Category Archives: Social & Affordable Housing

More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

Refugee Blues was published by writer and poet W.H. Auden in 1939, at the start of World War II.

It’s safe to say not much has changed and, perhaps, it never will if war and hatred continue to be our modus operandi. The million dollar question is this: Are we doomed as humans to this destructive cycle of scapegoatism and righteous indignation? Or is there truly a possibility – a probability – for something else?


Continue reading More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

24 Sussex Drive is Falling Down

Contrary to opinions offered by former tenants of the building, reality television stars, CBC listeners, and social media commentators, there is no single right answer to the question: What should become of the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive?

In fact, it doesn’t matter whether the building is razed or retrofitted. Either way, there will be gains and losses, which is the nature of choice. The answer lies in the the more difficult question: What do we want 24 Sussex Drive to be? Continue reading 24 Sussex Drive is Falling Down

Willie G. and the Street Poets of New York

Update: Wille G. passed away yesterday, 07 April 2015. May his poetic soul Rest in Peace.

Before I met Willi G no one had ever tried to sell poetry to me on the street. Paintings, prints, photography, statuary and every manner of trinket, yes. Poetry, no.

Willi approached me as I ascended out of Bethesda Terrace, introduced himself as The Poet of Central Park, related his struggle with poverty and made the pitch: Would I buy his poetry to help him out?

He slid a four-poem package of photocopied pages into my hand and told me how his friend took care of the copying to keep his costs down. I handed him $10 and asked him to autograph the cover. He told me he’s on the internet and surely he is:

I asked about the economics of the poetry trade. He said business is good in the spring, summer and fall, but is dead throughout the winter. This year, being especially long and cold, he struggled to make ends meet and is still behind in his rent. Seems selling poems is cyclical while the need to sustain one’s self is constant.


Dear Allan:

Of course there are a couple of million things going on in NYC at any given time, so, as a visitor, it is impossible to discover even a crumb of a morsel of all the good things, which includes you typing away in the midst of everything, creating poetic beauty for lucky passers-by.

I was in NYC last month but didn’t hear about you until this month. I wondered, if I sent you some cash, would you create a poem for me from afar?

I write about the relationship of people to their homes and communities, so I was there looking through that lens. It was my sixth trip to the city and I feel like a kid in a candy store every time I’m there.

Although I love the subway, my greatest pleasure is to walk everywhere. This makes it difficult to move around in a timely (efficient) way, because every ten steps there are 100 new things to see – faces, architecture, signs, colors – and as many new sounds and smells. How challenging it would be to get to know the city in any meaningful way with SO MUCH to understand (and never enough time).

I know it’s different being a visitor than living there day in, day out, and that there are trade-offs to both. Would you ever live anywhere else?

I think it’s amazingly cool what you do and would treasure one of your on-the-spot poems.


Andrea Cordonier
Ottawa, Ontario Canada


Excerpt from: Quoth the Raven Poetry Circle
From the Stacks: The New York Historical Society Library Blog

Formed in 1932 by retired New York Telephone Company employee, Francis Lambert McCrudden, the Raven Poetry Circle was unveiled at an outdoor event near Washington Square Park in May of 1933. Members of this unique collection of writers were known as “Ravens” and included bohemians, published poets, students, city employees, various characters from the neighborhood and even a feline mascot named Phyllis. McCrudden held monthly poetry readings in his storefront apartment and devised a plan to sell poetry in an open market atmosphere. 

The New York Times referred to it as “the world’s first sidewalk poetry mart”.

The Ravens, whose namesake and symbol stem from the classic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, held annual exhibitions in which participants tacked original copies of their poetry to a tall green wall on Thompson Street, next to a tennis court. Attendees were encouraged to purchase the poetry that hung like artwork on display for all to enjoy. Prices ranged from a nickel for the work of a lesser-known writer up to several dollars for a piece penned by one of the more popular Ravens. 


