This blog was transcribed from our Stories of Home podcast minis-series. Have a listen to all the episodes on the Stories We Don’t Tell Podcast. As of this posting, there still might be some tickets left for Stories of Home on Thursday, November 23rd, but they’re going fast! Tickets available at Eventbrite.
Cast of Characters
Michelle German (MG) works at Evergreen whose mission is to help cities flourish. Her role there is leading their public policy work around housing and transportation infrastructure.
Sage Tyrtle (ST) teaches The Art of Storytelling in workshops and at Seneca College. Her stories have been featured on NPR and CBC radio.
Roz McLean (RM) is part of a planning group with the Toronto Foundation, which seeks to engage the next generation in strategic philanthropy. She is also involved in several community-building initiatives, as a committee member of St. Michael’s Young Leaders, an executive for Young Canadians in Finance, and has contributed to programming Girls E-mentorship over the past three years. Roz is an associate at Burgundy Asset Management, where she has been since May 2014.
Claire-Hélène Heese-Boutin (CHHB) grew up in Ward 14 and has been a resident of Parkdale since 2013. She has been an active member of the Dufferin Grove Housing Co-operative which led her to get involved with the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust and the Community Finance Working Committee of the PCED. Claire is also pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Studies at York University.
National Housing Week
MG: So this group that I organize called the Housing Action Lab primarily focuses throughout the year on developing public policy solutions working with government, with developers, with academia and a whole bunch of different ways. It can feel like we're an inward facing group.
Once a year built around National Housing Day we try to be more of an outward facing group and focus on public engagement because at the end of the day housing is an issue that affects everybody. And we really wanted to create a moment where we're outside of our our bubble, speaking with different people about the importance of housing. So this year for National Housing Week we are anticipating some new ideas to emerge from the federal government on a national housing strategy, which for those of you who might be unfamiliar includes an 11 billion dollar investment across the country into addressing housing issues in Canada. And it's the most money we've seen probably ever, but certainly in a generation, put into our housing system.
So we thought it was a more important time than ever to talk about housing and home with as many different audiences as possible. So what I did is I reached out to a variety of different community groups and individuals to say, "Hey, you do a thing. Would you be willing to do your thing during National Housing Week?" And one of those people of course was the Stories We Don't Tell team. I thought it'd be a great opportunity to have this conversation with the Center for Social innovation community. We also have seven other events during National Housing Week: a trivia night, a panel discussion and a networking speed dating event. All of these different events will take different forms throughout the week and they'll create a flurry of activities of different people and different communities talking about housing.
Stories of Home
MG: Our approach to recruiting storytellers for this event was to ask a variety of people who bring different perspectives. Some of them are experienced storytellers so two of our storytellers are renowned for speaking and have lots and lots of experience. Two other storytellers are complete newbies so they're coming to us and bringing their lived experience and work experience in the housing sector. Our fifth guest will be bringing insight into what it's like being an artist and a musician in the city and what it's like trying to build more housing for the arts and culture community. So I think you'll be really pleased if you come and join us. It's a really interesting group of people and I can't wait to hear what they have to say.
What is your idea of home?
ST: Home is absolutely where my partner and my son are. It's been a high rise. It's been a converted garage. I've lived in a lot of places. I ended up leaving America and coming to Canada and I know a lot of people who cannot bear it there but they also can't leave. And for me it stopped being home when they elected Reagan. I was in grade three and just outraged how could they elect an actor. And so leaving was very easy for me. I'm not connected to that location so I found a location that I could be strongly connected to. I love Toronto. I love Canada. I love everything about it and I'm so happy that we came here. I actually just passed my citizenship tests.
RM: I think of home and housing a little bit separately. When I think of home I think of my home. My roommate and I always make popcorn on Saturday or Friday nights. Very cool of us. I think of housing as sort of an economic issue that I contemplate separately from my conception of my home. I definitely think of Toronto as my home. There are some great aspects of Toronto and there are some issues that we're still working on. Every time I miss a streetcar or it's packed like sardines. But I wouldn't leave. I can't really leave the city because it's such an intrinsic part of me. I always lived here. So I grew up in North Toronto. I spent four years studying at Western and then came right back. Growing up in North Toronto is different than living downtown. I know this is a bit of a Millennial cliche but it's a cliche for a reason. I don't really go north of Bloor anymore. So there are these two cities. There is the city of my childhood up north. And then there's the city that I'm constantly exploring and it's constantly changing.
