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Rainy days


Margaret slumps over a kitchen chair as the bright, young voice of the weather forecaster fills the room and whispers to herself, “Oh no, not again.”

“More rain” the smiling, personable young man continues. For Margaret, more rain sound like a slow death sentence. For Margaret, the words more rain mean more misery.

Margaret is a single woman of late middle age who has been fighting a losing battle with a leaking roof for the past two years.

 She looks at the grocery-store flyers strewn around the floor, the buckets and pans placed there to catch the drops that will herald another sleepless night of torment, and she wonders, not for the first time, what she will do.

The weatherman, unfortunately, is good to his word. The heavy drizzle, which began earlier in the day, has now become an incessant downpour.

As she looks at the mildewy, brown-stained ceiling, she notices the leaks have been spreading and there is one coming through a light fixture. She quickly switches off the light. She is a strong woman and she is coping. But today, she feels strangely fragile. Today, a fire in an uninsured home would surely break her.

Margaret has no job, no job prospects, no pension and no savings. She is over 60 and she has tried, without success, to find work. A quick look in the mirror tells her why.

Her hair is almost completely grey now and her face is creased with worry.

She knows she can no longer compete with the young, smart lookers. Today, she feels she is past caring, past trying. She does not, cannot, blame employers for turning her away.

Margaret, living on income support, has tried unsuccessfully to get help. She approached the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC). But she already had a $5,000 non-repayable grant from there a few years ago.

There were no leaks then and the money was used for other much-needed home repairs. The rules have also changed now, and not in her favor.

Once, she would be eligible for the second non-repayable grant in five years. Now, it has been raised to seven. She has approached her MHA who commiserated and advocated on her behalf, but nothing came of it. He is a good sort and she believes him when he says he tried.

She laughs at the suggestion she get an NLHC loan when she can barely afford to eat and would hardly be able to eat at all were it not for the charity of a food bank.

Margaret looks at the $292 cheque she receives twice a month from the provincial government through the Department of Advanced Education and Skills. From that, she must pay municipal taxes, electricity, oil and phone.

So far, she has been able to honor the arrangements made with creditors, but it has come at a high price.

She skips meals because she can’t afford to eat regularly and the oil furnace is turned on only for the first 45 minutes of her day during the coldest weather. Two electric heaters, one barely working, provide her with the little warmth she has.

The downpour continues relentlessly. The buckets and pans are filling with water now, and the flyers have become sodden. She wonders how long before the roof caves in. She knows it is pointless to phone contractors and ask for the price of a roof reshingling. She knows it will cost thousands. It might as well be millions.

Margaret’s home is to her, sacred. It is her refuge. It is the only security she has ever known and she will never abandon it willingly. She will not allow herself to be forced into some NLHC apartment.

She will not take her chances in the free market and wind up in some mice-ridden, flea-ridden hovel. She also knows that any government-owned or subsidized building can convert to private ownership and she shudders at what that could mean for her.

No, she will never leave. Come hell or high water, she laughs at the pun, she will stay put.

Then reality sets in. Wildly, despairingly, she looks around for something to sell.

A more humane policy on social housing is needed badly in this province.

As the costs of labor and building supplies spiral, NLHC policies should reflect the realities of the marketplace. NDP NL Housing critic Gerry Rogers has said “the seven-year wait time in many cases is too long,” and she also advocates for an increase in grant money.

This is particularly true for older people like Margaret whose working years are probably behind them and whose run-down homes are the legacy of equally impoverished antecedents.

It is shameful these homes should be allowed to deteriorate to such a degree where the only answer is the wrecking ball because the inhabitants do not have the money to repair them and government will simply not provide enough help. 

It is even more shameful and indeed cruel if Margaret’s home is inspected and she is told she must leave a place she regards as her only security.

 

Pat Cullen is a journalist and community volunteer who lives in Carbonear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or cullen.pat1@gmail.com.

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