In the winter of 1980, I decided to move from my comfortable apartment to avoid memories of a violent incident that had occurred in the lobby. The decision was particularly difficult to make because finding housing in Vancouver City was a huge undertaking--the city boasted a constant vacancy rate of zero percent. At the same time, my friend Cathy and her friend, Lindsey, whom I did not know, were considering the idea of renting a house to share expenses. They kindly invited me to join them. And I decided that it was time to stop living alone.
So we began our search. We rose at dawn to be first to read the rental advertisements in the morning paper. Then we made appointments and drove about the city to view the houses. One house that we saw smelled so dreadful that we struggled with our vomit reflexes. The landlord revealed that the house had been occupied by drug dealers with big dogs. The dogs had defecated indoors wherever they pleased, while the human occupants had defaced the walls with graffiti and had obviously been occupied with interests other than house cleaning. Mr. Taylor, the owner, explained that he would repair, repaint, remove (the broken-down cars in the yard), and otherwise make the house liveable within the next month. Thus, the three of us saw the potential of the house, and we paid our deposits to Mr. Taylor. It reassured him to have quiet businesswomen living in his house.
Lindsey was the first of us to move into the house. Her initial happiness in our new home was shattered when thieves kicked open the front door and rifled through her unpacked cartons. She felt violated. I did too, but I tried to maintain a positive attitude as I packed.
Only a week before my moving day, Cathy called me.
"You're my friend," she began in an unusual high-pitched voice. "And you need to know how I feel. I have negative feelings about moving into the house."
That surprised me and I felt a sense of dread, for she was the kind of person who always retained an optimistic outlook.
"It's not only because of the break-in," she continued. "I'm not sure that I want to live with Lindsey. "We haven't had problems before, but we've just had an argument. You feel free to move in with her, but I probably won't.
I felt as though the floor beneath me had caved in. Because I didn't know Lindsey, I did not want to share a house with her without dear Cathy being there. Now I had only one week to find a place of my own--mine was already rented to someone from the third floor.
I arranged for a week off work (without pay) and called my moving company to advise them that I needed to store my possessions with them and that I would phone them in the future with a new moving date. There was no guarantee that I would find a suite within the week even if I worked full-time to search.
Each day I woke early and checked the newspaper. I called from pay phones and made my appointments. Then I rode public transit to view the 'possibles'. Sometimes I became lost. In my quest for elusive vacancy signs, I walked up and down the streets where I wanted to live. Although I viewed several suites, I was rarely given first refusal. Because my travel by transit consumed so much time, I often arrived at viewings to find myself 12th in the line-up, which gave everyone ahead of me a better chance at the rental opportunities. The rental law, roughly stated was, "First to view; first to be telephoned."
When I woke up on the last day of March, I was homeless. The new tenants of my suite had moved in their belongings, and then left on a skiing trip. I had slept on a foam mat on the floor.
Then one opportunity for optimism presented itself: My best friend, Tracy, who lived with her parents in the toniest section of the city, explained my predicament to her family,and theykindly offered me a place to stay until I located an apartment. Then, at the last moment on that last day of March, I received a call from a landlord who offered me second refusal on a studio suite just down the street. Although the idea of a ground floor suite made me feel apprehensive, I rented it--I had no choice.
The studio was already furnished, so I moved in temporarily, with the plan of taking my time to find a place to live in for the long term. So I continued to search for apartments on weekends, and finally selected a two-bedroom basement suite in a house in the suburbs. I paid double rents that month: I was dinged with rent on the old one, and I needed to pay to hold the new one.
When Tracy drove me to my new home to pick up my keys and arrange a moving date, for April 13th, the landlady said, "No. You can't move in then. That's the day the fumigators are coming."
I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and meekly accommodated the landlady by changing my move to two days later. My friends with cars helped me transfer my clothes, stereo and television, but I had no money to move my possessions out of storage. I cleaned and I scrubbed and I vacuumed my new home. I slept on an old couch that had been left behind in the living room. Then, I became infested with lice! I did not know for certain if this was due sleeping on the old couch, butI did know for certain that I had not been in contact with dirty people.
I panicked - I packed a small suitcase and escaped to the YWCA. I returned once to ask the landlady to fumigate again, but she refused to do so. So I skipped out on her without giving any notice of moving out.
Inside the small box of a room at the YWCA, I lived a Zen type of existence for I had little to do. Misfortune became my friend: I became ill and was unable to work. I read the Book of Job.
After mulling things over, I left everything I owned behind at the 'lousy' house, and let my furnishings remain where they were, while I returned to my family in Alberta. It was so simple -I took the train to Edmonton.
Now I was truly homeless. I stayed with my Aunt Rose and her new husband on the South Side, sleeping in an unfurnished basement room, with no door, nor privacy. I lived out of my suitcase.
Tender, loving careby family alleviated my illness, so I secured contract work with the government. With no expenses, I saved my earnings. I lived a gypsy life--I stayed with Aunt Rose in the city during the week, and on weekends, I stayed with my brother, Jack, on his farm.
After three months passed, I felt homesick for Vancouver, and so returned, grateful to my family and grateful for my savings. I stayed for a month with my friend, Monica, while I settled into a new job and located a two-bedroom suite in the section of the city known as 'Little Italy." How wonderful was the day that I moved my furnishings out of storage. How fortunate I was to be able to rescue most of my belongings, if not my clothing, from the 'lousy'suite in the suburbs. I had my television, my stereo and my records. I was home--for now.