Dear Madam Houle

November 07, 2022

By Dyane Provost, Lived Expertise Advisor

Dear Madame Houle,  

On my way to this National Symposium in Toronto on Sunday, I was at Berri-UQAM metro station in Montreal, my home town, and at 7 AM I witnessed a woman falling onto the subway tracks, to the shock and dismay of dozens of onlookers. The screams seemed to have startled her enough to move from the foetal position she was in on the tracks and grab onto the insistent hands of two bystanders who pulled her up to safety and no doubt, saved her life that day. She just sat there on the floor, dazed. Seconds later the metro car arrived, oblivious to what just happened.

Minutes before this, still on the same metro platform, a petite middle-aged woman was raging out loud in fitful spurts, walking wildly, and as she passed by the people quietly sitting in line, she randomly punched a man in the chest, continued walking, getting way too close and personal to mostly women I noticed, who continued staring down at their phones in freeze mode. I know that survival stance very well. Fight, flight, freeze. Freeze can be a lifesafer. Has been for me most of my life.

What’s the link between the above snapshot of my morning and housing rights for women? We are a silent majority and we are in pain. Houston, we’ve got a problem.

I’m not an advocate of anything. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like rallies and protests and being here is certainly out of my comfort zone. But I had to come to witness this national symposium on the Right to Housing for Women and gender-diverse people. Like the « Me Too » movement where I finally had a voice and the culture started changing, I have this crazy hope that maybe things will change also in housing for women. That’s why we’re here talking to you today, from all over the country.

Thank you for being here, and for the opportunity to tell my story (I’ll be brief) as a ‘Lived expert » in this safe way, through writing.

I’m 71 years old and live in a subsidized senior residence for over 8 years now in a pretty bleak part of Montreal (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve). I started looking for an RPA (résidence pour personnes âgées) in my 60’s because I had increasing health problems and feared ending up homeless as my capacity to work decreased. My story is not as dramatic as many of the powerful testimonies you will undoubtedly hear here, but, trust me on this, I represent a silent invisible majority of women you don’t see in the streets, whose incomes have never been equal to that of their male counterparts, and who have learned to survive and make do with very little.

I’m at present 32 years AA sober and now trauma informed thanks to Gabor Maté’s Compassionate Inquiry one-year course I took. Check it out. Changed my life. Now I accompany people compassionately on their journey to reconnecting with themselves. For free. I am one of the « rich poor ones ».

The residence I live in is in the Gay District and they’ve had a very strong lobbying voice in making sure 90% of the residents here are gay and male. Good for them! I was happy to move here because I’ve had a history of sexual abuse and (unconsciously at the time) knew I’d feel safe here. But here’s the thing : I have no voice here. Small example : I started a monthly journal here and before you knew it, it was overtaken by the boys.

So I ended up getting involved with Radical Resthomes (Janet Torge) and Aging in the Right Place (Vieillir au bon endroit), looking around for opportunities for women to age in the right place. Thanks to this amazing group across the country who has put this symposium together, well, I have hope, that our voice will be heard in this area too and things can start changing now. Now please. Thank you so much!

Dyane Provost