Cassandra Thibault lost her housing as travel plans ground to a halt this month amid the pandemic.

She’s one of many housesitters in Yellowknife scrambling for accommodation as homeowners flock home, and cancel travel plans. While public officials direct residents to stay at home, she’s left without a longterm housing plan.

“It’s getting pretty tough,” said Thibault. “I don’t think people realize not everybody has that option. Not everybody has an actual steady home to go back to.”

Without a place, she would drive around to kill time, but that carries its own costs. She’s making arrangements to stay at a cabin for the next week, but the rest is up in the air.

Housesitters face a precarious situation as their plans fall through.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

It’s a challenge to take on sudden rental expenses with few employment opportunities.

Keith Robertson, a freelance video editor, started house-sitting full time last September. He was grateful he could rent housing after all his appointments into August fell through.

He dealt with cancellations before COVID-19, but never experienced something of this scale.

One household that cancelled its plans offered to take Robertson in, but he wanted something longer term and started renting.

“I’m fortunate that I can do that. I’m not so hard off financially that this was my only option, because (housesitting is) no longer an option. I’m not sure what I would do if I really just couldn’t afford rent,” he said.

Like Robertson, Thibault took on house sitting to save money. She began the practice after a business plan with a former roommate fell through and she was hit financially.

“It broke my heart,” she said.

The summer before she moved into a house, she lived in a small camper. She took on casual employment in multiple roles. House sitting helped her cut her expenses and cover her car and phone bills.

“In case something like this, well, I never expected this, but in case I ended up put out for a place. At least I had a warm vehicle,” she said.

For some housesitters, the city has shown unlikely support for those facing new challenges.

For Thibault, who has benefited from a community member offering up their cabin, the crisis has also revealed unlikely support.

“It does give the opportunity to meet new people and help out the community that in other ways they may not have considered. Not very many people would be willing to have a near stranger staying in their place unsupervised,” she said.

‘I have no actual home in the NWT’

Uncertainty wracks many housesitters’ circumstances. Another housesitter, who asked to not be identified, was on holiday when he got news.

All his clients until the end of June have cancelled, while he’s still uncertain appointments from July to October will take place.

“As a full-time housesitter since 2010, I have no actual home in the NWT although this is where I work and spend the vast majority of my time,” he wrote over social media.

He worried that he would have no place to self-isolate for 14 days when he returns to the territory. Even if he does, he may have to quit his work and leave NWT if he can’t find housing.

Nancy Vail, who has been housesitting since October, was packing for a long house-sit from February to April.

That’s when the homeowner had to cancel a trip abroad.

The homeowner luckily let Vail stay with her for three weeks as she made other plans. Other housesitters have not had that luxury.

Many simply don’t have a place to fall back on, according to Vail. She eventually found a long-term solution, but said it was a stressful process and that she was where she felt “left in the lurch.”

“(Homeowners) don’t understand what happens all of a sudden when they back out,” she said.

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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