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HUMANIZING THE DEHUMANIZED

Putting Faces To A Plan

Submitted by Christine Whelan

Photo by Christine Whelan

JUNE 10, 2021 VOL. 2 ISSUE 21

My intention was to continue writing the facts of this situation but as I learned more, I realized I needed to take a very important moment first. There are stories here that need to be told.

.   While the Bedford Properties and Estates Ltd. website shows that the listed apartments in 323 Niagara Boulevard, the ones that are currently empty, have a waiting list of people interested in moving in, those who have lived in the building for years, are not only being forced out, but they feel as they have been dehumanized.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, dehumanize is to deprive of positive human qualities, as in the example given, “brutal management methods and fear can dehumanize people”.

Michelle Maiese, the Chair of the Philosophy Department at Emmanuel College defines dehumanization as “a psychological process, making another seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment. The process usually starts with words.”

Today, we are humanizing the dehumanized.

Our First Meeting

I first met with a small group of residents on the driveway of the apartment building one evening, coordinated by a resident who initially contacted the paper. I introduced myself and passed around a notepad and pen, asking if anyone wanted to be interviewed, to write their names and numbers on my notepad. There were eight names written down.

I then met with this courageous group of people individually, to listen to each one tell their story. Every story was different. I was shown paperwork, lists and written notes. I was given several tours of apartments and provided with photos to show that most of the apartments were in good shape, some requiring minor work, but little, it appeared, that would require the tenants to move out.

Between what the N13 forms and the RenovictionsTO Know Your Rights website state, the tenants are facing the following options.

  • Leaving their homes by a first date provided on their N13, accepting an amount equalling three months’ rent
  • Leaving their homes by an earlier, a second date, accepting a cheque for the amount of $4,000
  • Leaving during the time period of renovations, which has been, across the board so far, stated at seven months’ time, and returning to rent at the new, raised price
  • Leaving during the time period of renovations, which has been, across the board so far, stated at seven months’ time, and returning to fight for maintaining their same rent
  • Stay put and fight for their homes.

Carolyn

Carolyn has lived in the building eight years. As of the day I met with her, she’d not been served.

When asked how she is feeling about getting served, “I’m a little anxious about when I do get served.” Even now that she knows she has choices after learning about the Renovictions TO Know Your Rights webpage, she says its still scary to have to go through a fight for her home.

“What really bothers me is that people were served outside, in front of other people. That, I think, is so wrong.” She only hopes, when her time comes, it happens to be in the privacy of her doorstep.

Carolyn has been considering the option of leaving for the time of renovations and returning. “I called the Land Tenant Board, and they said these people cannot raise the rent if I choose to come back after renovations.”

Desy

While chatting with Carolyn, her friend and co-resident walked in. Desy is a 73-year-old on a pension.

“In three months, I’m going to be sleeping across the street in a tent,” referring to the Niagara Parks grounds.

When asked if he signed the papers, “No. My nephew has my papers.” He received them May 20, but he can’t read or write so he doesn’t know what the papers say for himself.

Desy says he plans on leaving this all behind and starting over again. His son started looking for an apartment for him, but he added discouragingly, “I can’t afford what is out there.”

Ed

Edhas lived in the building for five years and was served with his papers May 5. His first date is September 30 and his second, $4,000 date is July 31.

“I lived with my mother basically all my life until she went into a nursing home and I went on my own as of May 1, 2016, when I moved in here.” This is the first experience Ed has had being on his own.

“I took care of my mother and her brother for 22 years.”

When I asked Ed what his plan was, “I applied for Niagara Regional Housing, claiming an ‘Urgent’ and ‘Homeless’ status. But in town, there just isn’t anything. I have looked. I was looking for rent geared to income.” And he will continue to look.

“Until September 31, currently my plans are to stay here, to continue paying my rent, doing my thing, and living my life as usual as long as I possibly can.” Ed had been directed to call the Niagara Community Legal Clinic. “I was told that I do have to provide a written letter to them (property management) of my intent.”

We talked about the options laid out in front of him and the mental anguish. “There’s mental anguish in sticking it out and living in this environment, yes. But there’s also the mental anguish in moving. Because my mother is alive and well in the nursing home in this town, I’m staying around here as long as I possibly can.”

