‘Why is nobody helping us?’: Mother waiting five years for public housing

180

Dawn-Marie Blanchard says she is ready to pack up her life and leave Yellowknife after waiting on a public housing list for nearly five years.

Since the mother of two arrived in the city after an absence of several years, her struggle for housing has taken her from transitional housing at Rockhill family housing to Alison McAteer House and Lynn’s Place, to a one-bedroom basement suite financed by income support.

Emelie Peacock/NNSL photo
Dawn-Marie Blanchard, left, with nine-and-a-half month old daughter Trinity-Seanna, six-year-old step-daughter Mercedes Bourque and five-year-old son Mackenzie. Blanchard has been searching for permanent housing for herself and her children for over five years and was forced to live in a tent last summer while pregnant with Trinity-Seanna.

From May to August last year, the 28-year-old said she even lived in a tent with her husband Trevor, his daughter Mercedes and her son Mackenzie while pregnant.

We lived at Fred Henne and then at the sand pits because we couldn’t afford to stay at Fred Henne,” she said.

During this time she said no representatives from NWT Housing Corporation came to check on her living situation.

I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant and I was still living in a tent and I had nowhere to set up for my daughter,” she said. “I was freaking out, they almost had to put me on bed rest because that’s how stressed out I was. Housing didn’t care.”

Because of this situation, Blanchard said she had to send her son Mackenzie to live with his father in Edmonton.

Linda Bussey, city councillor and chair of the community advisory board on homelessness, said residents would be surprised to know how many people live in tents around the city.

We need to be more aware of that,” she said “I wish we could do a (point-in-time) count like we did three years ago. We did a count downtown to try to see the numbers of people that are not just homeless but live in shelters and are couch surfers.”

There are 229 people on the waiting list for public housing in Yellowknife, including 118 people waiting for a one-bedroom and 80 people waiting on a two-bedroom apartment.

Many of those on the waiting list are housed through income assistance distributed by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, stated Cara Bryant, communications adviser for the housing corporation. People are given a set amount for shelter, utilities and food so that they can secure housing through the regular housing market. How much each family is given depends on family size, household income and community.

Nobody from the department was able to provide detailed information about income assistance by press time.

While waiting on the housing list, Blanchard was given $2,100 from income support to cover rent and $700 for living expenses. The family moved into the place in March.

Blanchard said she is now being evicted after being temporarily removed from income support for working 20 hours last month. She said she was given three days notice from income support that she was being cut off for 90 days. Her landlord has told her she and her family must vacate the property by Sunday.

Last year, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) found Yellowknife to be one of the country’s most expensive rental markets. Residents paid higher rents than Vancouver or Toronto, at an average of $1,636 per month for a two-bedroom apartment.

The CMHC also found 28 per cent of residents in Yellowknife could not afford to rent or own at market rates without assistance from the government.

Bussey stressed that while housing is a territorial responsibility, the city has taken the lead beyond its responsibilities by establishing a Housing First program with the YWCA and a 10-year plan to end homelessness, including plans for 165 permanent housing units, 180 affordable housing spaces and 200 rent support spaces.

From being number two on the public housing list last year when she was expecting her daughter, Blanchard said she is now number 17. Bryant stated there is no average wait period for people on the housing list as it depends on a number of factors.

Blanchard insists she has called the housing corporation regularly to check in, provided documentation such as doctors notes and paystubs. She also said she informed the income support program she would be working part-time.

I’m just at my wits’ end, I really am,” she said. “I feel like we’ve been struggling since last year and we’re like OK, why is nobody helping us? We’re doing everything we need to do, why is nobody helping us?”

An interview with an NWT Housing Corporation representative was not provided by press time.