Monday, November 7, 2011

Makes Me Wanna Holla - Pt. II

I despaired today.

I despaired at the inability or unwillingness of human beings to rise to the call of their humanness, in service to another.
I was self-righteous today, and over zealous in my challenging of others who would not – or could not – be bold, and do something right simply because it was right, and logical and humane, though it did not fit within the guidelines and the procedures they are saddled with.

Here’s the situation:
I found and arranged a rental for one of my young clients in a property owned and managed by Toronto Community Housing Corporation. She moved in on September first. I got a message from her last week that she wanted help with her utilities, but I only learned today that she’s not had any heat or hot water throughout these two plus months.

Today I was on the phone with representatives of Enbridge, the utility company concerned, a number of times, speaking to people in various departments, in a vain attempt to get service for this young woman. The problem is clear: a previous tenant allowed the utility bill to go unpaid for quite a long time, and service was ultimately shut off. Enbridge has been attempting to recoup its losses from TCHC and so far, TCHC hasn’t made good. Enbridge is refusing to give my client service, isn’t allowing her even to open an account, until their demands have been met by TCHC.
Today, I spoke with no fewer than six Enbridge employees, including two mangers, in various departments, including service, collections. They all acknowledge that my 19-year old client is not in any way responsible for the problem. They also know that she has done everything in her power to have the matter resolved. She remains ready – as she was when she moved in – to open an account and to take responsibility for paying for the service she hopes to receive. But all those I spoke with today remained adamant on the point that she will receive no service until the unpaid bill left by some stranger has been paid.

I am so infuriated at this situation. It’s getting cold here in Toronto. This young woman has so much on her plate already: issues around her income, plans around education and training, relations with friends and family, and her mental and emotional health. And now, two massive corporations, entrusted with responsibility for basic public services, are using her as a football to kick back and forth, over a matter involving a few hundred dollars.
I don’t see any justification for this treatment. It isn’t a life and death issue. Lots of my clients face far more serious issues than this. But there’s something so fundamentally unfair about this young woman being held hostage over a matter she has no responsibility for and no power effect. And I’m infuriated that two vast commercial entities, entrusted with the public wellbeing in their respective areas of concern, could be so unmoving and unresponsive on this matter.

I hope that when I am next in a situation when it is me who has an opportunity to be bold in the face of a rigid and impersonal structure , that I will rise to this level of consciousness and empathy that I have been championing all day. I know that it’s so much harder to act in such circumstances when you feel your own security to be at risk, when there’s a danger that the unthinking and unfeeling machine – massive with inertia – will turn on you should you dare to be insubordinate.
But if we can’t do this...what then?


  1. Wow!I am moved by this very touching story. It reminded me of my own fight with my landlord after I did not have heat for the past two months except this was due to a technical problem which was fixed after I threatened legal action. But, I paid the price because I got a bad cold and now I have pneumonia. Anyway, my point is, I feel TCHC are responsible in this instance because they are the landlord. I thought there are laws that protect tenants during the cold winter times? I am appalled and I feel your frustration. TCHC should be the ones to fix this or alternatively, I have found that speaking to your MP always does the trick. Good luck my friend!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Dorothee. You'll be happy to hear that the Enbridge Ombudsman stepped in the next day and had service set up, but only based on TCHC's promise to pay the arrears - which doesn't address the problematic policy of holding new customers hostage based on the non-payment of previous consumers.
    I agree with you that TCHC shares responsibility here. They should not have rented the apartment knowing that service was restricted. I focused on Enbridge because they were the only entity in a position to actually provide the service.

  3. When Joseph & I first got married, 15 years ago(today actually is exactly 15), we moved into an apartment in the Colonnade on Bloor...Then we went to open up a joint bank account at the nearby CIBC...We had much trouble with that for some reason...When we spoke to a manager she said that it was because the previous tenants of our apartment had done some funny business with the bank...??? So they had flagged that location as a troublesome location...Go figure...Oh well...Too bad for CIBC, I have never put much money into that account- we just don't trust them...Funny how that works out...

  4. Congratulations to you and to Joseph, Sari! What an accomplishment to go through 15 years of challenge, growth and change with another human being.
    And how strange the ways of business, eh? I don't understand how large, seemingly well-established businesses survive following such irrational and callously discriminatory practices!@#!