Archives for posts with tag: Parkdale

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.

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. 

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.

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.

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of another year. As I reflect on all that has transpired during 2020, I am filled with a variety of emotions, ranging from sadness to joy, anxiety to peace, and everything in between. Overwhelmingly though, I feel a sense of gratitude. As a community we have remained intact despite the distance. We have leaned in to the opportunity to creatively address the limitations of COVID-19. There have been tears shed and laughs shared, our refrain often being, “we’re making it work!” or “we’re doing it!”

One constant has been change. We have needed to pivot more than once. Our set-up for giving out meals has been tweaked and then tweaked some more. Meagan has returned from her mat leave. Olivia got married. And most recently, Pete completed his contract with The Dale- we are grateful for and wish the best of things for Pete and his family during this time of transition.

As much as I love finding the words to describe the journey The Dale has and continues to be on, I think pictures can really help bring it to life. This is a vibrant place, one that is nurtured through the support of a very broad network of people. These pictures might be familiar to you, or maybe this is a first glimpse into the neighbourhood. Either way, I invite you to take a look.

Monday Lunch
Prepping meals and groceries for the community
Sunday
Ross and Sheila (not pictured) getting ready to help with deliveries
A community member’s first garden since being recently housed
Friends
Thursday Breakfast
The Dale Devotional- The Beatitudes
Jahn’s Memorial
Let’s do it
Rose
Where many friends are currently living
Pete, Meagan, Erinn, Joanna, Olivia

One thing I try to practice is keeping a gratitude journal. Years ago, I found a little hard cover book (if you saw it on a shelf, you’d think it was a novel) with the title, “The Heart Talks”, that I write in regularly. During this pandemic I have found it especially important for me to consider the things for which I’m thankful. I think that’s why I really appreciate John Krasinski’s Some Good News or SGN show that he’s doing from his home. So, here’s SGN from my world, including The Dale front.

On a recent Thursday, a person came to get a bagged breakfast from us. While a good size meal- it included a fried egg and bacon English muffin sandwich, one banana, one tomato, a yogurt cup, a granola bar and a cookie- it was definitely made for one person. Joanna later discovered our friend sharing this breakfast with two other people, all three of whom are living outside. Fortunately we had more food to share, but felt extremely moved by this example of generosity.

A couple who live close by and are currently unemployed due to COVID, have volunteered to make deliveries of groceries and prepared meals to community members every Monday. Thank you, Sheila and Ross! On top of this, Sheila is making and selling earrings, the proceeds of which go to The Dale (message me if you are interested).

There is a boy, I would guess 10 years old, who I see walking nearly every morning now as I leave to go to work. He is ALWAYS singing. He seems happily in his own world, quietly singing made up songs for his own enjoyment. Without knowing it, he helps me start the day with a smile.

A Dale friend has started to make the most amazing sculptures out of plastic cutlery. I don’t think this picture does them justice, but if you look closely you will see an intricate dinosaur and another animal. This person is gentle, quiet, creative, and resilient. If you notice him panning in Parkdale, please offer some support.

Our daughter Cate is perennially optimistic, and this is no different right now. Not that there haven’t been moments of sadness over things lost- there have been. It’s just that Cate finds things to celebrate: building a fort in her room, watching a movie projected on a sheet, painting watercolour postcards, getting all of her laundry done. Cate’s genuine zeal for life is something I am thankful for.

I am grateful for food to distribute, and a place to have people safely line up to get it. I am grateful for the conversations we can have, even two metres apart.

As some might recall, we had to do a major renovation in order to make our home accessible for Dion. It was completed last year. Over the course of all that work our little front yard took a major beating, so much so I would have been surprised if anything sprung up out of the ground this spring. There is a solitary tulip that is pushing its way through the ground right now. Something about that gives me hope. Things might be upside-down, and yet there is new life pulsating out of it.

Some good news.

The landscape of Parkdale is changing, as is the city of Toronto on the whole. What I notice most is the number of condos being built in places where things like storefronts or churches used to sit. Maybe less visible if you don’t know what they look like are the rooming houses that are being renovated back into single-family dwellings. A shocking number of people are being priced out of housing and ultimately displaced from what was previously their home. The impact on The Dale community is real.

I find the corner of King and Dufferin maybe the most jarring change. The land is being levelled, including the McDonald’s, in order to make room for XO Condos. While I know that McDonald’s is its own form of capitalism, this location managed to become a community hub of sorts. Imagine if you had very little money in your pocket, possibly living in a shelter or outside- where else could you easily use a washroom and buy an inexpensive cup of coffee or refillable drink? This restaurant had its challenges for sure, but the figurative hole left by its demolition is substantial.

