To top
21 Aug

Boarding the House

While HBM is off cavorting in an RV with Clark and Ellen Griswold, I was invited to blog sit. I think she’s hoping one of her squatters will pitch in to finish off that bathroom. Although I am usually her helpful friend with the jazz hands and the chocolate, renovations aren’t really my shtick. I’d rather hang with the old pirate across the street.

In fact, I’m thinking of inviting him over to my ‘hood to mess with the neighbours.

I could have used a colourful pirate last night when my door bell rang. The sound of that sing-songy chime usually means someone is selling something or asking for a donation, and I am wholly incapable of saying no. I have been known to dive for cover to the floor and pretend no one is home. But if I open the door, I am a goner.

Last night was a little different.

On my front steps, was a well-coiffed man in his 30’s with better eyebrows than I could ever aspire to. He stood there demure and friendly, in his carefully pressed shirt and argyle vest (yes vest), and introduced himself as a fellow resident of our street.

We live in a very gentrified, trendy, smallish neighbourhood in the center of the city.

The perimeter is surrounded by an eclectic and culturally diverse mix of restaurants and neighbours. We also border the city’s largest subsidized housing complex and live along side daily reminders of the poverty, homelessness and significant urban challenges that Toronto faces. At the very end of our street, where our pristine ‘hood ends and the city begins, sit two boarding houses screaming for a coat of paint. They are always full, sometimes noisy, and often spill onto the porch and out to the sidewalk. In a city with a serious lack of affordable housing, it is a much needed option for those who stay there.

My visitor lives at that end of our street and nearish the boarding houses. He is not a fan. He is so not a fan that he’s been talking to city councilors about getting the rooming houses’ license revoked. He’s now going door-to-door and charming the neighbours into signing a petition to support his quest. And he’s done well. There were pages and pages of willing names.

But I am not always as easy as I look. Heh.

I wanted to understand why he wanted to shut down the houses. I mean, I knew why. I just needed to hear him say it. Would he really tell me it was to preserve his property value? He was quick to point out that he “wasn’t exactly against rooming houses per se”. He just didn’t like these particular ones because they were full of “crack dealers” and “prostitutes”. I was enjoying his verbal waltz and wanted to see where he’d take it so I probed further. Did he want to get the rooming houses closed down or just the resident profile “cleaned up”? Well, of course, he simply wanted “what was best for the community”.

Whose community? His community or the community of people who called this boarding house their home?

When I told him I worked in a social services organization and was sensitive to the challenges that those residents faced, he changed his tune. His waltz effortlessly transformed to a smooth tango. He offered stories of frightening interactions. He asked if I was a mother. He asked if I owned my home or rented. And, sure, I’ll concede as a home owner and as a mother, it would be in my best interest to have this boarding house boarded up.

But what about the other sides of who I am? Do they take a back seat? Should they take a back seat in favour of protecting my child from “crack dealers” and “prostitutes”? Because my prolific visitor was right. That is the vocational demographic of the address in question.

Each person in that house has a story that led them there. Each one has a right to that roof regardless of their “crack dealer” or “prostitute” label. Keeping “them” out of sight may make life tidier, but is it something I should sign up for?

He chose his words carefully and finished off with a grand cha-cha-cha before offering me his clipboard to sign the petition. His clipboard filled with names of all my neighbours who cared about their children and who understood the importance of property value. Their names all neatly autographed in support of our community.

I stood there with his pen and looked him softly in the eye. And I wondered, what would you do, lovely internets? Seriously. What would you have done? As a parent, are we obliged to scrub clean every inch of our child’s environment regardless of who else it affects?


When she is not squatting at Her Bad Mother’s ‘hood, Sandra messes with the neighbours at her own blog. She also joins HBM at BlogHers Act Canada, where yesterday we got nekkid to announce the results of the enviro-vote. Check it out.