Sunday, December 6, 2015

Moving in with Minister McCallum

Previous landlord: a tent?  Multi-page rental application forms are never terrific fun to fill out, and working on behalf of a family of six with no local credit history really takes things up a notch. Nevertheless there was some sporting fun in checking out the various prospects, and discovering that we were scared of some places, and other places were scared of us. Toronto apartments, it turns out, aren't very plentiful, and aren't very big: you need to be ready to pounce at the beginning of the month when departing tenants give notice, and for six people, you need to seek out the elusive three-bedroom, or its perhaps mythical cousin, the two-bedroom not capped at five occupants. Many rules about signatures, credit history and occupancy stand between refugees and housing that will work for them, and private sponsors may find themselves enjoying the samurai challenge of seeking out those soft spots where these rules have some flex.

The Holy Grail is a building superintendent with a heart of gold (ideally backed up by an equally noble building owner), and, after a couple weeks of heartbreaking near-misses, this exact combination was our ticket to a small but lovely 3-bedroom apartment, in an up-and-coming neighborhood close to the homes of several group members.

At a final pre-move meeting, we reviewed the list of furniture and goods promised to us by donors around the city, and prepared a battle plan for our Saturday move.  I'm not sure how, but local live news channel CP24 became aware of our plan to move in and asked to witness the moment.  Then their sister organization CTV heard about it, and somehow Cabinet Minister John McCallum got in touch to ask if he could help us move in.  Frankly, we had a lot of furniture to assemble, so we said yes.

He is not pretending to screw in the bolt; he is really doing it.
To anyone who tried to contact me that day: I'm sorry -- my cellphone chose a fine time to die.  With the buzzer on the apartment door programmed to a non-working phone, and the various crews all directed to call my dead phone in case of delays or difficulties accessing us, it was pretty tense. My 17-year-old son Alex stepped in as doorman downstairs and had the pleasure of escorting Minister McCallum from his car up to the apartment. The Honourable McCallum brought Timbits and assisted with the pivotal injury-prone moment of bunk bed assembly, that moment when you haul the assembled top bed up to where it belongs.  He even did that fiddly next step with the allen key.  I'm not sure if the teenage girls who will be sleeping there will be able to believe that their bunks were personally assembled by a Cabinet Minister, but there was a photo taken.  Tell me it doesn't look photoshopped.

Leasing Director Lucy, with the Hon. McCallum and Colin D'Mello of CTV.
The media asked some hard questions about timelines and security, but also took the time to explore the ideas and motives of the regular volunteers involved in the project. They are evidently very much immersed in this unfolding story, keeping close tabs on everything happening right now across the city (and in CTV's case, across the country) in response to this very large-scale development.

At the end of the day we could not believe how great the place looked.  We still need to hang some drapes (my drill bit was not up to the job), and we are missing one twin mattress (since sourced, as a donation, and ready to go) and a few odds and ends (it just dawned on me right now that there are no wastepaper bins, and I'm not sure there's a laundry basket).  But the volume and quality of donations were received: outstanding.  We have great pots and pans -- a whole new set, plus some specialty items like a Syrian coffee pot.  Some tiny Art Deco patterned coffee cups with gold trim (thanks, Aunt Ellen! -- OK I'm sorry to regift, but I thought you would approve). Excellent lamps. A bunch of Lego for the 8-year-old, from a 12-year-old who has disturbing amounts of Lego. In the end, I sort of want to move in to this apartment myself.

Now we are waiting for the notification of our family's exact arrival date.  We've been told to expect them "before Christmas", and we've also been told that we'll get 10 days' notice, which in theory would shrink our window down to Dec 16-24.  But I wouldn't be surprised if they came a few days later, or on less notice. I wouldn't be upset, either -- it is clear that everyone over at the Canadian visa office in Beirut is dancing as fast as they can, managing this enormous plan to rescue large numbers of the most vulnerable refugees from the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.  We await them, with our tiny coffee cups.

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