he call went out in the final week of May. Community members got word that Janna Mouchinski would soon be kicked out of her home in St. Jamestown—the home that she had made with her late son and missing husband.
Mouchinski left Russia in 1995 with her son to start a better life in Canada, joining her husband Igor who was already living here. When she arrived she began working in Toronto’s popular food trucks at multiple locations, making thousands of dollars a day for the owner while being paid $4 an hour. In recent years she spent a lot of time on and off at Igor’s unit on Bleeker Street in the St. Jamestown neighbourhood. She started living there full-time when his health took a turn for the worse.
“Minus thirty, plus thirty, doesn’t matter, I always worked,” said Mouchinski, reflecting on her early days in Canada. She is proud that she did not seek social supports when she landed in the country, making her own way with Igor. Now 61 years old, she has had to access the Ontario Disability Support Program. Since the late 1990s Mouchinski has undergone seven surgeries. Her doctor, who has his office in her neighbourhood a few minutes walk from her apartment, says that something as drastic as an eviction and move would be devastating to her health.
“Ms. Mouchinski presented to me a letter of eviction from the current residence she is in that is shocking [sic]. In my opinion, Ms. Mouchinski’s current medical condition and mental condition is not fit to go through a transfer,” reads a medical note from her doctor. “She is known to have complex medical conditions.”
The unit she lives in is under Igor’s name. According to Mouchinski, as well as involved housing organizers and a social services worker who is a friend of hers, she has paid the rent in full every month. Igor, who was 54 years old at the time, went to Russia in 2019 to seek medical treatment. Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) recently told her that she could stay in her home despite the fact that it was in Igor’s name. She is high up on the waitlist for public housing in Toronto under her own name. They were common-law married, it was clear to TCHC.
In May of 2022, they changed their tune. The unit is not in her name. She must go.
On May 31, organizers from various groups in Toronto including the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and other housing and food security efforts started arriving in shifts to be with Mouchinski in her home. They have a group chat with a dozen or so organizers participating and strategizing. When the first shift began at 10 a.m. that Tuesday, Mouchinski was visibly distressed.
“What am I supposed to do? I’m so scared,” she said through tears as she greeted her guests. The organizers were in regular open communication with Mouchinski at this point, taking direction from her and assessing her comfort level daily. But she was shaking.
She fought back tears as she showed us around her small apartment, dense with artifacts of love and memory. Despite being full of half-packed clothing and household items, the apartment was very clean. The glass showcase in the living room shined and refracted light through the room, bouncing off dozens of canvas paintings decorating common spaces. Ceramic and crystal figurines were placed on many of the shelves around her home. But there were no pictures of her family. After a few hours, she told us why.
“It’s too painful.” Mouchinski and her husband tragically lost their son Ivan to a drug overdose in May 2000. She used to walk to the cemetery every day to speak with him at his grave. She reflected on that fondly. These days it’s too physically and emotionally difficult to make it from St. Jamestown to North York where Ivan is buried.
Mouchinski also spoke in humour about her husband Igor. When they lived together they would tease each other like young children, making crude statements to get each other to laugh around the apartment. Igor, knowing Mouchinski doesn’t drink, once came home with an enormous bottle of wine as a joke. She didn’t drink it, but they had fun together. Mouchinski laughed about this as she told us about Igor’s energy and charm.
When her husband went missing in Russia a few years ago, she feared for the worst. Igor, who is also a Canadian citizen, went to Russia for medical needs. When he stopped calling in early 2020, she got worried and filed a report with the Toronto Police. She says they told her not to worry.
“Maybe he found another woman?” Mouchinski retold the police’s advice, bewildered. “I said, ‘another woman?’ Are you serious? We are old and sick, here, here, here,” she pointed at different spots of her body. “You think some new woman was looking for that? Please.” Neither the police nor any other official body in Canada or Russia has helped Mouchinski find Igor. She believes he is dead.
Organizers present at Mouchinski’s on May 31 received a phone call midday letting them know that TCHC had not filed for an eviction with the sheriff’s office in Toronto. This meant that at minimum she had one more day. Still, shifts continued, and people coming in and out provided moral and strategic support to Mouchinski.
Later in the day a call came in saying that Mouchinski’s rent was in arrears because her parking spot had not been paid for. She does not have a car. (TCHC has not yet responded to queries about potential late rent. We will update this story when they provide a response). Activists in the room immediately made it clear that the amount of money owed was small and could be easily covered with mutual aid fundraising. A representative of former city councillor (now MPP-elect) Kristyn Wong-Tam’s office called in the afternoon to tell Mouchinski and her support team that their office was working on a solution to the situation. Things were looking up.
On June 2, the team received notice that Mouchinski’s potential eviction had been delayed two weeks. They do believe that at this point, with Janna’s health and her integration into the community, that she should not have to leave the neighbourhood. TCHC’s official policy is that she is not allowed to stay in a home that is not under her name. She is high up on the waitlist for housing.
“I go to the flea market all the time. If you don’t go for four, five days, people come looking for you, they ask about you. I walk to my doctor,” said Mouchinski, reflecting on all of the ways she belongs in St. Jamestown. She doesn’t want to leave. “These girls, they are really taking care of me,” she said through tears, looking over at the support network of people on their phones and laptops in her home.