Jessica Haberman had just put the finishing touches on a new apartment and, perhaps, a new life for her and her two-year-old daughter, Suzanna.
Two months earlier she had fled her home for a Violence Against Women (VAW) shelter when her married life took a volatile turn and she realized it was best for her and Suzanna to leave.
They lived in the shelter while Haberman worked to pull things together and secure a safe, appropriate and affordable place to call home.
Haberman had hoped their new life was just over the horizon when she found an affordable one-bedroom basement apartment in Little Italy, just south of College.
It was Sunday, July 15. With the help of a friend she arranged the furniture, unpacked boxes, rolled out the rug and finally sat back to watch through their open door as the rain fell and thought, “We have a home again”.
As the rain got harder they closed the door and didn’t think much of it until water started to seep into their new home.
“Within 15 minutes it was coming through the door,” Haberman said. “We were literally bailing out water.”
They pulled some furniture back and Haberman went into the bedroom to get some towels when she realized water was streaming in through the bedroom window.
“I just collapsed and started crying,” she said.
A contractor was called in and cleaned up to the point that Haberman and Suzanna could spend the night.
The following day the contractor returned, assessed the apartment and determined that walls had to come down so Haberman and Suzanna had to find somewhere to stay for at least a week.
“I just started making phone calls to find a place to stay,” Haberman said.
Her brother came down from Barrie that night and picked them up to stay with family there while Haberman continued to make calls and try to find somewhere to stay in Toronto.
A message went out on a number of email listserves and a family from the West End Parents Daycare where Suzanna spends her days responded with the offer of a room for a few weeks.
“The response was amazing,” Haberman said. “Even if people didn’t have anything to offer it was just seeing the best of community start to manifest by people saying their thoughts and prayers were with us.”
Haberman said she had hoped her apartment would be fixed and she and Suzanna could move back in.
As the clock ran out on their temporary accommodation Haberman said she learned the damage to her old apartment was more extensive and expensive then her landlord had expected and the apartment wasn’t going to be fixed anytime soon.
“I think the landlord just got more than she bargained for,” Haberman said. “As the contractor started looking behind walls, first the bedroom had to come down, then the living room, the whole bathroom needs to be gutted, the kitchen needs gutting.”
The final straw, Haberman said, was when they discovered during the original renovations to the property, prior to her landlord owning it, a joist had been cut and the apartment was unsafe.
“She was very straightforward and said, ‘I just can’t afford to do the work necessary and have you back in this apartment,’” Haberman said.
Haberman found a home near Trinity Bellwoods that she and Suzanna could rent, unfurnished, for one month while the owners were out of town. They moved in Aug. 1.
“It is not going to be ideal, but it will be our own space,” she said. “In some ways I like the spaciousness of it because my head feels so cluttered with all that is going on.”
Now Haberman and Suzanna are in a crisis situation. She has one month to find a permanent place to live that she can afford, near the daycare on Dovercourt Road.
“Suzanna, her one stability has been West End Parents Daycare,” Haberman said. “They are her family.”
This single mom’s situation is further complicated because Haberman said she had been financially dependant on her husband until she left for the shelter.
Haberman explained she was involved in two car accidents in the 90s while living in the United States, which left her with a head injury, and physical limitations which rendered her unable to work in the administrative rolls she had previously worked in. She trained and was certified as a nationally registered massage therapist in the United States.
“It was the perfect job for me because I could control my own hours, I could space my clients and work with my physical needs,” Haberman said.
She lived and worked for about 10 years in Colorado before life landed her back in Toronto, where she was raised.
Her massage therapist certification doesn’t qualify her to practice here in Canada so she tried to work in a retail position, but said her body couldn’t handle it due to the injuries from the car accidents.
It wasn’t until after she and Suzanna were in the shelter that she applied for and received Ontario Works from the government.
“I had to stop pretending that I had everything together and I could do everything,” Haberman said. “The more I pretend that is the case the more I crash and burn.”
“And I am finding the more I meet people and open up the more I am finding that it is not that uncommon,” she said.
Haberman said she is moved by the way her community has rallied around her and it is that, in addition to wanting Suzanna to stay in the same daycare, which has given her the strength to continue to search and has given her the hope that she and Suzanna can stay in the west end neighbourhood they have grown to love.
“There is some kind of trust that I have in the community that gives me the strength not to collapse over this,” she said. “I know I have a lot of work to do and it is going to be a long journey to get Suzanna and I to a place where I want us to be, but I see that it is possible.”
So with the strength of the community behind her, Haberman said she is committed to continuing her search to find a modest one bedroom apartment in the area of College Street and Dovercourt Road, for about $750 a month.
“I would rather us be sharing a bedroom in a small space within a budget that disability will allow while working towards... going back to school to recertify,” she said. “I’m not going to be on disability forever.”