From left: Parkdale Public School teachers Ashleigh Doherty and Devon Zacharopolous with Queen Victoria’s Hayley Mezei.

From left: Parkdale Public School teachers Ashleigh Doherty and Devon Zacharopolous with Queen Victoria’s Hayley Mezei.


Evictions, bedbugs, overcrowding – kids whose families rent are coming to school with unsettling stories about what they’re going home to and how it’s affecting their focus in class. We ask Parkdale teachers what it’s like to be front line workers in the housing crisis

Grade 3 teacher, Queen Victoria Public School:
“Our school is a community hub. We love the kids. We love the families. We work really closely together. Whatever happens outside of the classroom comes into the classroom.”

Grade 5/6 French Immersion teacher, Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School:
“Our goal, as teachers, is to educate the whole child. We need to know what the child’s coming from, and what that child is going home to. If we don’t know, how can we best support their social and emotional well-being throughout the school day?”

ESL teacher, Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School:
“Negligent landlords and disrepair are things that people have dealt with for a long time in the neighbourhood. But what I see now that seems new is how terrified families are of being evicted. They can’t imagine how they would afford the current rental prices if evicted. People are scared.”

HM: “Many of our students live in rental housing. Kids will talk about landlords not taking care of things. Maybe they have bedbugs, but their family can’t afford to treat them, or they can’t afford to have their furniture replaced. How can you learn when you’re fatigued from being afraid to go to sleep in your apartment? I’ve had a student say, ‘I don’t want to go out, I just want to be inside this morning where it’s warm because it’s not warm at home.’”

AD: “The elevators weren’t working [at West Lodge]. Those are tall buildings. If a family has to walk up and down 15 flights of stairs with a baby stroller in the morning, a child comes to school exhausted or late. If a student loses all of their possessions because their apartment got flooded, that’s stress.”

AD: “Last year I was sitting with a group of around 10 kids in different grades. And every single one of those kids had a story about how they had received an eviction notice.”

HM: “I’ve had students in various buildings that were impacted by above-guideline rent increases or threats, where there was pressure from the landlord on their families to move. People are saving to get out of Parkdale because they know it’s not tenable long-term. So that means moving farther out, maybe to the suburbs, because they can no longer afford to live in downtown Toronto. Or they’re moving in with other families to share housing. Somebody in my classroom last year, their family situation was five people in a one-bedroom apartment. They said it was ‘squishy.’”

AD: “A group of tenants and Parkdale Organize decided to go to the Timbercreek offices in March. I was there, with other teachers. This is my neighbourhood, too. Timbercreek was very prepared for the tenants showing up. They had coffee and Tim Hortons to give out to people and they had prepared a document justifying their case to everyone. This is how it goes.”

DZ: “Parkdale teachers have been part of actions around housing for a couple of years now. Last June, we got almost our entire teaching staff out to stand in solidarity with our community near Parkdale Collegiate. [Spearheaded by the affordable housing advocacy group Parkdale Organize, the protest targeted Doug Ford’s cuts to public services, including Parkdale Community Legal Services.] The day before that action, we had sign-making parties, everybody together with markers, getting the conversation going. Around eight in the morning, we all showed up, teachers and education workers and families, together in the pouring rain.”

I’ve had students say, ‘I don’t want to go out, I just want to be inside this morning where it’s warm because it’s not warm at home’

Grade 10/11/12 teacher and librarian, Parkdale Collegiate Institute:
“I went to the June demonstration with a couple of teachers from PCI. We walked over to King and Jameson. There were [more than] 100 people there. It was good to see younger people, younger even than our students, getting an education in activism. Kids in our school can look out the window at those apartment buildings and see what’s going on: hey, this is the situation, and even if it’s not happening to you, it’s happening to other students, where you live. We have a diverse student body socioeconomically, but all our students are getting an education in very real ways about a whole host of issues around poverty, around the increasingly unaffordable city that we live in, around racialized groups being the most vulnerable to things like cutting legal aid. These realities are not abstract to them.”

HM: “We’ve definitely had demonstrations in the rain and in the snow and ice. Generally, we go out on Monday mornings. We often get people coming out with an instrument and singing songs. People on the TTC are waving at us and people in their cars are honking support. We always get to school on time. We invite our administration as well. There’s nothing secretive about what we’re doing. For a lot of teachers, there’s a sense of responsibility to lend our voices.”

AD: “I think it kind of surprised some of us as teachers, the amount that the kids actually knew about what was going on in the neighbourhood. When kids are living in a place and not able to get repairs from their landlord, when they know that their parents are paying too much rent and struggling to pay that rent, there’s something there that doesn’t quite add up for them. Who are these landlords? Why is this happening? We have to talk about housing in class now because they understand when things are unjust and they have questions.”

HM: “My father was a refugee from Hungary who came to Toronto in the ’50s. He and his friends settled around Jameson. I lived around here for 20 years. Parkdale’s traditionally been a welcoming spot for new Canadians and refugees, and it really is such a vibrant special place. If I had my crystal ball, looking 10 years down the road, like, my God, these real estate prices – I just don’t know. What will we lose?”

DZ: “I loved living in Parkdale, but I recently had to move to the east end. I couldn’t find a place at a standard of living I wanted that was going to be affordable to me. I do worry for the social fabric of Parkdale. Who will be able to live here?”

AD: “I’ve been impressed by how self-regulated and mature and just insightful these kids are, because they really are going through a lot, things that aren’t their fault and aren’t their family’s fault. The number one thing that we should be doing is helping kids to understand the world that they live in, and how they can be empowered to take control over their lives. In this neighbourhood right now, more than anything else, that means understanding precarious housing.”

HM: “Parkdale is Parkdale and has been Parkdale for a really long time. And people are mighty, and they’re strong. And they’re smart. They’re organized. And they realize that together, people can make change.”

Interviews have been edited and condensed.