BY ZAINAB FATIMA
On Monday, December 4, a group from MDHS visited Parkdale – or “The Dale” – in downtown Toronto.This trip allowed people to observe and be a part of the Parkdale community. Students got a sense of what it’s like to live without a home by hearing the locals’ stories and engaging in conversation with new individuals. As the teachers pointed out, the purpose was not to serve or be served, but to observe, interact, and allow oneself to be open-minded.
The group included Ms Gleeson, Mr. Walker, the Living Cultures class, the Social Justice SHSM, the Writer’s Craft class, and other senior students who wished to come along. When the group arrived at Parkdale, the students were split into three groups: one group was first taken to the eating area, another to the Church, and the last group got to walk around and explore the Toronto area around Parkdale. The groups rotated every hour, so that all the students would have a chance to try everything.
Prior to the rotations, students got to listen to Erinn, a member of the Parkdale staff, about the history of Parkdale and how it became what it is today. Parkdale is home to many different people, particularly those who are in vulnerable and in need of help. Erinn explained how Parkdale is a complex community undergoing a great deal of change. The affordable area is being overwhelmed with luxury condos which will force many people to move elsewhere. What this means is that the people of The Dale Community Support Team have to rotate throughout the week, as they go to a different location each day of the week. On Mondays, individuals can join the staff at the Church on Dunn Avenue, which is the location the MDHS group visited.
Left to right: Joanna Moon and Erinn Oxford, two of the three Parkdale staff members. These wonderful ladies are the reason Parkdale exists. Find out more about Parkdale at https://www.thedale.org/.
The groups in the eating area helped prepare a hot meal, set up the tables, played music and card games, and spoke with some people who are part of the Parkdale community. There was one person in particular who loved to play cards, and students got to join him in several card games. There were people who were very musical, with whom people sat and listened as they played the guitar. James, who is very artistic, is another individual students got to meet. James was very happy to tell the students about his art, and the vision he has for his work. Listening to James explain what his art means made it very obvious that he truly loves it. He had brought along several of his own calendars for people to see, a copy of which Ms Gleeson has purchased for her classroom!
“Canadian Abstract” (left) and “Purple Haze” (right) are part of James’s calendar. James is particularly fond of “Canadian Abstract”, as it contains much detail and, is absolutely stunning.
As lunch hour rolled around, the space filled up, allowing students to interact with a very diverse group of individuals. Many students also had the chance to help out in the kitchen. The eating area had a stage with a Christmas tree, and the stage was later filled with clothing, books and other donations brought to Parkdale from MDHS.
In the church, students listened to Steve’s story, who had been without a home for some years. His story was very inspiring, as it showed how one could be perfectly happy one second, and be unemployed and homeless the next. Steve also explained how many people abuse the homeless, by taking their frustrations and anger out one somebody who is in a difficult position. His story also made evident how important places like Tim Hortons and McDonald’s are, as they stay open for 24 hours, have wifi, warmth, and food. These are places that many take for granted, since they do not realize that some view these small restaurants as a blessing. Steve also told stories of how he kept himself warm during the freezing winters, places he found to sleep in, and how grateful he was for the money people gave him. One good thing was that the story had a happy ending, as Steve now lives with a kind family and is very happy.
When asked what people can do to help those in need, he replied, “Exactly what you’re doing right now.” He said that people should visit the homeless shelters in Milton, and look around and see what people need. The little things people donate, such as clothing, food, and even their time, really make an impact.
The church area where the groups sat to listen about the day-to-day activities of Parkdale, as well as the stories from Steve, who had been homeless in the past.
After the long day spent at Parkdale, here is what some of the students who went on the trip said about their experience:
“There are always new and different opportunities to meet/get to know people if you leave your comfort zone.”
– Emma Swatsky
“This trip shows you what is outside of what you would learn in a classroom!”
– Sarah Holman
“Very inspiring. Learned so much. Everyone has struggles but in the end we are all human. Glad I got this opportunity.”
– Heather Pike
“It was great to see another perspective on society; eye-opening every step of the way.”
– Kiran D.
The trip to Parkdale was truly one of the best, as it was a chance for people to see how much everyone has in common, no matter their financial or emotional state. Parkdale allowed individuals to meet the ones they don’t always see, and from a connection with them.