What’s my greatest strength? My mouth. Like breathing, I never hold back from exposing the truth. I speak my mind, speak from my heart, and speak with my feet planted on the ground. As an active representative of my Moss Park community, I fight for improvements to be made in our Toronto Community Housing Corporation building, and to have resident’s voices heard in the proposed developments in this very rapidly changing neighbourhood. I have represented my community, speaking in rooms filled with City Councillors, written to the Mayor of Toronto to advocate for secure funding for housing, and encouraged other tenants to be empowered, to come together, and bring forward their issues and concerns. Most recently, I have presented to the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee to give my point of view on housing availability and what I would like to see changed. As you can see, I am not afraid to raise my voice and have my rights, and the rights of my community, heard by those at “the top”.
People wonder how I became involved as a community activist. It started over twenty years ago. At that time I wasn’t involved in my community, staying home alone, with no connections to anyone. Following advice from my sister, I was encouraged to attend a local community drop in at the Adelaide Resource Centre for Women. In doing so, I experienced so much change. I felt a sense of belonging and support from staff and other guests of the drop in. I learned about available resources in my community and met so many caring people. I became more motivated, and started to volunteer at a local clothing room and hospital. Through my volunteering, I met a housing services worker who encouraged me to become a Tenant Representative with Toronto Community Housing Corporation. I readily accepted this opportunity and challenge. I had lived in my Toronto Community Housing Corporation building since 1988, having moved in my late 30’s. In this role, I had to learn many things quickly, like how to type and take notes. I felt a strong motivation to support my community and those I met who also struggled with not having enough money, food or clothing, and providing them with useful advice, referrals, and sharing the knowledge that I had learned as a dedicated volunteer.
As of now, I have been a Toronto Community Housing Corporation tenant representative for over 9 years, and along with volunteering with local agencies in my community, balancing my community development work with volunteering and paid employment can be a struggle. I feel like an elastic band, stretched to balance my education, attending classes to upgrade my literacy skills at the Street Haven Learning Centre, with my volunteer work 3 days a week and my responsibilities as a tenant rep, with my paid job cleaning homes. My job doesn’t pay well, but with a grade 9 education and the constraints of earning and saving money while on Ontario Works, the opportunities available to me for paid work are limited. Despite the barriers that I face, I always achieve what I set out to do. Of course, I had assistance along the way – the community agencies I volunteer with and their staff provide information, advice, and resources. Working with an Out of the Cold Program, a volunteer run initiative that provides relief for those facing homelessness and housing insecurity during the cold, hard winters, I wash dishes, clean tables, and help to prepare, serve, and clean up. When I am not doing that, I am helping to organize the annual Moss Park Festival with community members, or am actively involved in a local citizens’ action committee, meeting with other members, local councillors and Members of Provincial Parliament at Queen’s Park to discuss changes to housing, and campaigning for poverty reduction strategies.
Building these connections and relationships with community members is important in my situation, where having the means to buy whatever I need, pay market rent and chose what building I live in is not a possibility. It is these supportive relationships with others in my community that I rely on, and contribute to. For example, I do not have a computer and find typing difficult, and yet I have an email address and regularly send and receive emails for my community work. This is because I use the facilities of the agencies I visit. If I need to send an email I will ask friends to transcribe my messages for me. It’s not easy when you rely on people and need someone else’s hands and fingers to do work for you. In turn, I give back by volunteering, building relationships by doing so. If I didn’t have these supportive relationships, I wouldn’t have the resources to get by. It is these relationships that are so important, to give back and build community. I get out there, I meet people. I like being engaged and speaking up for the rights of those in my building and community. It can be tiring and it can wear you down. That’s when I remind myself of what is important, and it is the tenants first. My community is my Toronto Community Housing Corporation building in Moss Park. We are the ones fighting for renovations and maintenance issues in the building to be looked after. We are the ones who have built the web of relationships with each other to build a sense of engagement in our community. We argue for the elevators to be repaired, or for the lights to be replaced in the building. Sometimes it feels like the politicians are not listening. What I have learned is to never give up, as long as you have the ability to put yourself out here, be strong in what you believe in and keep fighting if you feel that passion. Despite the barriers I face, I will continue to build relationships with my peers and push for better living conditions for my community. Don’t ever be shy to follow your goals, to share with others your advice and knowledge, or to fight. Speaking from my experience, this goes a long way. You always have a voice, and no one can take that away from you.
YOU CAN HELP!