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Worlds Apart

This winter we had some especially frigid days. On one such day I woke up in my cold apartment and went downstairs to get ready for work, only to discover that the pipes in my washroom were frozen. An annoying reality of Canadian winters.

I did what I always do in this type of situation: I called my landlord. Luckily for me, I have a decent landlord who took care of the situation. Problem solved.

Not so easy for some of our street friends. Take Jacob, for example. Jacob was born onto the streets of Toronto. He grew up couch hopping and doing whatever was necessary to get by. He moved to Ottawa 30 years ago and since then has called these streets his home. A few months ago, he finally acquired housing. He was so proud of his little apartment that he could call his own.

But last week, Jacob informed me that he no longer had hydro at his apartment. At first he thought that Ottawa Hydro had shut off his services by mistake. But after calling Ottawa hydro, he discovered that it was a problem with the apartment itself that needed to be addressed by the landlord. The landlord, however, was refusing to take responsibility, saying “It’s not my problem.”

I so badly wanted to help Jacob. His rights as a tenant were being violated and I knew it. I tried to imagine what I would do in his situation. It dawned on me that this would never happen to me. You see, I can afford a good enough apartment that the landlord has to take care of me because I can also afford to leave my apartment if I so choose. But because of Jacob’s economic circumstances, circumstances that he was born into, he is forced to live in an apartment where working hydro is not guaranteed. This is just another example of the social stratification of Ottawa. Jacob and I both rent small apartments in this city but we are really living worlds apart.

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