CHHB: One of the ways to answer that is that I now live in Parkdale but I grew up in the Roncesvalles area and when I go back to visit my parents it doesn't feel like home anymore. So when I was a kid there was a sense of community. There were a sense of people out in the streets playing ball hockey and the grand parents sitting out on the porch. There was just a sense of community that doesn't seem to exist there anymore. Whereas in Parkdale you always hear something out in the streets and I am running to my window to check out what's going on. To me that's community - it's like the vibrancy of people talking, kids screaming and yelling and whatever kids do. It's about recognizing the dog walkers around the block and getting to know people. Home means community, it's not just the house that you live in. It's about the people that make up the community.
I think within our housing cooperative the simple fact that we have to go to an AGM or a general members meeting twice a year means that people have to get to know each other. You get to know people at the everyday level and you know the kids playing with other kids in the neighborhood and that creates more of a sense of community. But there's also this institutionalization of the need to run these buildings together which creates a sense of solidarity that I think is is quite powerful. And so that's the context of not for profit housing as opposed to private homeownership or for profit housing developments.
What’re you going to be talking about at Stories of Home?
ST: I was living on the edge of Dufferin Grove Park which is, for those of you who don't know it, was a park in desperate trouble that was crime ridden and people were going there and doing a lot of illegal things and they were really unhappy and on and on and on. Then this woman named Yetta came and looked at the park and said, "This is an amazing space and we could turn it into something positive." And she began all of these community programs and cleaned the park up and and now there's a community garden there. They have dinner that they cook with organic veggies that's affordable and there's a farmer's market and a really wonderful playground. And so when we move there that's what the park was. It had already been really transformed because the park is run mostly by people who are liberal, people who are interested in doing the right thing, rather than what the laws of Toronto tell us we ought to do. My story begins with a woman moving in under the tree right next to my kitchen window and called it home.
RM: Some of the themes I just mentioned will come to bear on this story. I've been working on a project with the Toronto foundation to engage younger people of the next generation in strategic philanthropy. And one of the programs that the Toronto Foundation put on is conversations. It really is important to have conversation to discuss a particular issue with those who have lived experience of the issue. We had dinner with four philanthropists and four individuals who had lived experience. It forces you to understand the issues emotionally and not just from an economic data perspective. So walking in I knew that there were 30,000 people on the waitlist for Toronto Community Housing. I knew that there were 80,000 people who don't have a home or don't have a permanent home. But after this dinner I sort of understood that the issue is not a collection of data, it's a collection of stories. And so what I'm going to be talking about is listening, deep listening and understanding those stories from an emotional capacity.
CHHB: In my other life I'm a financial planner. I've also been an investment adviser and so I’ve fallen into the world of money and money management. And one of the things that I have really come to understand is a key bridge between the work that I do and also my passion for social justice and environmental justice is this issue of where money comes from. So the story I'm going to tackle takes us through my process of coming to understand how important this issue of where money comes from is to our communities. Hopefully it will get people interested in this question and to see if we as a Canadian population or a global population can get a better handle over how our money actually works. It’s a big piece of the puzzle in tackling problems like poverty, climate change, social injustice and environmental issues.
What are some of your goals for National Housing Week?
MG: I want people to feel ownership over the issue of housing. You know for the first time in a generation there's going to be a lot of government investment. Housing is in the news every day. But really there's a lot of work to be done and everyone has a role to play. So everyone who comes to this event I hope that they are moved by what they hear and I hope that they walk away with a sense of duty. To think about who we are actually serving. And in order to elect the politicians we need to have leadership in order to implement programs in order to build the kind of housing everyone has to be a champion. So my hope is that we're building a constituency of support that gives us the courage and the will power to build the kind of communities that we need.