By Vanessa Broadbent
Carissa Halton was warned more than once that the Edmonton neighbourhood she and her husband were moving to was sketchy – dangerous and unsafe.
But the home was affordable and close to work so Carissa and her family stayed, finding a completely different experience than was predicted.
“As a writer, I was really interested in documenting that tension, the experience of anticipating lack of safety,” Halton said. “We had almost an opposite experience where our neighbours were close.”
Halton said the tension is what inspired her to write an honest perspective on what living in a misunderstood neighbourhood is like and she shares her experience in Little Yellow House: Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood. The book is a collection of essays, or short stories, about the people in her neighbourhood.
“Everybody has their biases and yet when people look at their communities and the places they live and work, they oftentimes, if they’re looking for it, will find some pretty awesome, beautiful things and make some relationships they never anticipated making.”
TUNE IN to @CJSF_Arts today at 6:15 PST as I chat about what #oldneighbourhoods can teach us about #community #justice & #urbanrenewal. I’m @WORD_Vancouver w/ #littleyellowhouse sept 30 at 12:15pm! pic.twitter.com/RUPpBnQDGG
— Carissa Halton (@carissahalton) September 20, 2018
Each of the 24 stories in Little Yellow House delves into Halton’s neighbours’ experiences living in an area known for crime.
One story is about Danny and his over 20-year-long battle with addiction. His body was found behind the garage of his sister’s home, which Halton describes as a really safe-feeling place in the community.
Danny’s sister told Halton not just his story of addiction but her story of being someone who supported him throughout and eventually had to make a difficult choice to stop responding to his calls.
“I explore the nuances of that relationship and how she felt after he ended up dying and her not ever being able to find resolution with him,” Halton said.
“I don’t think I make light of any of these issues. I don’t want to minimize the fact that people are scared of drug addicts, but I also talk honestly about the fact that at the end of the day I’m not the one that’s really in danger; it’s often folks that are involved in drugs and addictions and it makes for a very difficult life.”
‘Safety changes how communities interact’
Another story is about a woman who lived beside a notorious drug house where she experienced threats that fueled a constant worry for her family and possessions.
At the end of the story, the police are able to close the house down and a teacher moves in, changing the entire dynamic on the block.
“Christy talks about how when she would walk out the door before when the drug house was still operating, people would scurry into their houses and really didn’t have time for each other at all,” Halton said.
“Once that block felt safe and was safe, people started to engage with each other and neighbours began to know neighbours and they had block parties.”
The story is one that explores a need for safety, something Halton said is especially common in smaller or rural communities.
“When you’re not safe it changes the way you can build a community and connect to people,” she said. “How safe we feel can really change the way how even a small community ends up interacting with each other or interacting with strangers.”
— Carissa Halton (@carissahalton) September 25, 2018
Little Yellow House has only been out for several weeks and is already on its second printing. Currently, Halton is showcasing it to audiences in B.C. and Alberta, including at Word Vancouver and LitFest Alberta.
She’ll be doing a reading and writer’s talk at the Oliver Library as well, with a question and answer session to follow.
“I want to tell some of the stories of my neighbours, some fun ones and maybe a sad one or two, and stories that make people think about community and relationships and how important they are in our life,” Halton said.
The reading is on Thursday, October 4 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Oliver branch of the Okanagan Regional Library on Station Street.