Nearly two weeks ago, the Coffee Time on Queen Street closed its doors. The next day it was an empty space and the sign was down. Similar to McDonald’s, Coffee Time was like a living room for people. As my co-worker Joanna Moon shared in a recent blog of her own, Coffee Time was “a regular stop on our Wednesday night outreach walks, because we knew that our folks from The Dale found it to be a welcoming and non-judgemental space to spend a few hours out of the cold.” In addition, Coffee Time repeatedly extended hospitality to The Dale by allowing us to gather for Bible Study, play games and even sing carols.

For many, a McDonald’s or Coffee Time would be considered a “third place”, a place to gather outside of our homes and workplaces. For most people at The Dale, these were considered a second place, and even a first. We all need places to gather. I would argue that we need more places that honour the diversity of our neighbourhoods and create room for all people. 541 Eatery & Exchange in Hamilton is a good example: a non-profit café where you can pay-it-forward by turning dollars into buttons. Buttons can be used to buy a good meal, which not only helps feed those who need help paying, but also nurtures the kind of diverse community I am talking about, by inviting all around a table.

I know that development is inevitable. I also believe that development which does not lead to displacement is possible. The cost of housing in Toronto is ridiculously high. People who arguably sit in the upper middle class talk about not being able to afford it. If your income is $1000 or less per month (which it is for many people at The Dale), housing becomes difficult to sustain, or simply out of reach. One of my hopes is that Inclusionary Zoning- that is, requiring new residential developments to include affordable housing units, will be actively engaged.

I recently talked with a friend who, along with many others was illegally evicted out of a building in Parkdale. I was amazed at how upbeat he remains: “we’re going to fight this as a group. This has always been my home. They are going to have to do a lot worse to make me leave”. We went on to talk about our shared experience of growing up in the city, a place that is admittedly rife with challenges, but also pulsating with a lot of life. We chatted over a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons, a first/second and third place that hopefully doesn’t soon disappear too.

Lately, I have been feeling reflective about the journey that has been The Dale. It was nearly seven years ago that we gave up our leased space and became a nomadic community. At the time (and maybe still) many thought it a crazy decision on my part. I could feel the skepticism. I don’t think anyone wanted us to fail, I just think some wondered how it could possibly work.

I remember being scared for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the thought of messing things up. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to close down and yet I knew that to be a very real possibility. It seemed wise to set markers in the first year, ones that if not met would signal the plan wasn’t working. Looking back, I am struck by how often we were surprised by grace, again and again experiencing unexpected provision.

I know that God invited me to step in to a role that I would never have considered myself for. I felt inadequate and strangely determined. Fortunately, I was and continue to be surrounded and supported by my family, a Board, and our precious community. I continue to learn from Jesus’ example that to lead I must serve, a posture that is messy, challenging and necessary to choose repeatedly.

At my ordination examining council a community member said, “Erinn is no stranger to suffering, and so she can walk with us”. What a relief that I get to be a part of a community where that is valued. I don’t need to pretend that everything is easy, when everything is not. Together we are discovering what it means to lament well, to practice gratitude, to engage in prayer, to feast together, to admit our failures, to apologize and forgive, and to be transformed by God.

Last week The Dale led a workshop at Assembly, the annual gathering of our denomination. During the debrief time near the end, I sat at the front alongside our team: Joanna, Meagan, Pete, and our two interns, Jan and David. Six of us. Even as I type that I have to stop and take it in. Seven years ago, I was alone. I can’t help but weep tears of wonder.

It is a privilege to be a participant in the work of The Dale. Thank you to everyone, past and present, who has been a part of the journey. I have tucked our many stories in my heart and love knowing that there are countless more to come.

The Dale has no walls of its own, unless you count the tiny post office box we rent. This does not mean we place a low value on buildings. Quite the contrary. We rely on the hospitality of buildings throughout Parkdale and even one outside of its borders to host our gatherings and do administrative work. We also understand that connecting well with our community means being outside, noticing people in coffee shops, and visiting those who are bound to home or hospital. We are nomads with a schedule.

The challenge in this is creating spaces that. though they are not our own, feel like The Dale. Seemingly little things help: using our own plates, mugs and cutlery on Mondays; placing the Scrabble board on the table at the Thrift Store; setting the communion table with our stole, a candle holder donated by a community member, a brass plate for the bread, and our cups. People notice if these items are missing.