We talked more about September 31. “This is the great unknown. We don’t know what is going to happen after that date.”

Doug

Doug has lived in the building for four years. He is now 75 years old. He got his N13 form May 26. Like Ed, his first eviction date is September 30 and his $4,000 date is July 31.

As Carolyn mentioned, Doug told me how he was outside, with other people standing around him. “Dave just walked up to me, handed me the papers in front of others. He just said, here ya go. And walked away.”

Doug was referring to David Mitchell, the on-site employee who has been working at the building for about a year now, continuing on after the change in ownership, now working for Bedford Properties.

Doug explained how things were done before the change in ownership. “When people moved out, places were fixed up before renting again, while they are empty.” And about the general maintenance and upkeep, “The basics were done. It was worked out so that people could continue to stay here for reasonable rent.”

Adding his personal thought, “Other than Dave, you never see any employees or property management down here because they don’t want to put faces to the plan.”

He shared his relief of family support. “My daughter is calling a lawyer from the website RenovictionsTO Know Your Rights, you know, at the community legal clinic.

Doug no longer drives. He chooses now to ride his bike. “It’s the best thing I ever did. I’m in the best shape now then I ever was. And the bus is here. If I could find a reasonable place in a good location, like close to Sobeys, I would go. I would take the four grand and use that for my moving and go.” He is being open to options that may come up.

“Everybody’s got hearsay,” talking about the confusion on what is true information about what is happening at 323 Niagara Boulevard and what is not.We talked about the importance of having a clear, consistent set of facts for everyone to work with so they can make the best decisions for themselves.

Lee

Lee has worked hard her whole life and was hoping this was going to be her time, her place, to stop. It was finally time to relax, she thought.

The 75-year-old has not received her N13 yet but is aware she could get one any day, at any time, in any way, as others have.

When asked how she felt knowing this, she replied, “The stress is terrible. I broke out in Shingles a couple weeks ago. I suffered with it for a while, then I finally got so desperate, I had the druggist call my doctor’s office and ask him for something for it. That finally started easing it up.” Lee showed me her healing back.

When I asked Lee what her plan is for herself. “Right now, I’m staying right put.”

We talked about the different choices that are being made in response to each resident receiving their N13 package and, while it’s each person’s right to make the choice that is right for them, Lee stated it makes things harder for each as they feel like they are walking their paths alone.

“But I’m still standing my ground. I’m staying put,” Lee expressed, determined.

Hank

Hank has COPD and 30% lung function. As well, he had a motor vehicle accident that had resulted in Hank’s now having a pelvic plate with six three-inch screws, another plate in his leg with eight three-inch screws and another screw in his ankle.

“In addition to the physical infirmities, which result in a chronic pain condition, I’ve been on narcotic pain relief since 1986. I suffer from high blood pressure. It all requires medication.”

We talked about his time in the building. “I moved in June of 2013. My mom moved in first. I moved in two weeks later.”

Hank shared memories about his mom. “I spent the last eight years caring for her. I made her meals, did her laundry.”

Hank’s mom passed away on March 6. She had a brain tumour. He received his “eviction notice”, his N13 form, April 14. “I was still attending to her affairs. I was grieving emotionally. Trying to get someone to do her taxes.”

His mother’s name was on the N13 form, as if she were still a tenant.

“Now that she’s gone, I miss her dearly.” He slowly reached behind him, to the end table, and patted the box gently. “She’s right here.”

Hank explained. “She was born in Ohsweken, on the reserve, in 1935. It was her fervent wish that when she passed, she would be able to pass on the reserve, where she was born.

“This past December, we applied for an elder’s rental unit on the reserve. I have a document here,” pulling it out of his file, “telling me it could take two to three years for a unit to become available. I have another document that shows me they have put me on the list.”

Hank turned 67 years old the day before our interview. “Bobbi and her boyfriend threw me a wonderful party.” He talked about his friendship with Bobbi and a couple other residents. “They are really the only ones I associate with,” fondly describing their weekly euchre nights.

He’s on a pension. “Although remaining here was going to be tight, it was something I could afford. It was in my means.”

