It has been six years since a Langford woman has felt stable and safe. She had a home, wonderful neighbours and a steady job. Now, she’s struggling to find an affordable place to live and keep her children in school.
Renee, who’s full name is being withheld due to safety concerns, has spent the summer living in a tent with her three children. They’ve pitched their tent in a recreational vehicle park in Vancouver where Renee’s parents’ fifth-wheel trailer is, but aren’t sure how much longer they’ll be able to stay there.
For the past five years, Renee was in a relationship with a man she says abused her mentally and emotionally. When he drank he got physical with Renee, but never with her children.
A hiking incident from a few years back also left Renee unable to work. She survives off of disability assistance, and in the meantime has taken courses to be able to start her own health and nutrition business.
For over a year Renee has been looking for homes to move herself and her kids into, and began filling out forms for affordable housing with BC Housing in March. By April, her then boyfriend was drinking and using drugs daily, so Renee moved to a friend’s home temporarily.
“Things got progressively worse because I was finally standing up for myself,” Renee said. “By May, I had to pack up with the kids and go somewhere else.”
Choosing a time she knew her ex-boyfriend wouldn’t be at home, Renee went back to get her things and found the place in disarray. He had neglected to pay the landlord rent — which he was splitting with Renee — so she was given a 10-day eviction notice.
“I managed to get it paid but then a week later the June rent was due,” Renee said. “He wasn’t paying bills, I had to sell my car to make up the bills.”
After paying the rent, Renee opted to stay in the residence until the end of June before transitioning to living in a tent where she and her children have been for the past nine weeks.
Her children, who are 12, 14 and 16 are honours students attending West Shore schools. Her oldest daughter has plans to become a clinical neuropsychologist and earns top marks in her classes. But without a home in the area, the children may not be able to continue their studies at a school where they are doing so well.
“My kids have done so amazing there and they have such good friendships and I don’t want them to lose it,” Renee said.
All she wants is an affordable home for herself and her children, but after reaching out to 180 different places to find a home, only six have let her view them and fill out an application. Not one of those six would rent to her.
“They just say no,” Renee said. “I’m applying for two bedrooms because that’s what I can afford but there’s four of us so they say no.”
Renee said some people won’t rent to her because she has two teenagers and a pre-teen, while others say four people is too many.
The women’s shelter won’t take her family in because her son, who is 12, has now aged out of it. Meanwhile, other shelters have a 19 plus age restriction.
“I’m overwhelmed, I’m running out of hope,” Renee said.
Due to privacy reasons, BC Housing was unable to comment on Renee’s case but spokesperson Carly Hunter said the housing registry is prioritized based on immediate need.
“People who are living on the street or unsheltered are considered a priority for housing and we work with the person to find the best appropriate housing available for them and their family,” Hunter said. “Options may include a unit in an affordable rental housing building. It could also include a rent subsidy to help pay for a portion of the rent of a home in the private market.”
The province’s 2018 budget has included a $7-billion investment to help build 114,000 new homes in B.C. by 2028. So far, 21,000 new homes have been completed, are under construction or in the approvals process in about 80 communities. Many of the homes are affordable.
Renee’s mother has also reached out to the City of Langford to see what can be done. Braden Hutchins, director of corporate services with the City of Langford said in an e-mail that “Langford is doing a great job of building and approving affordable housing units in our community, but the assessment of needs and placement of families resides with the province.”
Out of desperation, Renee has now widened her housing search to include Greater Victoria and Vancouver. One of her children will stay with a friend on the Island so they can start school on Tuesday, but she hasn’t been able to find a solution for the other two.
Renee’s mother, who said it has been difficult to watch the situation unfold, has tried making calls on Renee’s behalf but faced the same resistance.
“How can we make this urgent situation better? I mean the children can’t go to school on Tuesday,” her mother said. “How do you take these kids that are displaced and say you can’t go?”
Never having been in this situation in her life before, Renee said she is struggling and dealing with the stigma associated with being homeless and on disability support. While she has filled out all of the forms necessary and continues to try to figure something out, she’s worried for her children.
“I don’t think the systems here are run correctly, the people who need help the most aren’t getting it,” Renee said. “I’m being dismissed.”