Nightmare on Alfred Street

Coming into the last September of my undergraduate year, I expected no surprises and smooth sailing—only to find out quickly that it’s never safe to assume anything out of life.

At the end of the first week at my new apartment, my roommate and I had no idea why we developed severe allergies and shortness of breath, until we spotted large quantities of black mould behind the kitchen cupboard and the stove. The problem hit a climax when my roommate found out the mould had spread to her bedframe; as I was sipping coffee at the Common Ground, she called and said, “I’m not living here anymore.”

Enter my mid-September house hunt, and a battle against the Unsympathetic Landlady. Instead of easing into our schedules and catching up with friends, we spent our first week checking the accommodation listing online every day, frantically writing down addresses and phone numbers of landlords. My landlady’s simple answer to the discovery of mould was, “So, you want out?” When we showed her a letter of complaint, all she said was that we shouldn’t have lived in a basement apartment if we had breathing problems—but these “breathing problems” didn’t emerge until we started living in the mouldy basement. She also initially refused to give us back our cheques for October, until we pointed out that we could contact a health inspector—to which she replied, “Whatever, I don’t want to deal with this.” In the end she terminated the lease, and gave us back all our cheques. Difficult landlady aside, the support and sympathy from everyone around me has been more than anything I could’ve imagined. Countless people have offered me their couches, pull-out beds, and even a part of their bed space itself, as well as cars and helping hands with moving to the new place. Joan Jones at Town-Gown Relations has helped tremendously with drafting the letter, letting us know of our rights when we weren’t so sure and encouraging us to be as assertive as we could.

My friends never expressed annoyance when I showed up to their doors unexpected and unannounced, whined endlessly, or snapped for no reason because I felt entitled to be in a bad mood. There were so many times when I just wanted to quit school and stop everything I was doing. Whether it was a dinner party, a phone call to invite me over or e-mails of encouragement, everyone made sure that I had a healthy place to sleep and wasn’t sulking away on my own. Being “homeless” has taught me many things: that there might be a reason behind a ridiculously cheap rent, that having a healthy home is important not only for the body but also for the mind, and that having a strong support network can make the worst of times into a fun memory of sleepovers and hospitality that lets me keep my laptop in one house and my toothbrush in another.

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