Thirteen years later, there is a place for Edmond Yu
- Guest post
Fourteen people gathered Friday afternoon in Grange Park, behind The Art Gallery of Ontario, to remember Edmond Yu on the 13th anniversary of his death.
The guests, each holding a single yellow chrysanthemum, took turns sharing their memories of a man they say was ‘brilliant’ but troubled; someone who managed to enjoy life despite his illness, but ultimately fell victim to the mental health system, landlords and the police.
Yu, 35, was shot six times by a Toronto police officer on a TTC bus on Feb. 20, 1997. He was homeless, transient and living with paranoid schizophrenia. He was not taking his medication. The police officer was cleared of any wrongdoing by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit.
In death, Yu became an important figure to the psychiatric survivor community in Toronto. Activists say the need for housing, the right kind of housing, is more urgent than ever.
Bob Rose, program director at the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, recalled Yu's habit of wearing seven watches on his wrist.
“It’s as if he was saying ‘how much time is this going to take?’”
But things have taken a turn for the better and next year the Yu memorial will take place in a brand new safe house for psychiatric survivors named in his honour.
Construction of Edmond Yu Place is underway at Queen and Dowling streets, the same place where a large rooming house stood derelict for nearly a decade following a massive fire. That rooming house once counted Yu as a tenant.
Residents will have 24-hour security, access to counselling, peer support, employment training and food services through PARC, the organization that spearheaded the project.
“I feel like we could have done more, but we got the Edmond Yu safe house online, so that’s good. Not exactly the model we wanted, but it’s housing,” said Mel Starkman, former co-chair of the Edmond Place Safe House Committee.
The original plan was to build housing similar to the Runaway House in Berlin, Germany. The Runaway House provides lodging, meals and emotional support to people who have decided to stop taking psychiatric drugs. Fifty per cent of the staff are psychiatric survivors.
Alexandra Bosanac is a freelance writer and journalism student at Ryerson University. firstname.lastname@example.org