I’m back home and am filled with questions: Why does no one here hawk their poetry on street corners? Or like strolling musicians in Europe, read their way through busy restaurants then pass the hat? Why can’t I go to a weekend farmer’s market and buy fresh sheets of new poetry alongside the fresh fruits and veg, and, best of all, hear the poets themselves giving voice to their wares?

Are we provincial, conservative or just plain embarrassed to accept our poetry in plain view? Or do our poets lack the critical audacity required by New Yorkers for survival?

Poets – I want to hear and buy your poems. All you have to do is ask.

The Invisible Man and His Dog

I hadn’t thought about him for years, the old man with the three-legged dog.  That summer I laid interlock and dug beds in my front yard I saw him regularly. He always walked north to south, across the bridge towards the general store, and back again. I mentally catalogued the possibilities of where he might live in such an intimate community, to no conclusion.

I imagined he was a house painter owing to his habitual uniform of white, disposable jumpsuit and broken-in, workingman shoes.  He was grey-haired and lean, but not so old that employment was out of the question.

His Yorkshire Terrier hippity-hopped behind him, slowly but earnestly, on her good legs, the fourth jutting from her chest at a sad, unnatural angle.  “She got hit by a car,” he told me, the only factual thing I knew about him.

I can’t remember when it occurred to me that this fellow might be squatting in the abandoned white and black frame house up the road. Later that year, a friend and I stopped at the property to look around.

I couldn’t bring myself to enter the house. I thought it was reverence for an individual’s privacy, but I know now it was discomfort, shame and fear. I feared the basic human obligation that arises from knowledge.  If I were complicit, I would have to act, wouldn’t I?  But if I didn’t know that a fellow human being – a neighbour – lived like this, then I wouldn’t have to do anything, would I? A few minutes later my friend returned, alone.  He said it looked as though someone had lived there recently, and I wondered if its occupant was hiding in the hay fields, watching us trespass against him.

Was I the only one to notice this ghostly wisp of a man? In a small village his presence should have been of consequence, a talking point, but no one ever raised the subject, including me. I made small talk with him but never asked him his name, shared a sandwich, or offered to take his beloved companion to the vet.

I see that the hole in the roof of the abandoned house is growing, although the walls are as straight and plumb as ever. It won’t be many rainstorms now until a perfectly usable house – a shelter for someone who had none – breaks down completely, returning to the earth, no longer useful to anyone.

I wonder where the old man and his three-legged dog have gone, and when exactly they left.  And I ask myself: How did it come to this?

re:THINK(ing) Affordable Housing in Vancouver

And on go the thinking hat(s)……

“As part of the work being done by the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability, re:THINK HOUSING, an open ideas competition, is being launched to generate a broader discussion of possibilities for Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis. Aimed at everyone who has an interest in affordable housing, from the general public, to designers, planners and architects, to philanthropists, non profits and financial institutions, the Ideas Competition seeks to create the space for provocative, bold new ideas that address Vancouver’s affordability challenge head-on. It’s a chance to get new perspective on how we build an affordable city in Vancouver, and to garner ideas and possibilities for neighbourhood belonging and better connections across the City.”

Click here for details on Principles and Criteria, Eligibility, Prizes and Jury, and Submission Requirements.  Ideas are due by 29 June 2012


Walking the Walk

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She had no formal training as a planner, and yet her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. Source

So why walk?

Jane Jacobs believed that in order to truly know a city you needed to get out and walk it.  Following her death in 2006, a group of her friends inaugurated Jane’s Walk in Toronto to honour her ideas and legacy.  On May 5th and 6th 2012, there are over 600 walks scheduled in 85 cities around the world.

Volunteer guides design and plan the neighbourhood walks, which vary widely in subject and duration.  Ottawa’s smorgasbord of subjects include: urban foraging, a foodie tour of Hintonburg, a forest walk in Kanata, a railway history walkabout, an art tour, and the cats on Parliament Hill.  It’s challenging to pick two-days’ worth of itinerary when you’re painfully aware of what you’re not choosing.

