Housing: homeless families at their wit’s end in Gatineau

In Gatineau, more and more families find themselves on the edge of a precipice, homeless, a hair’s breadth away from homelessness. Forced to live in hotels for months, these families deal with the shame, lack of space and stress of being on the streets. For them, living in a hotel, even if it is at the expense of the city, is far from being a vacation.

For the past three months, Tiffany Harris has lived in a small, overcrowded motel room with her 15-year-old daughter and 3-month-old granddaughter. “It’s not a life,” drops Tiffany between two sobs. I have to stay strong for my children, but I feel like I’ve done something wrong, like I’ve failed… ”

Tiffany had to leave her Hull home at the end of July, with only a few weeks notice. As she was unable to find a new apartment, she called on Œuvres Isidore Ostiguy, an organization that helps homeless families in Gatineau.

With little Ella’s stroller, playpen, play mat and vibrating chair, there is hardly any space left to move around the motel room. The tiny table is overflowing with laundry. Cereal, Kraft Dinner and Bear’s Paws boxes are stored in a cardboard box in the corner of the kitchenette. The room is clean, but overcrowded.

Tiffany is ashamed to live in these conditions. His children too. “When they get off the school bus, they pretend to walk further and then retrace their steps so their friends don’t see them coming back to the motel,” she admits.

But what hurts her even more is not being able to keep her son with her. She had to resign herself to sending him to live with her father, because there are only two beds. “My son cries every night. He is having difficulty in school. It splits my heart in two. “

When she is discouraged, Tiffany takes refuge in the toilet to cry. “It’s hard, but you have to get through it. As a parent, you don’t have a choice, you don’t have the right to give up. “

So she continues her efforts to find a real home where she can live with her children and her granddaughter. But the housing crisis is not helping it. And it comes up against prejudices. “The owners do not want our customers and, as there is a shortage of housing, they can afford to choose”, summarizes Louise Guindon, director of the Isidore Ostiguy Works.

A worsening problem

In Gatineau, the problem of family homelessness has existed since the early 2000s. At the time, a housing crisis had thrown around a hundred families into the streets. The Quebec government then agreed to fund an organization to help families find emergency accommodation. Since then, families have never stopped knocking on the door. And their number is reaching new heights, worries François Roy, president and founder of Oeuvres Isidore Ostiguy.

In fact, in the last three years, the number of homeless families who have asked for help from the organization has more than doubled, from 64 in 2017 to 154 in 2020. “We can see that there is an explosion. , and that will go on increasing, ”predicts Mr. Roy, who is worried about soaring house prices and the drop in the housing vacancy rate, which currently stands at 1.6%.

Dominic Gervais lives in a double room at the hotel with his partner, their four children and their cat, Biz.

The children do their homework on their beds. “It’s hard to motivate them to work when they are not in their business,” admits the father. He didn’t want to change his school children, so as not to uproot them even more, so he will drive them by car every day. Either way, even if he had wanted to, it would have been difficult to enroll his children in a new school because he does not have an official address.

“What did I do to find myself in this situation?” Dominic wonders again, sitting on the edge of his bed. I never imagined that in my life. I have a job, my girlfriend has a job, we are not drug addicts or alcoholics, we do not have bad files at the Régie du logement. We did nothing to find ourselves there. “

When the pandemic began, the family struggled with money and could no longer pay their bills. His credit rating went down and when in July his owner decided to take over the semi-detached he was renting, Dominic was unable to find new accommodation. “I had to get down on one knee and ask for help,” he sighs.

He never expected to stay so long at the hotel. “At first I thought it would only be a few weeks. Then I saw the start of the school year. And the months go by. We renewed weekly, it was extremely stressful. There is Halloween. My big fear was spending Christmas here. “

Finally, a few weeks ago, luck smiled on him: an owner agreed to rent him an apartment he is to move into in November. He only has three bedrooms, which is not ideal for a family of six, but Dominic will do anything to find a home. “Living in a hotel under these conditions is really not a vacation,” he sighs. I was brought up with the idea that you shouldn’t complain because there is always something worse than yourself, but here, honestly, I am tired and sickened. “

Live the fear in the belly

Beloti Masinda also dreams of finding a home. Following a divorce, the 38-year-old was left homeless with eight children, aged 20 months to 15 years. “I was afraid to find myself on the street,” she admits bluntly. With eight kids, wow, what would I have done? “

After a brief stint in a shelter, he was found emergency accommodation. “At the start, I was reassured,” she says. But the more the months go by, the more stress increases. “

Since she receives rent assistance supplement – the government pays the equivalent of 75% of the rent – she must find housing for less than $ 1,800 per month. “Finding a five-bedroom apartment, at that price, is mission impossible,” laments his speaker, Tristan Guay.

A cruel thought crosses Beloti’s head: if she cannot find a place to live, she will have to place her children in a foster family and sleep in the street herself. “It is temporary accommodation for six months, but we are an aid organization, we will never put a family on the street,” reassures Tristan.

“I know I can’t stay here forever, and my kids are pushing for me to find a place for us,” Beloti sighs. My 12 year old daughter is still on the computer looking for accommodations, but I can’t find anything. As soon as the owners hear: eight children, no husband, no work, they refuse. “

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