R. Jeanette Martin
The paint is fresh, the ceilings are high and the empathy is tangible in this renovated old mansion in the gay village, where the Toronto Compassion Centre opened its second branch on Tuesday, July 22.
"[We've managed] a synergy between a sterile clinic environment and a homey feeling - exactly what you'd find in an alternative health clinic," says Chad Cooke, membership director of the centre, which facilitates access to med pot for 3,000 users, many of them with HIV and AIDS.
Standing here in the foyer, I feel like we're on the set of Weeds. Is that Mary-Louise Parker there behind the reception desk?
Nope, that's Willow, a staffer who calls out membership numbers - clients have to present a diagnosing letter from their doctor - and leads folks to counselling bays.
I'm 022, or the 22nd member, and excuse me if I'm at a loss for words. It's just been such a long haul to get to this lovely place with its high ceilings and ferns.
The centre was founded in 1997, and back then the terminally and chronically ill of Gaytown were serviced by skateboarding co-founder Warren Hitzig, who made personal deliveries.
In 2003, TCC was raided by police, but charges were dropped by the federal Crown. Two other compassion clubs exist in the city, run by other organizations.
Now, after police run-ins, landlord headaches and two home-invasion-style break-ins, TCC - which generally operates very transparently - protects the whereabouts of both its branches like the Batcave.
"We have to be secretive," Cooke says, admitting it's unfortunate. "That plays on some people's fears. They might be thinking, what is really going on there?"
Outreach to politicos, he says, is ongoing.
Mayor David Miller and city council, please come on down and see what the community is capable of building. We may need your support.