The key that Marva Burnett received last Saturday would open more than just the new Habitat home she, emergency services personnel and other volunteers built in just eight days. The single mother also sees it as unlocking opportunity for her children Malik, 11 and nine-year-old Mikayla.
“That’s what this represents,” she says firmly. “This is my kids’ future. It’s not about me. Rather, it’s a head start for them.”
Burnett and another family with two children confined to wheelchairs were presented with the keys to their new residences at a dedication ceremony marking the end of the Habitat for Humanity Toronto 9-1-1 Build spearheaded by the Toronto Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Close to $200,000 was raised to pay for the two bungalows fully accessible for families with mobility challenges.
Burnett, who has lived in sub-standard housing and unsafe neighbourhoods since migrating from St. Vincent & the Grenadines in 1982, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis which is a chronic and systemic inflammatory disorder that attacks synovial joints.
“It could be very painful at times,” said the daycare worker. “There are times when I can’t leave my home because I can’t move. There are also times when I have to use a cane to walk and there are times I can’t climb stairs.”
The desire to improve her living standards inspired Burnett to join ACORN, a social activist group, in 2004.
“Toronto is a big and modern city and I believe every tenant has a right to live in a safe and healthy environment,” said the past chair of ACORN.
Burnett and her children expect to move into their new home in December.
Toronto Police Service Staff Superintendent Jane Wilcox, Deputy Fire Chief Debbie Higgins and Emergency Medical Services Deputy Chief Cindy Nicholson handed over the keys.
“The 9-1-1 Build was an excellent opportunity for Toronto emergency services to empower two low-income families with special challenges to break the cycle of poverty through affordable house ownership,” said Wilcox. “The 9-1-1 workers have been a true reflection of Toronto’s diverse people united to provide decent living conditions. This has been a humbling, rewarding and joyous experience.”
Lieutenant Governor David Onley and his wife Ruth along with Scarborough Southwest councillor Michelle Berardinetti and New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament Dan Harris were at the dedication.
“There is a serious lack of accessible housing in Ontario and Toronto and there are a lot of families that are unable to get the services they need,” said Harris. “That is something that I as the elected MP in Ottawa (will) be working at in the next four years with my caucus and the other parties to see if we can get a national housing program restarted in Canada because there is a need there.”
The event’s Master of Ceremony was York University fourth-year Social Work student Curtis Hector who grew up in Regent Park.
“I was raised in cramped apartments among pests in an unsafe environment,” said 25-year-old Hector. “That was my reality until my family was provided with a Habitat for Humanity home seven years ago and we were able to see real change in our living conditions. That’s why I believe so strongly in the organization and I began giving back to provide a hand-up for families in need.”
Hector, who aspires to be a politician, started a Habitat for Humanity chapter at York University and volunteers with the national non-profit organization on a regular basis.