Canaries in a coal mine…

canaries

Picture from PNG EGG

All she wanted was a home. One that was safe. One that wouldn’t make her sick. She got death instead. Sophia* was my age, 51 years old, when she died from assisted suicide done through MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying). She was what they refer to as a “track two” case, meaning there was no foreseeable reason for her to die in the near future. All she had was Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and poverty. Like me, Sophia lived off the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) which allows a single person $1,169/m plus an addition $50/m if they require a special diet. Sophia lived in Scarborough. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment there is $2,100/m. The link didn’t say if that included utilities but I know utilities are not usually included here.

Sophia was “lucky” as she got housing through the Salvation Army but, when covid-19 hit things got worse for her. Her neighbours were home more and smoking more, be it cigarettes or pot. The super was cleaning the hallway more. All this led to more odours in her apartment. She retreated to her bedroom, a place she called the dungeon, but there were vents. The room was renovated to block those vents, which helped to a point but the vents had been there for a reason and now Sally Ann refused to do anything to help provide her with heat or air conditioning. They didn’t feel her condition was real. Apparently their medical degrees trumped her doctor’s. I wonder what universities they went to.

Sophia advocated for herself for two years, networking and searching for affordable housing, anything suitable where she could live. Even her doctors pitched in, writing letters in support saying all she needed was housing. It was all in vain.

Track two has a 90 day period where they’re supposed to look and see what other things can be done to make life easier for the person. I don’t know what the people overseeing her case did. Listen to Yanni and learn how to do macramé via You Tube? It doesn’t seem like they did much searching to find her a safe place to live.

In the end she made a video shortly before her death, where she said, “The government sees me as expendable trash, a complainer, useless and a pain in the ass.”

And she’s not a one-off. Thirty-one year old Denise* also lives in Toronto (Scarborough is part of Toronto) and also has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The only differences are Denise’s illness is so severe she needs an EpiPen because she can go into anaphylactic shock around strong odours. And she has a spinal cord injury which has left her using a wheelchair.

Her friends have been paying for her to stay in a hotel on a ravine but that’s a short term solution. Most people can’t afford to pay for someone to live in a hotel. And now around a thousand people have donated tens of thousands of dollars for her so she’s stayed at the hotel even more and is feeling a lot better. But even that’s not a long term solution. She’s keeping her MAiD request in place, just in case.

I think these two women are the canaries in the coal mine. They were the first but more are coming. I think it first started, in Ontario at least, back in 1995 with our then premier Mike Harris. We used to have rent caps that limited the amount the rent could be raised between tenants. Like if the rent was $650/m you could only raise it to $675/m (I have no idea the exact amount). But without the rent cap the rent could be raised to $800. Plus almost every single new apartment building is a luxury building. One person in a group I belong to recently enquired about the units in the building across the street and was informed a one bedroom was $3000/m plus utilities. This is with no amenities in the building.

this was cheap housingAnd then comes the most frustrating of all. I’ve noticed that there are always certain areas and certain buildings that are cheaper. I’m not talking about violent areas, just rough around the edges. I mean I’m asleep at 2am. If you want to pick up tricks in front of my place, be my guest. But, in the past few years, developers have gone from seeing them as eyesores to seeing them as potential money makers. A friend of mine, the daughter of a childhood friend, lived in one of them before moving to a gorgeous house in a small town. Colin bought a computer part (or two or a computer) from someone in that building a short while later. I was floored. The building looked completely different. The guy laughed cynically when I mentioned this to him.

“Yeah, they’re raising all the new rents,” he told me, “and I know they want me to move too so they can raise my rent but I’m not budging. I like it here.” I wish him all the best.

Colin wants to move back to this area but searching is an exercise in disappointment. The picture above is in a crappy part of Oshawa, just south of downtown. It, and several similar buildings, have been known for decades for their cheap rent. It would be even cheaper if you could get the cockroaches to pay their fair share. But it got flipped. To be fair the units are gorgeous in an ultra modern way, all grey paint, reddish wood, long and narrow tiles, and wide greyish laminate but a bachelor is $1750/m (probably before utilities but I’ll leave those out of the equation). As I said above, someone on disability gets $1169/m. That leaves the person short $581 and that’s not even including groceries, phone, internet (Rogers has a $12/m plan for people on disability), hair cut, clothes (as needed), and everyone needs a treat or two in their lives.

On top of that, people on social assistance (aka welfare) only get $733/m. That leaves them short $1017/m for the above apartment. That amount of assistance lets them live where? The average cost for a room for rent in Toronto, according to Zumper, is $738/m. Are they supposed to share a room? People denigrate those on welfare as lazy and “bums”. What they forget is the majority of those people are on assistance for less than a year and the majority of the remainder are single mothers with young/disabled children at home or actual disabled people. I can’t speak for other provinces (or countries) but Ontario has you apply for social assistance before going onto disability. And if you (or your doctor) can’t find a way to explain your disability, you stay on assistance. It often takes people two or three tries before being approved and longer for some. Someone with memory issues, brain fog, and exhaustion could very well give up before then. What they also forget is you can’t find a job if you can’t afford toiletries, fitting clothes, a hair cut, and bus money. If you punish the poor for being poor to the point of being unable to afford to live that gives them no options at all.

Which brings us back to our canaries, Sofia and Denise. They had no money to rent a suitable place to live and no access to an affordable one. For them, all they could see was the one way out that the government offered. And there’s going to be more coming behind them since affordable housing waiting lists are over twenty years long in some areas. If you put your name down for a two bedroom apartment so your newborn will have a clean, safe home to grow up in, chances are they’ll be graduating from college by the time you get that magic call.

Killing off the poor is not the way to reduce the wait list.

Sophia told her friends that her death was a kind of protest against the lack of response received by both she and her doctors from, well, pretty much everyone who could have helped. She hoped that her death would mean something, that it could stop someone (particularly someone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) from dying. Please let us not let her, and potentially Denise, die in vain.

*names have been changed

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