Hank has explained to building management, after feeling the push by two of them to take the $4,000 cheque, that he needs one, maybe two years while waiting for an elder’s unit in Six Nations.”

And as he wound down, “Unbeknownst to them, I had already applied to leave here. Partially it was because it was my mother’s wishes to return to the reserve.”

Michael

Michael is an 84-year-old musician originally from Newfoundland. He told his story about how he had cancer six years ago and then treatment that followed, leaving Michael, while thankfully cancer-free, with limitations.

Michael’s story ends with a blessing; a small and perfectly timed miracle, really. “The March of Dimes got ahold of my name from the hospital. They called me one day and asked me if I was having any assistance from anyone in the community. I said, no. Now I get assistance at home twice a week.”

He continued, “I just happened to mention to one of these ladies about the evictions. Afterwards, I got a phone call from the March of Dimes saying, ‘We have an apartment available in St. Catharines. It’s empty and you can apply for it.’ Another lady came and we filled out the application. It went in. I just got a letter yesterday. They have approved my application, and asked when I could move in.”

Michael’s moving date is June 15th. “It really took a load off my mind. I’ve never, in my life, experienced anything like this. It was really terrifying.” He added, “My heart goes out to Hank.” He looked over at his friend, sitting next to him at the table.

“For the people who choose to stay here, there are things they are going to have to deal with, so it’s going to be uncomfortable.”

Bobbi

Bobbi is one of the younger residents. She has employment away from the building each day. I met with this resident, along with Hank and Michael.

“My role here is, someone who has resources to deal with these bullies and is willing to protect those who don’t. And I’m not hiding the fact. If there is anyone other than my close friends here, Hank and Michael, who want support, is being bullied and needing protection, I’m willing to protect them.”

She added, “I want the people who are doing this to know that we will push back.”

Bobbi plans to move out August 1st but does not plan on ending her stance of having the other residents’ backs.

She is concerned about Hank, especially after she leaves. She respects his choice to stick it out at this point. “And if we get to a point where Hank says, ok we make a different plan, then we make a different plan. Whatever can get Hank healthier and happier than he is right now, is the plan.

“But now, things have changed. I’m moving out. And Hank is vulnerable. I can protect him in court and I can protect him when I’m here. But I won’t be here all the time.

“I was talking with Hank about Michael getting his placement the other day. I sent him some information because he was inquiring about it. I said, ‘I know your heart wants to stay here and then take your mom and go to the reserve. I’m willing to fight for that and I will protect you and we’ll get that done.'”

Bobbi looked at me and assured, “And I’m willing to take it right to the end.”

Commenting about the daily stress, “It’s hard right now, whether you have plans or you don’t, no one is leaving tomorrow.”

Hank spoke up after listening to others around the table talk about his being vulnerable. Looking at me, “Ya know Christine, this is all so new to me. I’m not used to feeling so vulnerable.”

Michael spoke up as well, “I know that feeling. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.”

Hank continued, “I used to drive a bus for Greyhound. I’ve never in my life found myself so weak as I find myself now. And it’s troublesome.”

Hank shared that he’s started seeing a counsellor in Fort Erie. “They have been supportive. Bobbi has been supportive. And I am very appreciative.”

AND THERE ARE OTHERS

There are a few who have decided to take the $4,000. They are already gone. One woman recently took the cheque because, as more than one resident has shared, she was repeatedly harassed and was worn down into accepting that option. Another resident decided to take the money and used it in a down payment for a house.

Others are still in the building, waiting. There are people who could not meet on the driveway that first evening. They couldn’t make it out of the building because of disabilities. There is a woman within who requires her husband to bring the car around to the front door for her. She cannot make it to the parking lot.

Many residents are on a fixed monthly income. Many have never lived out of the Fort Erie area and now are having to look at the reality of having to move to a different town, one they don’t know, starting over in their 70s and 80s.

When asked, what is the overall goal, the message, the feel of their world, they responded, “Get out!” They feel that the goal is, by any means, to get them out. “We are nothing. We’re in the way.”

The legal clinic is advising to simply, “Pay your rent and live your life.”

Read Part 3 in the next edition when I go in search of finding out the other side of this story.

There are no upcoming events at this time.