NS Families who lost their home to Fiona are scrambling to find accommodation
The night post-tropical storm Fiona hit Nova Scotia, Dana Boutilier woke up in her home to water pouring down her face from the ceiling above. She soon realized that something was seriously wrong.
She jumped out of bed and found herself in water up to her ankles.
« As I was leaving the room to go to the toilet, water was gushing out of the walls of the toilet. My eight-year-old daughter woke up screaming saying water was coming in through her light fixtures, » Boutilier said.
High winds and heavy rain from the storm ripped shingles and capping off the roof of the house, near Truro, Nova Scotia, and created a large hole. Boutilier said looking around the next morning she saw « utter devastation ».
Because of the flooding, most of the family’s house and belongings are now covered in mold. Boutilier said the repairs will take at least a year and she is worried about her family’s living situation in the meantime.
The Boutiliers are among hundreds of Nova Scotians whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm. According to the Red Cross, more than 250 people in the province have had to leave their homes and stay in emergency shelters or be placed in hotels over the past three weeks.
But Boutilier believes the actual number of people who need help is higher, as she tried to get emergency help and fell through the cracks.
« When the Red Cross finally called me back, I expected to say, ‘Yes, we’re going to have help, it’s disaster relief,' » she said. « [But] they suggested I go to our local homeless shelter and call my food bank and ask them to prepare a hot meal.
« And when I explained that’s not what these organizations were designed for, she told me they would call me back, and they never did. »
Boutilier sits on the board of the Truro Housing Outreach Society, where the Red Cross person suggested he seek refuge.
She knew the organization didn’t have the capacity to house families, so she brought her children to relatives, and she and her husband returned home and camped in their damp living room with no electricity.
For nearly three weeks since the storm, the family has been apart, couch surfing in three different homes.
Their insurance company will pay for an Airbnb while their home is unlivable, but Boutilier said finding a short-term rental was difficult and they wouldn’t be able to move in until Oct. 25.
« Part of the problem was finding a place in a housing crisis, » Boutilier said. « We’ve had to sell a lot of our animals, our farm animals, because we’re just not going to be here…we’re going to be in an Airbnb using other people’s stuff, living in someone else’s house. «
Boutilier said she had not heard from the Red Cross or received any emergency funding until CBC News contacted the Red Cross about her situation.
Then she received a phone call from the organization saying that she would receive financial support. It happened on Saturday afternoon when she received an email payment of $500. She doesn’t know if more are coming.
The Red Cross declined to be asked about Boutilier’s situation because of its confidentiality rules.
Dan Bedell, director of communications for the Red Cross for the Atlantic region, noted that millions of dollars have been disbursed by his organization so far in the region.
“The Canadian Red Cross has already distributed over $11 million in aid on behalf of both governments and our own Red Cross donors to approximately 32,000 households in the Atlantic region with varying impacts from Fiona « , did he declare. « These numbers are increasing every hour as more households are contacted and their details are verified and we are able to confirm their preferred method of receiving financial assistance, such as by wire transfer, prepaid credit card or a postal cheque. »
Tenants worried about low vacancy rate
Alicia Getz and her daughter Mercury lived in an apartment building in the Halifax Regional Municipality that was damaged by the post-tropical storm.
When the roof of the building was destroyed overnight, they grabbed two suitcases and ended up in a Red Cross emergency shelter. Soon after, they found out their apartment was condemned and they couldn’t come back.
« I keep myself strong and I don’t cry, even if I want to scream my head off, » Alicia Getz said. « Having watched documentaries and news programs and stuff like that with displaced people and having no home to go back to, I never would have thought we would be in this situation. »
After sleeping for a few days on cots in the emergency shelter, the family was put up in a hotel by the Red Cross, with funding from the provincial government.
Getz said the support from the Red Cross in the provincial capital has been excellent, but the hotel stay is only two weeks and she doesn’t know what to do when it ends.
She had apartment insurance and received the $1,000 emergency funding for people who can’t return to their homes, but she’s still concerned about low vacancy and high rents in the city.
« Finding a new place is extremely difficult. We reach out to our friends and family and they reach out to people they know, » she said. « I don’t know if I will be able to find a house. »
The provincial department that deals with residential rentals said that if a rental unit is damaged in a storm, the landlord has a responsibility to keep it safe and fit to live in.
« If the unit is deemed unfit for habitation by an entity such as a fire marshal or municipality, the tenancy is considered terminated under the Residential Tenancies Act, » spokesperson Blaise Thériault said. from the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services. .
Getz said her landlord helped her look for new housing, but she wonders if long-term housing assistance will be available.
The Red Cross is not responsible for long term support
Bedell said the organization would try to extend hotel stays for displaced people as long as possible, but that at some point the organization will pull out.
« We’re not really involved in long-term housing needs, » Bedell said. « I mean we know this is a huge issue, not just here in Nova Scotia, but across the country, involving multiple levels of government and many other organizations with expertise in issues of lodging. We are not that organization.
When CBC asked if there would be some sort of long-term government-funded housing support for people whose homes or rental units have been damaged beyond repair, the spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and of Housing, Krista Higdon, did not provide specific details.
« We expect people to approach their insurance companies for coverage, » Higdon said in a statement. « For people who find themselves looking for housing, we encourage them to contact us to inquire about our rent supplement program and to explain their current situation and needs. »
More funding for hotel stays
Higdon said the Red Cross and the Cape Breton Community Housing Association each received $100,000 to fund hotel stays for families who lost their homes. Viola’s Place and Pictou County Roots for Youth Society also received funds for emergency support measures.
But Dana Boutilier believes that government and Red Cross support should have been more extensive in rural areas, and implemented more quickly.
« They should have put something in place when they knew the hurricane was coming, that’s their area of expertise. They should have been ready so that the next day when everyone had all these tragedies, people had a place to go, » she said.
« They have to do better. They have really let people down in this area. »