it’s half past three in the morning, and i’m having trouble sleeping. i *was* asleep, from the decent hour of 11 pm until about 1/2 hour ago… but then i was woken by banging and screaming coming from the apartment of my downstairs neighbours. the noise seemed to worry the dog too, because he began pacing, and the two of us listened for awhile in the dark as i tried to decide whether or not to call the cops.
earlier this evening, or yesterday evening now, i composed and distributed a letter to the residents of the other six apartments in this run-down old house. in it, i told them how i learned from the new landscapers (folks the landlords hired, but who happen to be friends of mine – what a funny town for connections!) that the building will be put up for sale in the next couple of months. i told them how the place is too expensive for any new owner to maintain as a rental, and i’m scared it’ll be bought by a developer and converted into character condos that’ll be sold for a ridiculous sum of money. i told them that if they’re interested, we could have a meeting with someone from the roofs and roots housing co-op, who could potentially buy the place to keep it as affordable, non-profit housing. that way, we wouldn’t have to risk higher rents, or losing our homes.
becoming a co-op would be a lot of work for us, the tenants in this building… but the incentive is huge: we’re all low-income and a few of us have dogs, and the current housing market in this city would eat us alive. when faced with the stress of a new landlord or possible eviction, it makes sense to do what we can to get control over our current housing situation. however, tonight i wonder if that’s enough. what kind of housing co-op could we be, if we feel compelled to call the cops on one another on a regular basis? i was talking with a co-worker about this yesterday, and she suggested that maybe a co-op could be what brings us together, what stops the violence in our house. at the time i laughed and felt optimistic: sure, i thought. a sense of community can be a powerful thing.
but do you know what else can be powerful? the primal fear that’s triggered when i’m woken up in the middle of the night by screaming and intermittent thudding noises. when i realized how fast my heart was beating, i decided that i needed to do something. domestic disputes in that apartment are pretty common, but a couple weeks ago there was an incident that had me dialing 911: apparently, the girlfriend of the tenant is addicted to drugs and she stabbed him, prompting members of his family to arrive and kick her out of the apartment. tonight, all i could think was that if it was same thing all over again, but she hurt him worse this time, i’ll be hard-pressed to accept my lack of action. so i called the cops, told them what was going on, explained why it worried me. they sent over two officers, who spoke with me after they’d been downstairs. they confirmed that it was the girlfriend again, but she’d left, so everything should be quiet for the rest of the night.
quiet for the rest of the night, but what about tomorrow? i can’t stick with the small picture, am thinking about the larger context. i’d like to take for granted that i could have an uninterrupted sleep each night. instead of worrying about my neighbours killing each other, i want to be challenged by our common task of maintaining our home. the optimism that i felt when i wrote that letter this evening is all but gone, replaced by aching eyes and a sense that this is not the time or place for a grassroots housing initiative. i don’t think we can get there from here.
[photo: random sight in an alley in downtown winnipeg, december 2007]