Yesterday my daughter and I joined the tour on homelessness.  Jane Scharf, a community activist, walked us between shelters, housing and treatment facilities in downtown Ottawa.  She introduced us to several individuals who face a devastating daily array of personal problems which are mostly foreign to our experience.  We listened and observed and asked questions about the challenges of finding stable housing, the reasons people end up on the streets, and about what works in the system and what doesn’t.

Elizabeth, who met us on front of The Shepherds of Good Hope, explained that she is a recovering crack addict.  She said her biggest challenge stems from the temptations she faces where she lives.  Everyday she gets into the elevator or walks down the street and she is asked if she wants some “food” (crack).  She wants to move to an apartment in a cleaner/safer part of town where she isn’t surrounded by people with the same problems she faces.  But buildings and places, not individual people, are subsidized by the government, so she is stuck where she is with scant opportunity to move.

Elizabeth also pointed out the lack of secure storage space for the homeless.  People that live in a shelter have a place to lock up their stuff.  But if they don’t make it back to their shelter bed before closing, it gets thrown out.  If they live on the street they have nowhere to leave their stuff.  They have to keep it with them at all times, or it’s stolen.

Joe sat in the sun in his wheelchair outside the The Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre Men’s Hostel.  Before he came to live here full-time he was in the Ottawa Civic Hospital for 18 months.  He requires 24/7 supported care, including help with his most basic hygiene needs.  He said there are plenty of ‘good’ people who live on the streets and in shelters.  He said mental illness, childhood abuse, illness, drug and alcohol abuse, economic challenges, and lack of family support all have a part to play in homelessness.

Nicki G is bi-polar and described herself as a sinner before she was a saint.  A singer and guitar player, she busks under the Rideau Street pedestrian underpass and works part-time with Krackers Katering, a social enterprise of the Causeway Work Centre.  She is charismatic, engaged and was clearly pleased to have an audience and answer questions.

Stewart Poulin is known as The Artist on the Bridge.  If you’ve walked from the Market across the bridge to Parliament Hill, chances are you have passed Stewart. Peoples’ past histories are complex and aren’t easily summarized in two or three facts.  Stewart trained as a cabinet maker but eventually ceased working and ended up on the streets.  He is a self-taught artist who does pencil sketches and watercolours of local architecture and pastoral scenes and sells reproductions for $10 each.  He possesses a natural and distinctive eye for detail and has caught the attention of many passerbys, some of whom have offered help.  Unfortunately, as he has learned the hard way, sometimes those who wish to help also seek to serve their own self-interest.  Most of his precious originals have fallen into the hands of others. The few originals he keeps are damaged.  A common theme for the day emerges.  It is incredibly difficult to keep precious things safe when living a street-oriented life.

The wrap party for Jane’s Walk Ottawa is at the Lieutenant’s Pub, 361 Elgin at Waverley, from 3:00pm to 5:00pm today.

You Can’t Pick Your Family

Compare and contrast family life 1974 vs. today.  The Kardashians give the Python troupe a run for their money for title of “Worst Family.”    Here’s the link to MadTV’s fantastically creepy contribution.  Good luck figuring out which ones are the parodies.

And if you think the Kardashians are getting a little long in the tooth, “Mrs. Eastwood and Company” is premiering May 20th on E!.  Yes, it’s THAT Eastwood.

A Tale of Two Hotels – The Gladstone (Part 1)


Last month in Toronto I hurriedly passed the Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street West, grabbing a few photographs of its beautiful facade.  I neither had the time to stop and peek inside nor did I understand its cultural and community significance.  But now, thoroughly ensconced in a Tweet-filled universe, I have reveled in hearing about all the events and activities that regularly emanate from the space.  This trip, instead of passing by, Husband and I grabbed a room.

The Gladstone fosters and supports a healthy micro economy which drives healthy development, small business, light industry, cultural work and good times! The hotel strives to maintain a broad community-based clientele and showcases a diverse array of events. It is a place where local artists exhibit their work and perform and more importantly a place where artists and regular neighbourhood patrons come just to hang out.

