Inner City Diary
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An eviction gets rescinded
December 30, 2001
"I'm sorry! I feel ashamed for the way I acted. I won't be drinking anymore. I promise it won’t happen again."

It was a week before Christmas and Al was pleading that I not enforce his eviction from one of our apartment buildings.

I was in no mood for empty promises. I've discovered that hastily uttered words and quick-flowing tears are no guarantee of change. Not for abusers, not for drunks, or anyone else for that matter.

Al knew the rules, but had decided to disregard them. Drunk and disorderly. Late night noise. Rowdy relatives drank and argued the night away in Al's small apartment.

Tenants all around lay awake in adjacent apartments. They were a captive audience to the drunken revelry. An expectant mom tried to sleep. Another mom with children tried to calm them - and herself. There were single tenants who have dealt with abusive and alcoholic pasts, lay awake and afraid in their beds - knowing what could come next.

As they called with their concerns and their fears, I got real angry. We had given Al several warnings as we observed the trajectory of his descent from sobriety. We knew his personal struggles would eventually collide with lives of his neighbours. He left us no choice. As landlords, our responsibility to support residents making good choices necessitated an eviction to one whose choices were unhealthy and dangerous.

Most of the violence in our cities takes place in situations like this. People who know better but choose worse. People whose personal struggles become public tragedies because they're too high or too mad to care. It becomes necessary for people who care to do something about people who seem not to care.

I delivered Al’s eviction notice. Since he wasn't there, I slid it under his door. I also taped a copy to his apartment door to reassure other tenants that we were serious about protecting their safety.

Al called later that night with the apology. He seemed sincere, but I wasn't sure what to do. We couldn't just let him stay after issuing an eviction. I couldn't guarantee that his improved intentions would translate to better behavior. But it bothered me to evict him just days before Christmas.

I talked to one of our guardian angels, the caretaker. She suggested, “Let's ask the tenants what they think.”

There were tenants from the suite above and below Al, as well as tenants of six suites on his floor. Tenants who had every right to applaud the eviction and curse his behavior. Tenants who had fought their way through troubles and deserved some peace and quiet.

She talked with each one. Suite by suite, the word came back. “It's almost Christmas. Let's give him one last chance.” Another noted “He's been good for several years before this struggle.” Another commented, “We want him to know we care about him, and maybe this is the best way to show it.”

Hearing their responses, we drafted a set of strict conditions under which Al could stay in our building. He agreed - with gratitude. It would be the best Christmas present he would receive, and the best that we could give.

I've heard what some people say about folks in the inner city. They assume realities of urban life have cemented our cynicism and rendered compassion irrelevant. But realities of crime and poverty don't drive everyone to extremes of apathy or self-preservation.

If that was true about all the people in our neighbourhood, there would be no hope for change, no hope for reviltalization.

But there are people who hope for more than their own welfare. They reserve some hope for others. They share their hope with me.

My inner-city neighbours have once again shown a moxy mercy, a gallant grace that gives substance to the dream that things will keep getting better.

These are my neighbours, Al included, with whom I'm proud to face a new year..
Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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