Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Revealing the 'Peg's worst homes

Dire-housing contest mocks rent allowance

  • Print

In the home lottery sweepstakes, the big losers are winners of the Worst Home Welfare Funds contest.

One prays the soggy, sagging ceiling overhead caused by a leaky toilet doesn't cave in on her while she sleeps. Another "winner" shares one filthy bathroom with 17 other tenants. The third has to watch their step on front steps and flooring that are falling apart.

Today, photos of their abysmal abodes are being revealed by the contest highlighting how bad housing is for people relying on $285 a month for shelter allowance. Two of the three winners paid rent well above that. There were so many bad rooming-house entries, the three $100 prizes all went to occupants of the worst of them, said Lani Zastre, who met each entrant at their home and took photos. The social work student is working at the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, which belongs to the Employment and Income Assistance Advocates Network that sponsored the contest.

Zastre said some renters wanted to enter the contest but balked when they learned photos of their residence would be published. Some were afraid the pictures would identify them to authorities or their landlords, and they'd lose their housing benefits or their home. Zastre said many don't understand their rights.

"They feel this is what they deserve -- this is what they were expected to live in."

Some are dealing with addictions or mental illness or both and are vulnerable, she said.

"They feel hopeless or helpless."

The shelter allowance has barely budged in a decade, network members said. The 2013 provincial budget added $20 per month for some Employment and Income Assistance recipients who qualify for RentAid. In Winnipeg, where the vacancy rate is less than one per cent and rents have soared, the goal of the Worst Home Welfare Funds contest was to illustrate a desperate situation and prompt an increase in the shelter allowance, contest organizers said.

Some of the contestants' "winning features" included bedbugs, black mould, exposed electrical wires and general disrepair. For contest judge Ernest Merasty, who's been homeless in the past, high marks went to rooming houses with no screens on windows or locks on doors.

"For safety reasons, these are serious," said Merasty, 50.

"In the summertime, these rooms are like saunas." Opening a window lets in mosquitoes and opening a door lets in unwanted guests, said the man who's lived in rooming houses in the past.

"Someone tried to kick in my door once," he said. "The lock has to be proper."

Merasty grew up in the remote northern community of Brochet and said that was the best home he's ever had. Since leaving when he was 16 years old and battling mental-health issues and addictions, he's taken shelter on a mat at the Main Street Project, friends' couches and finally outdoors -- when he hit rock-bottom lying next to the river, cold and sick. He went to detox, got sober and lives at the Red Road Lodge, the only dry single-room-occupancy hotel in Winnipeg. He's waiting to start a master's program in indigenous development at the University of Winnipeg in the fall and looking for an apartment. In the meantime, he's happy to give homeless people a voice and hopes someone will listen.

"You get that hopeless, helpless feeling," he said.

Knowledge is power, said Merasty, who hopes a meeting Thursday afternoon to inform renters will empower them. The meeting at Crossways in Common put on by the EIA Advocates Network, the Winnipeg Rental Network and the West Broadway Community Ministry will answer questions such as what to do if their landlord doesn't spray for bedbugs, when they can be evicted and what to do if repairs aren't done.

Merasty said he knows what it's like to be in many of their shoes.

"You think the worst will happen to you and when it does, you think 'I should've expected it.' "

(Editor's note: The reporter agreed to be a contest judge. The judges chose the winners from photos of their rooming houses without knowing who the renters were or their addresses.)

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2013 A6

History

Updated on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 12:36 PM CDT: Adds link

3:11 PM: Adds images.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

City Beautiful trailer: How architecture shaped Winnipeg's DNA

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose heads for shade in the sunshine Friday afternoon at Woodsworth Park in Winnipeg - Day 26– June 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A young gosling flaps his wings after taking a bath in the duck pond at St Vital Park Tuesday morning- - Day 21– June 12, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Has the attack on Parliament hill shaken your faith in Canada's ability to protect its citizens from terrorist threats?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google