Honey Harbour Business Owners Help Local Family Escape Homelessness

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Escaping homelessness: Tammie Swartz and Diane Vanderwal at Hall's Cottages.
Tammie Swartz and Diane Vanderwal at Hall's Cottages. Photo courtesy of Tammie Swartz

When Tammie and Dan Swartz moved back to Muskoka last July, they showed up with a car full of their belongings and pets, only to find they had become victims of a rental scam. Then, after months of trying to find security and comfort, a local couple took them in and helped them escape homelessness.

After being scammed, Tammie and Dan lost the deposit they had sent for first and last month’s rent, so without an apartment to live in, they started staying at motels. The second motel they ended up at was fine for a few months until new owners took over and it became rampant with drug use, which led Tammie, a recovering addict and alcoholic, to relapse. Their room was broken into around the same time, so after her relapse and getting robbed, Tammie knew they couldn’t stay.

“I took a chance and I started calling around to various cottages, just for the winter until we could get an apartment,” Tammie said. “Hall’s Cottages here in Honey Harbour, where we’re at right now, are the only people that understood us, understood our story.” 

Rick Vanderwal, who owns and operates Hall’s Cottages with his wife Diane, answered the phone when Tammie called. Being 36 years sober himself, he decided to help them out. The Vanderwals opened up one of their cottages for the winter and the Swartzes moved in on Nov. 27, but the help didn’t stop there.

When May 1 rolled around and cottage rental season had come, the Vanderwals gave Tammie and Dan a trailer to live in so they could continue to stay at the property. Rick and Diane redid the floors, installed a porcelain toilet in place of the trailer toilet and overall spruced up the trailer to make the Swartzes comfortable. 

Rick Vanderwal. Photo courtesy of Tammie Swartz

“Sometimes people need a little bit of help here and there,” Rick said. “So we just gave her a little bit of help here and there. It’s really that simple.”

To Tammie, their help has meant the world. Diane has provided emotional support and walked with her to help her become more active, Rick has had their yard sprayed for ticks to protect her dogs, and the Vanderwals have helped her cover expenses like gas and prescriptions when her disability payments didn’t come in on time.

Having lost her own mother and father years ago, Tammie now considers the Vanderwals her parents. Between their help and the help she’s received from Marc Mantha at Gravenhurst Against Poverty and Stephanie Kehoe from the Métis Nation of Ontario, Tammie said she’s been saved from homelessness and living in her car.

“I don’t know how to thank these people enough for what they’ve done for us,” Tammie said. “They’ve given me my sobriety, they’ve given me my life.”

Mantha first came into contact with Tammie when she reached out to ask a question while applying for her Métis card, and she shared her story with him a few weeks later. He thought of her and Dan when Feed it Forward, a food rescue program and partner with Gravenhurst Against Poverty, delivered a load of food.

“I added Tammie and Dan to my route just in time to bridge the gap for their food insecurity. Then, I kept them on my list,” Mantha said. “There are no heroics here. Everything I do is because of the shoulders I stand on. The partners and the volunteers that manage all the logistics, without whom, there would be nothing.”

Mantha visits Honey Harbour once a month to deliver food to the Swartzes and despite their move to the trailer and “the labyrinth of cabins and trailers” at the property, the first door he knocked on was always the Swartzes’. Tammie credits that to the Creator. 

She prays every day that no one else ends up in the situation she was in and thanks the Creator for the help she and her husband have received. They now have a new permanent residence they’re renting at the reserve on Manitoulin Island, so their last day at Hall’s Cottages will be July 9.

As Tammie says goodbye to having Hall’s Cottages as her home, she can’t overstate what the Vanderwals’ love and support has meant to her.

“I’m going to be leaving Mr. and Mrs. Vanderwal, but before I go, I think it needs to be said and noted that these people came out of nowhere into my life and took me from homelessness and made me a woman again,” Tammie said. “I have self worth again because of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderwal. I have a reason to live.” 

Those experiencing homelessness in Muskoka can call the District of Muskoka’s homelessness team at 705-645-2412 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for assistance, or visit the district’s website to learn more.

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