When resident Terry Theriault has to move out of her 3 bedroom house next year, she’s already given up any hope of ever returning to Regent Park. “You knew all along that they weren’t bringing the people back,” says Theriault who lives with her two daughters in a subsidized 3 bedroom house. “My big toe couldn’t fit into one of these (condominiums).”
Even though One Cole suite designs include studio, one-bedroom, one-bedroom plus den, two-bedroom, two-bedroom plus den, and three-bedroom townhome units, the 64-year-old doesn’t want to leave the community that helped her obtain clothing, health cards and birth certificates for her two adopted children when she moved here 5 years ago.
“The community where you can get help for nothing for your children is just miraculous,” says Theriault who lives on the Ontario Disability Support Plan. “They’ve been going to the Regent Park Community Health Centre since they were babies. And they gave us free medicine until we got our OHIP.”
A Fitness Centre, a Café Bar & Lounge with wireless internet capabilities, a new 26,000 square foot state-of-the-art aquatic centre and an upscale grocery store aren’t exactly the kind of neighbourhood improvements that low income residents like Theriault are counting on after the Regent Park revitalization is complete. Groups like Parent with Better Beginnings and the after school drop-in centres are what low income residents fear will be replaced with services geared towards middle and upper income earners.
While Theriault admits Regent Park needs revitalizing, she supports a mixed income neighbourhood that provides for the needs of all income levels. “But this is no way geared to us the people of Regent Park,” she says. “If I can’t get a house I’ll die.”
Prior to coming to Regent Park, Theriault and her daughters lived in a subsidized one bedroom apartment. That was fine when her children were toddlers. As they got older, though, Theriault had to start carting bikes up and down an elevator and had to be outside most of the time watching her kids in the park. In a house, her children can run in and out as they please.
“I like my school and I like my house,” says 10-year-old Shannon. “I’d feel sad if we had to move out of Regent Park.”
“I made a whole bunch of new friends and I’m really happy that I get to live in a house instead of a building,” says 11-year-old Sheena. “I’d feel sad too if we had to move.”
“It would be a terrible blow for us if we had to live in a building again,” says Theriault.
The prospect of being relocated is a scary and sad prospect for the Theriault family. The girls have learning disabilities and need to be near a school that can accommodate their needs. “I live for my children,” says Theriault. “So I will be literally uprooting my children near a school that can take care of them. When that school loses its funding for special needs, which it will, I’ll have to move again. And if the government decides to sell or revitalize the area where I’m living, I’ll have to move again.”
Theriault continued: “My whole existence is on the government’s whim. While I am grateful for disability and housing, they’re about to take the roof away from me.
Even though she was warned before she moved in to her house that the redevelopment would be taking place in the near future, Theriault says, “I got used to better. You won’t take it away?” quoting a line from the movie “In the Heat of the Night” starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier.
“When poverty stricken people say ‘I got used to better’ we’re talking little things that other people would just take for granted,” she says. “My children would be lost without the churches and the Salvation Army.”
In Regent Park, Shannon and Sheena take free computer lessons, attend summer camps and go to nearby community centres year round. “ArtHeart is the best,” says Theriault. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful program.”
ArtHeart offers 470 scheduled art workshops after school, in the evenings, throughout the summer, on several weekends, year-round to over 250 children and youth. ArtHeart’s Computer Lab is very popular and a great resource for participants of all ages who would otherwise have no, or very limited, access to computers.
Throughout the year and weekly in the summertime, ArtHeart provides participants with several cultural and recreational field trip opportunities where they take up to 20 children and youth at a time to visit places like the ROM, the AGO, the Science Centre, sketching at Riverdale Farm, Allan Gardens and more.
Once the wrecking ball comes in next year, the Theriault family and other Regent Park residents will not only lose their housing, but all the supports low income people depend upon for a decent quality of life.
“As bad as it (Regent Park) is,” says Theriault, “it’s twice as beautiful too.”
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