I remember being young and single and falling in love with the hosteling experience while traveling Australia, Europe and North America.  Yes, it was relatively inexpensive, which was part of the draw.  But I remember the biggest selling feature was the promise of random meet-ups with like-minded people, often in funky, hand-crafted, art-filled buildings.  It held the promise of meeting one’s tribe in the middle of the great unknown.  Then I grew up and got married, had a gaggle of squids and started staying in generic chains when we weren’t off camping.  There’s a thin veneer of promise in those chains that never materializes and always leaves me peevish.  It’s possible to be surrounded by people – living next door to them really – and have absolutely no contact or any meaningful connection with the physical surroundings.  Perhaps many people like living in a predictable bubble and enjoy that hands-off anonymity.  I just don’t happen to be one of them.

My sense of the Gladstone – and I mean this in the best possible way – is that it is a hostel for grown-ups.  It’s like an extension of the house I imagine having, like the salon concept come to life, with unique people eating, drinking, playing and discussing, ideas flowing in and out and swirling all around.  The colours are warm, the woodwork old, the surfaces chock-a-block with multimedia works of art and design.  The staff behave like engaged human beings not deferential automatons waiting for a tip. It’s all so relaxing and normal.   I briefly considered going downstairs in my pajamas for my leisurely breakfast and, although I decided to dress, I want to believe that no one would really have minded.

According to their website, the Gladstone Hotel is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto.  It began its life as upscale lodging to accommodate train visitors arriving at the now-defunct Parkdale rail station across the street.  The Gladstone has always been a family-run enterprise.  Susanna Robinson, the original owner and widow, lived there with her thirteen children.  The hotel passed through a number of private hands and was subjected to a variety of physical alterations.  It slid slowly into disrepair and was ‘slumlorded’ for nearly four decades, until the Zeidler family bought it in 2000.  In 2003 Christina Zeidler began work on the physical refurbishment of the building and the community development aspects of the project.  She describes how she worked to ensure that the remaining tenants were found suitable lodging and much-needed social support services in the area, a neighbourhood deep in the throes of gentrification.  The bones of the building were restored, the services upgraded, and the thirty-seven rooms designed and decorated by a variety of local artists.  The renovations were completed in 2005 and the Gladstone, once again, took its place as a thriving community anchor for the Parkdale neighbourhood.

We were lodged in Room 303, the Red Room (or the ‘REDRUM’ as I joked in my best Jack Nicholson voice), designed by Kate Austin and Kristin Ledgett of RUCKUS. It was, all at once, intimate, stylish and homey.  Click here to peruse all of the ‘Classic’, ‘Gimme More’ rooms and ‘Sweet’ suites.   In a strange small-world occurrence on Friday, I ended up eating downtown at the bar of the Queen Mother Cafe, corralling the only empty chair in the whole lunch-packed place.  Apparently, as I would find out while researching this entry, I had seated myself next to Andrew Jones, an award-winning architect-turned-furniture/lighting-designer.  Turns out he was the co-designer of Room 312 (Re:Fresh).  And, as I would also figure out, I had transacted with Kate Austin, half of my room’s design team, when I made an early Christmas purchase at her shop The Knit Cafe that same day.  Even in such a large city, this small hotel is obviously succeeding as a magnet of art, design and culture.

Rooms and suites from $165 to $475 per night.

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New York’s Flophouse Voyeurism

Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive, but I’m revolted by this article from The New York Times. It’s about the gradual gentrification of an age-old flophouse in The Bowery, where marginalized tenants who pay less than ten dollars per day and live in cage-like accommodation, are used as marketing pawns to attract upscale hipsters to the pricier floors above. What’s next?  ‘Adopting’ a token poor person to hang with in order to feel more real? An agency that rents impoverished persons by the hour?

Seems the Elephant Man is alive and well and living in Gotham. (Guess we never learn.)