Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'I'm the nobody from nowhere'

Contract snafu might make woman homeless

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A legally blind and disabled North Kildonan woman will be homeless by the end of the month unless her landlord and the government agency responsible for her rent subsidy settle what amounts to an administrative spat.

Heidi Brousseau has been caught in the middle since July, when she moved from one Sussex Realty apartment block into another. She qualifies for the rent supplement program, which tops up her social assistance. The issue is the wording on the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corp. (MHRC) contract that guarantees her rent subsidy. It's a standard form with a five-year agreement. Sussex rejects that part. The government won't rewrite it.

No signature, no subsidy.

No subsidy, no rent paid.

Brousseau, 49, moved into her apartment in July, after the Sussex property she'd lived in for 20 years went condo. She's visually impaired, has neurological problems from a head injury as a teen and uses a walker or a wheelchair.

Her problems started as soon as she moved into the new place. Sussex came after Brousseau for unpaid rent. That's the rent they weren't getting because they hadn't signed the contract with the government. They told her she'd be evicted if she didn't pay up.

"I'm not saying, 'These horrible people, they're not doing enough for me,' " she says. "If I could have a job, even if I had to use two-thirds of my income, I'd have a safe, secure place. I just want a place to live."

Winnipeggers know how tough it is to find an apartment. Try finding one that is wheelchair-accessible and cheap enough for someone on assistance. If she were 55, she'd qualify for seniors housing.

Her current living situation is appalling. She sleeps in an easy chair in the corner of her small living room. She is surrounded by stacked boxes, the space claustrophobic and dim. Her world has been reduced to this: a chair, bathroom, a kitchen she doesn't use because her pots and pans are packed, a small TV and a telephone.

Her bed is in pieces. The movers left them that way when they dumped her possessions in the apartment in July. Welfare hired the movers. She's not sure where a lot of her stuff ended up.

She doesn't qualify for home care and usually eats frozen meals heated in the microwave.

The apartment looks like an episode of Hoarders, but she says that's only because she's afraid to unpack because she doesn't know when she'll be kicked out.

"Never in my wildest imagination did I think it would get to this," says Brousseau. "I don't want people's pity. I'm not asking for sympathy. But in two weeks I won't have any place to live."

Brousseau and friends from her church arranged for Legal Aid Manitoba to help with her housing problem. A mediation hearing was held last week (Brousseau says that was against her wishes) and the MHRC agreed to pay her back rent and October's tab. Unless the two parties can come to an agreement on the contract by Oct. 15, she's out on her ear.

"It's a problem between the landlord and the subsidy program," says Legal Aid lawyer Myfanwy Bowman. "She's caught in the middle."

Ron Campbell, property manager with Sussex Realty, says the company does not discriminate based on income. He points to the mediated agreement and says if Brousseau has "a beef," it's with the source of her subsidy.

The situation is absurd. She's vulnerable. If she's evicted, she'll go to the Salvation Army. After that, she's sure she'll be on the streets. Welfare will store her belongings in a locker for a month, she says, but after that she loses everything. She's desperate and embarrassed.

"I'm the nobody from nowhere with nothing," she says. "If you're poor and you need help, people judge you. You're not supposed to have too much stuff. Everything I own belonged to someone else first."

"I've always been able to handle things," she says, casting an eye around her apartment. "This is the first time I'm feeling defeated and don't know how to handle things."

There's still time for Sussex and the government to do the right thing. How tough could it be to cross out a single phrase on a multi-page agreement and let a disabled woman finally unpack her belongings?

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2012 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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