The view from Whitehorse’s ‘projects’

When I venture back into "the projects" of Whitehorse, I see another young woman moaning in pain from the beating she got the night before. She's huddled on Nora MacIntosh's couch, but won't see a doctor and won't call the police.

When I venture back into “the projects” of Whitehorse, I see another young woman moaning in pain from the beating she got the night before. She’s huddled on Nora MacIntosh’s couch, but won’t see a doctor and won’t call the police.

“She got beat up by this guy who’s way older,” MacIntosh explains as I sit in the crowded bachelor apartment in the McIntyre Village.

“I don’t know why nobody charges him. He beats up teenage girls mostly. He beats them up over booze – that’s what they fought over – the last shot of cider. She cried for quite a long time. I stayed up at night to keep an eye on her because her head got smacked and she was seeing double.”

MacIntosh is only 43 years old, but has been a mother to scores of people since she got this roof over her head less than two years ago. For five years before that she was homeless.

“This place, ‘the projects,’ is worse now in winter. The drug dealers – everyone parties in the hallways, does their crack in the hallways. It gets really disgusting. Usually we find people sleeping in the hallways. They piss in the hallways, they crack out, junk out, drink, party, then they start banging on my door for food because they know I cook. I can’t say no because I know they’re starving and I’ve got a big meal – so I just offer food.”

MacIntosh says she often wakes up to find people sleeping all over her floor. There are no bedrooms here. There’s a living room, kitchen and bathroom. Nora and her partner sleep on a mattress on the living room floor and friends flop around them. Just days ago, the same man who punched out this girl also took hot scissors to another girls legs to wake her up.

The girls pound on MacIntosh’s door for help. Her door is steel and she has a bar across it because so many men have kicked it in. But sometimes she gets drunk and passes out before barricading herself in.

“If I forget to lock the door I wake up and people are in my place shopping or partying. Drinking. They enjoy themselves while everybody else is sleeping and then start digging around for groceries. I get tired of it, especially when I feed everyone. There’s quite a few teenagers who are homeless who come here and steal from me, steal food.”

MacIntosh says everyone living in the projects has a substance-abuse problem. So does she. She’s grateful at least for this roof over her head and knows all the tenants would be on the street if it wasn’t for this place.

“We’d all have to go to rehab at the same time for anything to change. But I tried detox a few times and got lice. The reason I don’t go to AA is good enough – I have problems in my own life let alone go and listen to someone else’s problems.”

“Sometimes I’ll go there in a good mood and come out of there pissed off, 10 times more than when I walked in. I don’t want to listen to negative stories. I don’t want to hear someone tell me how their drunk was yesterday. No. I’m a drunk, I don’t need to listen to their problems – I have enough of my own.”

MacIntosh paints. A wolf-warrior she did was once featured on the Telus long-distance calling card. Some people commission art from her, and I notice her creativity has spread since I last visited. She’s painted beautiful wilderness scenes on the kitchen cupboards.

“Yeah, I went to a bush camp in fall. Being around elders helped me think more clearly. It felt like a fresh start when I got back. It made me feel more comfortable about what to choose.”

When she was four years old, she painted herself in a rowboat, rowing, rowing, rowing against millions of waves. She grew up in ‘the old village’ in the Marwell area were she was sexually abused many times by many people since preschool.

“I never thought I’d live to see 19, let alone the 44 I’m going to be this year. My life was always ifs and buts. I’d like to have sobriety and get a place with a real bedroom. A place where everybody doesn’t walk over all my stuff.”

I ask how she can get sober.

“I wonder that myself. The only thing that ever made me happy, made me clear, was to go out in the bush. With elders. I know I’m a really damn good person; I just gotta get that alcohol out of the way.”

Roxanne Livingstone is a freelance writer

who lives in Whitehorse.

Pull Quote”If I forget to lock the door I wake up and people are in my place shopping or partying. Drinking. They enjoy themselves while everybody else is sleeping and then start digging around for groceries. I get tired of it.”/Pull Quote