Tuesday, February 26, 2008
APPEAL FROM LONG-TIME OCAP ACTIVIST AFTER RECENT FIRE:
Last January 23 long-time OCAP activist "Marcel" lost everything in a house fire. He, his wife and children, however, escaped. Now they need help to get back on their feet. His letter follows. You can find out how to donate by contacting OCAP through their website or at OCAP, 10 Britain St., Toronto, ON M5A 1R6, phone #416-925-6939, email firstname.lastname@example.org . The letter...
Please take a moment to read this appeal from long-time activist and OCAP member Marcel, who recently lost almost everything in a fire.
Dear comrades and friends,
On the morning of January 23, 2008 sometime just after 7:00 AM my wife and I awoke and immediately realized something was wrong. It was only a few seconds before we realized that not only was it a fire,but that it was bad. The smoke was so thick we couldn't see anything. We ran to the basement stairs and shouted for our children to wake up and get out of the house. Luckily, they heard and ran up the stairs. By this time the house was filled with thick smoke, and we were all coughing up soot outside. I did not even have time to put clothing on and had to run out in my undies, and got frost bite on my feet.
The Fire Dept. was able to save one of our cats, Tommy, but unfortunately our other two cats - Katyusha and Kalinka - perished in the fire and will be missed by us.
At this time we have no evidence that someone caused the fire. I don't think any fascists found out where I live and set the fire, and though the current owner benefits from the fire and had the motive (he now gets to renovate the whole building free of charge thanks to insurance payoff, plus he got rid of defiant tenants) we are pretty sure it was simply electrical.
The current owner bought the place as of November, and the first thing he did was come around and ask for the rent to be raised. He made all kinds of promises about fixing our unit, and it was clear there was major disrepair. We also informed him at that time that electrical problems was the number one priority, having lost electrical functions in about 50% of the unit on both levels.
Instead, he spent $30,000 or so on the empty unit upstairs so that he could rent it out for $1,700 or $1,800 per month.
We defied him every time he wanted to raise the rent, and lucky for us we have a good idea of what the current "Residential Tenancies Act"says, and were able to use that against him. In any case, we had plans to go much further and force this guy through the board to make the repairs. This guy is a professional landlord, real estate agent, and makes serious money on it. Since this guy makes a living on people's need for shelter, we were not prepared to let him off.
I guess I want to tell comrades that they should be hard on their landlords, use the tenant hotline, call the landlord tenant board for help, use the legal clinics, etc. and force your landlord to fix things, especially any serious repairs like furnaces and electrical work.
And also make sure your landlord installs smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as fire extinguishers. This is a mistake we will never make again. You should have one on each floor of your unit at the very least. If your landlord won't do it, do it yourself and make him pay later by applying to the board, save your receipts. We didn't have any of these installed and were lucky to have awoke and got out.
As well, you should be careful of illegal apartments with rooms that have no escape during a fire, such as an apartment that includes an attic space or basement. There was a total of 3 exits in our unit but for some bizarre reason our previous landlord decided to seal off 2 of them. Especially basement and second level apartments should have a second way out, as often windows are not an option for escape. I think it was estimated that something like 70% of all apartments in Toronto wouldn't pass inspection. I can't back up this number because I can't remember where I saw it, but from our experience as tenants and having half a dozen different landlords I don't doubt it.
We were able to recover some of our belongings, and luckily much of our collectibles and most books are OK. We still need clothes, as we lost a lot of that in the fire.
We also need:
Food vouchers/Gift Cards
Beds (1 bunk bed for kids, 1 double or queen size for us)
Bedding (pillow cases, sheets, etc)
PS/2 or USB Keyboards
We would like for comrades to donate us either ca$h or gift cards or whatever to go towards clothing/shoes. I know it sounds a bit snooty,but people have given us so much clothes over the past few weeks that we simply ended up dropping off 70% of it or so at the thrift because it doesn't fit. As well, stuff like socks and underwear you don't want used and kind of like to select yourself.
We got some temporary stuff from the Red Cross, and some vouchers, as well my wife's mother got a collection of furniture and vouchers from the hospital where she works. OCAP hooked us up with $260 in cash which was collected at a general meeting and very helpful,considering we had almost no cash after paying first and last months rent.
We want to also thank Shane for quickly getting in touch with OCAP and as well giving us the comradely support we need. We don't want comrades to break their own bank to help out, so if you're tight don't worry. But if you can spare something it would be greatly appreciated. If you have stuff, vouchers/gift cards, and/or ca$h to donate us, get in touch. As well we can receive email money transfers as we finally got internet.
Thanks everyone for their help, it's greatly appreciated.Your comrades, Marcel and family