My sleepover in the community housing highlights the good and bad
Flemo holds place in my heart ever since
By Kris Scheuer
(Originally written for Town Crier Jan/5/06)
On Dec. 5, MPP Kathleen Wynne and I stayed over in the Toronto Community Housing (TCH) rent-gear-to-income apartment located in the heart of one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods.
When I got the tour of the TCH complex, where we were staying I quickly learned why the housing organization was seeking $224 million from the government to repair its 2,200 buildings across the city. Here in Flemingdon, which is southeast of Don Mills and Eglinton, one of the most dramatic needs is to fix the locks on the doors to the buildings and underground garages.
The building where we stayed had a busted front door lock, so anyone can enter the main entrance and congregate in the halls or worse. And this was not an anomaly. Other front and side entrance door locks were broken and so was the lock to the underground garage.
The housing manager John Martin said some gangs hang in this neighbourhood, so imagine having to walk by a drug deal as you make your way to your car or apartment unit?The apartment itself wasn’t bad though I could do without the cockroaches, overbearing heat (almost too hot to sleep) due to malfunctioning heating controllers that need to be replaced. I had to sleep with the window cracked open, which was a problem as the building is literally right beside the DVP with traffic zooming by all night long.
In an effort to learn more about “Flemo” I headed there before my scheduled official tour, so I could talk to some of the people that work and live there.
Here’s some of what I learned.
In the short time I was in this ‘hood, I met some very intelligent, articulate, passionate, community-minded and ambitious people.
There are the dedicated Flemingdon-born community outreach workers: Sheldon Francis, Mike Flash and youth supervisor Raymond Peter. All three are employed by the city at the Flemingdon Resource Centre, which is the hub of the community.
It’s the only community centre in the neighbourhood that has indoor recreation facilities and thanks to some forward thinking the city offers all programs for free.
It’s here that many of the youth congregate and these outreach workers are building trust and friendship with the local youth. Sure they get paid to do this, but they are mentors, counsellors and friends for the youth in the area.
And for those who think that doesn¹t make a difference, you only need to read the latest headlines to know how important this is. As of Dec. 30 there’s been 78 murders (52 gun-related homicides) and many of the victims and the accused are youth. This includes 27-year-old Tate Best, who was gunned down in August near a local townhouse complex on Rochefort Dr. just beside the Flemingdon Resource Centre.
I also met a strong willed Anglican minister, Betty Jordon.
“I choose to live here. I don’t have to,” said Jordon, who’s lived in Flemingdon for nine years. “I am discriminated against at the bank,” she adds because of her address. “Absolutely the address (Flemingdon) is a stigma.”
Some people in the city are afraid to come here, she adds. “They think they’ll get shot or robbed.”
But people like her are doing good work here. When the Red Cross closed its Flemingdon food bank, her ministry took it over.
I also met Sahar Badawy, an Egyptian born engineer, who can’t find work in her profession. Her and her engineer husband are raising four school age kids in Flemingdon on one salary. They don’t use a food bank, don’t live on welfare and aren’t in social housing.
She is very community minded. In August, 2001 just 17 days after arriving in Canada she became the school council chair at Grenoble Public School. She also founded the Flemingdon Park Parents’ Association and has done so much volunteer work, that in 2003 the city named her the children and youth services volunteer of the year.
“I’m working hard to get people involved and make a difference,” she said.
Flemingdon is an area of high poverty, although those who live here hate for this to be highlighted. But all the same, in 2004 the United Way called this “underserved neighbourhoods” one of the poorest in Toronto.
The United Way tracked 522 of Toronto¹s neighbourhoods. Of those, 120 were considered to have families in the high or very high poverty levels (with poverty levels double or triple the national average). In Flemingdon Park almost 58 percent of families live in high or extremely high poverty.
Nonetheless, in my brief time in the community I spoke with people who refuse to let the statistics define their world. Maybe because of the hopelessness or perhaps in spite of it, these residents are fighting to make their community safer and give the next generation a better life.
In that way, Flemingdon residents are not unlike residents in other communities: they want a safe, peaceful, well-funded neighbouhood that gives everyone the resources necessary for a better life.
And when you think of it, whether we live in Rosedale, Leaside, Moore Park or Flemingdon, isn’t that what we all want and deserve?
The people who live here by chance or circumstance just have to work harder for these things.