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Opinion The unexpected debt of kindness

'I was angry to be left with two-thousand dollars in damages, but I was even more hurt to know that this girl was going down a path in life that would lead to nothing but destruction'

I am a twenty-year-old Nipissing University student with a three-bedroom apartment. I rent out two of the rooms, and the last roommate I rented to was the worst and most expensive experience I have ever faced.

In June 2020 I posted an ad on the Facebook marketplace for one of the rooms.

One of the responses I received was from a middle-aged woman. We set up a time for her to come see the room, and when she arrived, she was followed by a sixteen-year-old girl. At first, I thought ‘this must be a mom looking for a place after a bad divorce and the daughter is tagging along,’ however, the girl from the ad clarified and said it was this young girl looking for a place.

The woman was her current landlord/ ex-boyfriends mom.

I went along with the interview and asked if the young girl smoked cigarettes or weed, how often she drank, how often she partied, if she was planning on having overnight guests and if her cat was up to date on all its vaccines and de-flead. She said she didn’t smoke weed or cigarettes, she didn’t drink, rarely partied, wasn’t going to have overnight guests, and that her cat was de-flead and up to date on all its vaccines.

She also told me that the reason she was looking for a place of her own was that her parents were abusive. She had been living with her boyfriend, but he too was abusive and was cheating on her.

She told me how she dreamed of going to Canadore for nursing and how she was enrolled in programs run by the Ontario government that was designed to help her get back on track. She seemed so timid and quiet that I believed her. I asked her landlord what it was like having this young girl living with her, and she said it was a joy and that she was a great girl.

After much consideration, I knew God would want me to help this poor young girl get her life back on track.

She moved in a couple of days before the start of July while my boyfriend was home and I was at work. I was halfway into my shift when I received a text from my boyfriend reading, ‘she smokes pot,’. I was upset that she lied but I had prepared myself for this. I figured that most teenagers did drink and smoke weed occasionally, why would she be an exception.

A few nights after she moved in, I was having a sleepless night and went into the living room, hoping a change in the setting would help me sleep. It was around three in the morning when the sixteen-year-old stumbled into the apartment, looking dishevelled.

I was shocked.

She was clearly drunk and it was extremely late for a young girl to be wandering around the streets. She and I spoke that night. She told me that she was five-months sober from doing hard drugs like heroin and meth. She told me that she would get so high that she couldn’t remember where she was and she would walk along highway eleven.

She told me that when she was in these high-states she would jump from building roof to building roof. She also told me about how an hour prior to us talking she had taken a bunch of sleeping pills with the alcohol and weed in her system. I told her that could kill her. She smiled and nodded. I wish I had called the police and an ambulance at that moment. I wish I had quickly gotten her the help she needed.

It was awkward afterward.

I didn’t believe her to be the quiet young girl who was trying to get her life back on track, but I also knew that there was nothing I could say that would put her on the right track. She continued to come home drunk night after night, and after a week her friend started to stay the night. She was polite enough to ask me if it was okay. I didn’t mind too much, especially if it was only for the occasional night.

Except it wasn’t just the occasional night. It was five nights in a row until the girl asked if her friend could move in, claiming her friend had cancer. We later found out that the friend was homeless and figured we would be a cheap enough place to stay at.

At this point I was furious. I felt like my beautiful home had become a motel for alcoholics and party kids.

It was after fourteen days of her living in the room that I decided she needed to move out.

Her worker called me, and she was given three days to move out. I was planning on going away for a week in four days and I was too scared to leave her in the apartment alone while I was gone. She moved out without any issues and I was grateful. I had told her worker about the suicidal tendencies she expressed and I hoped that the worker would be able to get her the help she needed.

When she left the apartment my boyfriend and I went to take a look at the room.

I was overcome with anger, betrayal, and sadness.

There were garbage bags filled with trash stacked high against the wall. There were empty slushy cups laying on the ground with the juice sitting at the bottom. There was cat litter and hamster shaving scattered along the floor along with various pieces of garbage. I had lent the girl a twin bed and twin foam mattress topper. She had split the wood on the bed frame where the bed frame and metal attach and there were bloodstains on the mattress topper.

There was also a big black stain in the center of the carpet caused from black hair dye. From our initial assessment, there were approximately four-hundred dollars in damages. Thankfully we had received a two-hundred-dollar damage deposit, but we were still out two-hundred dollars.

We cleaned the room and tried to speak with her worker about the damages, but she ignored our texts.

We went away for a week and when we came back we started seeing these small black bugs that jumped. At first, I thought I was seeing things because they were so small. It wasn’t until my boyfriend’s legs were covered in red bug bites that we realized they were fleas. We quickly called a local exterminator and they came in the next morning leaving us with no fleas, but a seventeen-hundred dollar bill.

I tried calling and texting her worker repeatedly.

The stress of having this girl live with us had resulted in panic attacks at work that caused me to leave work early. The stress also caused my period to come weeks early.

I was scared, tired, and now owed seventeen-hundred dollars for a cat that wasn’t even mine. When I was able to get a hold of her worker, she told me that I was out of luck. The girl didn’t have any money to pay for the damages and Ontario Works wouldn’t cover the damages. Before this girl had moved in, I sent an agreement to her and her worker, outlining that if there were any damages caused by her or her cat, they were responsible to pay. Her response was that it didn’t matter and that I would have to flip the bill.

I keep asking God why he let this happen to me. I was coming from a place of kindness and compassion.

I had hoped to help this young girl achieve her goal of becoming a nurse and escaping the stereotype many foster-kids are given. I wanted to give her a chance because I didn’t think anyone else would.

I was angry to be left with two-thousand dollars in damages, but I was even more hurt to know that this girl was going down a path in life that would lead to nothing but destruction. The part that hurt the most was knowing this young girl knew what lay ahead of her. She knew what life had been like for her birth mother and she knew she was going down the same path. But even the government-assisted programs and the hundreds of dollars she received from Ontario Works weren’t enough to make her break the cycle.

Where am I now? I am living in fear. 

I am living in fear that the fleas will come back. I am scared that they will attach themselves to my furniture and follow me wherever I move to. I am out hundreds of dollars from lost wages due to stress and thousands of dollars due to damages. I am scared I won’t be able to afford to go to university in the fall. I’m scared to rent to anyone else ever again. I am scared that this young girl isn’t getting the help she needs to combat her addiction problems and suicidal tendencies. I am scared that someone else in my community has taken her in and doesn’t know what awaits them.

I am scared. I think we should all be scared.

Dakota Derrah, North Bay.