Almost immediately after I scored my job in Toronto in October last year, I went straight onto Craigslist to look for a shared apartment to live in. Prior to that I surfed a handful of hostels and cheap hotels around various parts of the city for two weeks, waiting on that elusive moment where I secured a local income and could afford to pay rent. I was super keen on finding somewhere to live in this exciting new city and couldn’t wait to finally have my own private room, with access to a half decent kitchen.
And indeed I found somewhere. Surprisingly quickly. I responded to one ad, viewed the room that evening, and moved in the following day. Now, it wasn’t the nicest apartment in the world – I could tell from the outset that it was to be the overall dodgiest dwelling I’ve ever resided in. But I couldn’t fault its location on the outskirts of the beautiful Kensington Market, not to mention a bunch of awesome flatmates who quickly became good friends, and my comfortable little room which kept me hell warm during the frosty winter months. Aside from our shifty landlord and the feeble wifi network that was often unusable for weeks at a time, I couldn’t really complain.
Everything was going more or less ok at my pad on Dundas West & Augusta until Tuesday last week.
I was on my way out for the evening to see a Pete Murray gig, when I was greeted at the front door by around 15 people all looking very serious and official. There were a few from the fire department, a few from the council and a few from the Red Cross. A lady introduced herself and in no uncertain terms told me the city had no choice but to close down the building due to safety concerns. I was instructed to go back upstairs, pack myself a change of clothes and find a friend to stay with. If I didn’t have a friend to stay with, I could talk to the Red Cross and they’d be able to put me up for the night at a community centre somewhere. I was told the building would be open the following day between 10am and 4pm with the fire department in attendance, and everyone who lived here had those hours only to pack their stuff and get out.
Everything changed in that moment.
One second, you think you’re piecing your life together, then the next, your whole apartment gets evicted immediately & without notice and you realise you’re homeless.
I don’t know exactly how many people lived there, but at a guess I would say at least 40 of us lost our home that night.
I studied the eviction notice and found the building severely failed an inspection, which happened a couple of days beforehand:
1. The building was not designed or approved to be used as a rooming house
2. Fire safety systems in accordance with Division B Section 9.3 are not in place. Equipment such as a fire alarm system, emergency lighting and exit signs have not been installed in accordance with the Ontario Fire Code.
3. The means of egress for occupants of the basement is an exit that is through the main floor retail store. This is neither a suitable nor an approved exit to allow occupants to quickly evacuate the building
4. There were numerous uses of temporary wiring (i.e. inappropriate use of extension cords) throughout the building
5. Cooking is being performed in areas not designed for food preparation on hot plates in several areas of the building
6. The electrical panel for the building has not been appropriately wired resulting in a potential electrical fire risk situation
7. The furnace rooms in basement and second floor lack appropriate fire separation as per the Ontario Fire Code
8. There are unrated storage rooms (containing textile rolls) and sleeping rooms within the corridors that are lacking the required fire separations as per the Ontario Fire Code
9. Lacking approved fire safety plan and posted emergency procedures
In other words: if there had been a fire, we all would have died.
I heard from one of the tenants who lived in the basement that the conditions downstairs were extremely cramped & unsafe – and he shared the space with 24 other people. I had no idea about that.
As painful as it was for everyone, it was clearly for the best that the place got shut down before tragedy struck.
Thankfully, a very kind friend was able to put me up at her house that night. I probably would have slept in a park if it wasn’t for that.
I returned to the apartment the next morning. The Red Cross (who did an AMAZING job at helping us all, by the way) had found emergency accommodation for up to 2 weeks for anyone who needed it at a hotel near the airport in Mississauga, around 30km east of Toronto. But I can tell you this much: if I had to live in Mississauga, I would have just headed straight to the airport and caught the next plane back to Australia. It wasn’t an option.
By a stroke of good fortune, I found out through a friend about a summer hostel in the city that offered single rooms at a monthly rate. I booked a room straight away and spent the day moving my gear across on the tram into this building where I remain today. It’s far from ideal, but it’ll do for now. I have accommodation sorted for August thanks to another kind friend who is letting me rent her room while she’s away. I have no idea what will eventuate come September.
So here I am, nearly 10 months into my Canadian adventure, homeless, broke, single, about to turn 30 and feeling generally dejected and infuriated towards my ex-landlord for putting so many people in this situation. This is not quite what I had in mind.
But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life throws these little pieces of shit at you every now & then but it really does make you appreciate the happy times even more, when they eventually come around again.
To everyone I’ve met and made friends with since I arrived (especially you hilariously beautiful people I work with), you’re the reason I’m still here. I bloody love you guys.
You may have evicted me from my house, Canada, but not yet from your country. Just you watch me turn this the hell around.