sunday was our last interaction, and yet you made our parting visit one I will never forget. 

Ronald Paul Gallant 1964 – 2022

Spirits in the Sky

I will never forget the wise counsel of a grief counsellor I once went to: “the loss of someone you love is not something you get over; it is something you move through.” Having faced a lot of loss, I can attest to this being true. How could I ever “get over” my mom or dad? Or the people I have loved over the 20+ years of doing the work that I do? The various griefs that I hold do not look the same now as when they first occurred. And yet, I can be sideswiped by a familiar scent or a look-alike I notice walking ahead of me. Oftentimes this happens when I least expect it, though the feeling is now very familiar. I call it a wave of grief. I try, whenever possible, to ride it when it hits. I find that when I do, I can take a deep breath after it slows and continue the work of putting one foot in front of the other.

One important piece of this grief puzzle is what typically comes right after death occurs: the funeral/memorial. Covid has impeded this. For us at The Dale, services have been largely prohibited. We were able to help with and participate in a service held outdoors near the beginning of the pandemic, but very little has been possible since. We did get creative and put together grief support bags for the community, an activity that was meaningful and still not a true replacement for a gathering.

At the beginning of November, The Dale was able to move its Sunday service indoors. Though there are many lovely things about meeting outdoors, it has nice to been in a cozy space. It also means that we can do something for our TOO MANY friends who have died since March 2020. Just as we began a conversation about what to do, a long-time Parkdalian and musician named Heinz, approached me during one of our mealtimes. He put to words exactly what we’d been thinking: we need a time to honour our fallen comrades, one that is also a celebration. Heinz suggested we call it “Spirits in the Sky”.

Spirits in the Sky is going to happen on Wednesday, December 15th from 1 – 4 pm at 201 Cowan Avenue, in the sanctuary of Epiphany and St Mark. The space will be full of pictures, light, music, and opportunity to write down memories. There will be room to sit and reflect. Kleenex will be provided. It will be a drop-in (25 people can be in the sanctuary at a time), and there will be refreshments outdoors. We hope that this might be a step, however small it might seem, toward moving through the mountain of grief. Come. Grieve. Remember. Celebrate.

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. 

https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-63-the-current/clip/15873258-tom-ermidas-says-rooming-house-lives-saved-life.

Stilled Waters: The Long Journey Home

Sometimes words fail me. This week has been significant, and I want to tell you about it, but I am all verklempt (overcome with emotion). 

We were walking along “the block” as it gets referred to in Parkdale on outreach. There are a few key spots on the strip, including outside the library, beside the Pizza Pizza, in the bus shelter, and in front of the liquor store. As we crossed at Dunn and Queen, we spotted a long-time friend, one whose health we have been concerned about and felt relieved to see. He and I have known one another since 2007. Initially we would primarily connect outdoors, then we would sit together at The Dale’s Monday Drop-In and share a meal. Our friendship formed quickly and has deepened with time and through many shared experiences. We have seen one another through a lot, navigated grief, and sung “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” together more times than I can count. 

On this day he had an urgent request: find his family, people he had not seen in close to a decade and worried he had pushed away. I immediately said yes, explaining that I could not promise I would be successful, but that I would do my best. Armed with a few names I began to investigate, a process that led me to a Native Friendship Centre in the area my friend is from. I sent messages in every form I could, praying that it might help. Within hours I had a stream of messages from various family members, all eager for a reunion. I nearly ran to find him, communicate how loved he is and help facilitate the re-connection. Today he was picked up by his nephew to visit home. 

A second story: He and I first met along the block too. I remember it clearly: we were introduced by the big globe beside the library. Since then we have journeyed together through a lot. Along the way he took to heart The Dale’s invitation to full participation and became pivotal to our breakfast program at the Health Centre, and more recently at all of our meals-to-go. He, just like my other friend, loves to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, referring to it as number 41 (the spot it lives in The Dale’s Songbook). It is no small thing that on Tuesday we got to help him move into an apartment of his own, a long-time dream that is finally a reality, his quiet excitement both palpable and contagious.

Things don’t always work out like this. Sometimes reunions aren’t possible. The road to housing can be impossibly long. But this week miracles happened. This week the troubled waters were stilled. 

An Office for The Dale

I have been carrying my “office” in a backpack since 2012. It began because of the decision to extinguish as much expense as possible at what was then Parkdale Neighbourhood Church. At the time we were in financial crisis, uncertain of what lay ahead. I had been tasked by the Board with re-imagining our vision and way of being in the neighbourhood. One of the first things I suggested is that we give up our rented space, purge most of our belongings, and spill into the streets. That was the beginning of The Dale.

Near the beginning of my career I developed a friendship with someone who had spent most of their teenage years and twenties living outdoors. I distinctly remember their shock that I didn’t carry basic necessities at all times: “what do you mean you don’t have what you need in your bag?!” For this person, survival required forethought. The gift of that lesson still resonates with me, and most definitely impacted The Dale’s ability to become a community without walls. Though I admittedly don’t carry everything I could, I do have the following with me at all times: a pencil case, a tiny stapler, post-it notes, paperclips, scissors, a laptop, a USB, a backup drive, two files for active paper work, stamps, envelopes, and screen cleaner. I also have three American dollars tucked away, bills that were a gift from someone when things were especially desperate. I recall making the decision to place them in our petty cash so that should things get even more desperate we would have it to exchange and use as a last hurrah. They remind me to never take for granted what it means to live on the edge AND how far we have come.

Today I set up a printer in our new-to-us office. Yes, our OFFICE. The space became available to us in the building that has housed us since the beginning of the pandemic. It might not be a long-term thing, but it is a thing right now. Even as I write this, it all feels surreal. It is a surprisingly bright, basement room that we are able to make our own. We have even been gifted WIFI access by other tenants in the building. Grace upon grace.

I often share that the decision to become a nomadic community, a choice born out of crisis, has become one of our greatest gifts. Our people, who in large part understand what it means to be transient, gave us the courage to step out in faith and have taught us so much along the way. With their help, The Dale has come to more fully inhabit the neighbourhood of Parkdale. We have partnerships with a wonderful variety of organizations. By keeping our overhead costs extremely low, we can pour our resources into our programming and directly impact our community. Over the years we have slowly yet steadily grown, not unlike a phoenix rising from the ashes. When I step back and try to take it all in, I am filled with gratitude and awe.

I don’t think I will ever stop carrying my office in a backpack. I used all of the familiar contents today at the new desk, but I didn’t leave them there- I put them back in my bag, thinking again of my friend’s counsel to stay prepared. The Dale needs to remain nimble. If anything, having an office hopefully just increases our agility. Now we have a place to stash our backpacks while we stay spilled out in the neighbourhood. As one person once said about where to find The Dale, “just look for them on the street, natch.” May that continue to be the expectation.

A Year in Review

It is always a challenge to capture and share everything that happens at The Dale. I think though that our 2020 Annual Report tells a compelling story, one of resilience and hope in the midst of a pandemic. The Dale is a group effort. To everyone who is a part of it: our core community, staff, Board, partners, volunteers, donors, supporters- THANK YOU. The Dale is a group effort. Together we are building something special that is transformative for a lot of people, including me.