A deadly pandemic takes over and millions of lives are lost. You moved to Toronto from Saskatchewan in 2008. It’s a struggle to make ends meet, particularly now, and especially when your landlord will stop at nothing to get you out.
Without shelter, you would run the risk of homelessness. Another eviction ban is put in place by Premier Doug Ford because of the extraordinary circumstances, and this buys you a month. Your eviction hearing has been pushed back, not dismissed. You’re getting warnings that sheriffs might show up at your door. The risk of losing your home persists.
This is the reality for 45-year-old Serena McCarroll, who lives in Toronto’s Little Portugal.
“I was feeling very alone,” McCarroll said in a phone interview.
That’s why Toronto Acorn exists — to help people like her. The non-profit organization holds rallies, protests and supports tenants in their disputes with landlords in Toronto.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cost thousands of people in Ontario their jobs or their lives. Acorn’s members have been putting more pressure on Ontario’s Conservative government with specific calls to action to help people remain in their rental units.
By confronting city councillors, building management and landlords, the group has prevented housing violations in the city of Toronto and enforced Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) eviction bans.
Acorn refers tenants to legal resources and connect those in need with members of the tenant union to organize actions and fight back.
Watch to learn how Acorn works:
“We have to hold landlords and corporations accountable,” Kowrika Suntharalingam, one of Acorn’s key organizers, said in a Zoom interivew. “We believe in the power in numbers and getting people organized. It’s effective.”
“It’s about banding together and saying ‘enough is enough.’”
Power in numbers
Acorn is currently working in 15 countries, including Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Dominican Republic, India and Kenya, as well as nine cities in Canada.
Acorn also tackles issues such as Internet affordability for all and an increase on minimum wage.
“Buyers and landlords have backed down because of Acorn influence,” Suntharalingam said at a rally at Jane and Sheppard. “Our actions are more direct. We would be the alternative to using legal aid like lawyers.”
It worked for McCarroll, who lives in the basement of a four-bedroom home. Acorn and the Parkdale Legal Clinic helped her through a landlord-tenant tribunal hearing in December, which she won.
“Acorn even wanted to protest right in front of my landlord’s office,” McCarroll said. “But we ended up sending them a letter emphasizing health and safety because I am disabled and at a higher risk of catching COVID-19.”
McCarroll plans to keep working with Acorn to help prevent her eviction in the future.