These material contents (however few and important they might be), are not what primarily what make our spaces home-like. I think the transition to calling something home happens when we start to think of a space as “ours”. The Dale is its people. However chaotic or calm our spaces might be, we try to inhabit them in a way that fosters a sense of peace, safety, and respect.

Making the decision to give notice and spill into the street in 2012 was never made lightly. I recall how important it was for the community to grieve the loss of our space, especially considering that many people had no other place to call home. What it gave rise to is the recognition that we are not limited to our walls.

Now we gently live in the tension of needing buildings and being without one of our own. This has been our reality for nearly six years. As we face a new year, I want to acknowledge the importance of space, express gratitude for all of our building partners and the neighbourhood of Parkdale and honour our community members who make The Dale (whatever space we might be in) feel like home.

When I pause to reflect on the last year at The Dale, it’s the seemingly little moments that keep popping into my head. In work like ours, it is easy to want to share the big successes: this person was living outside and now is housed; we served x amount of meals over the course of twelve months, and so on. While such stories are amazing and obvious evidence of the validity of this work, there is much beauty in the everyday grind of being a community. 

“Tom” is one of the quietest people I know. When he speaks it is usually to ask for a coffee, or to say a quick hello. There is something very meek about Tom: he tends to keep his head down, his small stature hidden with a too-large coat. At a recent drop-in, he was sitting at the end of the table listening, but not engaging with the chatter around him, until something struck him as funny. Hearing Tom laugh (for the first time in the many years I have known him) made my heart swell. At the end of the gathering, he followed me, Joanna and Meagan outside. As I hugged my colleagues good-bye, Tom held open his arms and cautiously moved toward me: “Erinn, hug”- another first. 

“Clare” came in to our Monday Drop-In while we were just about finished with clean-up. Newer to The Dale, she was encouraged to come, mostly because everything she owned was drenched and needed something dry to wear before returning to her shelter bed. Our clothing supply fluctuates, but on this particular day someone had dropped off a huge amount of women’s clothing which still lay in a heap. Clare proceeded to fold every piece of clothing, carefully choosing a few things for herself, but not before handing me things that she was sure “would fit and look great on so and so”. She managed to take care of herself, our clothing room AND others in less than twenty-five minutes. 

He walked in to the Sunday service already upset, nearly poised for a fight. The first person to greet him unwittingly managed to trigger the anger further. I felt a lump in my throat at the prospect of a service that might feel on edge. I encouraged the two to honour each other’s space and proceeded to busy myself with set-up. After a few opening songs I invited everyone to stand for the passing of the peace, an opportunity to greet one another with either a handshake, a wave, a hug or even an elbow-bump (whatever is best for each person). I watched in amazement as the two people, so angry and sad at the beginning, apologized to one another and embraced. The tension that had been so thick suddenly dissipated and we continued with another song. 

There are so many stories I want to tell you about, like: the two street-weary men who call themselves uncles to my Cate and love to give her gifts, especially chocolate bars; the look of glee on our friend’s face when we managed to find a mobility scooter for him, replacing a terribly unsafe, wobbly walker; the woman who comes and shares her tears generously with us, and the man who quietly notices and finds Kleenex to dry them; the friend who is discovering that no matter how many times he falls off the wagon, he is loved by us, not shunned; the privilege we feel when someone allows us into their home to help ready it for an inspection by the landlord; what it feels like to have a community that allows me to share my own struggles. 

In 2018 at The Dale we have said goodbye to friends and grieved their absence, protested injustice and advocated for our community, walked Queen Street West countless times, partnered with numerous organizations, fought with and forgiven one another (or are working on it), made and eaten a LOT of meals together, and sought to create spaces that are safe and respectful. We are slowly, bit by bit, learning what it means to love God and love our neighbor. It is hard, messy, and wonderful. 

There is joy in this journey. 

Breakfast and Art Drop-In at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre


Service of Ordination at ESM 


Second Harvest Agency Cookbook, featuring Souad Sharabani’s recipe and The Dale

 
Part of The Dale’s Ride for Refuge Team

 
Baptism in Lake Ontario


Monday Drop-In at BPC


Our summer interns, Ahmeda (centre) and Olivia (right)


The Dale Fall Retreat, Camp Koinonia


Carolling in Parkdale


The “Dale Girls”


New freedom!