Yellowknife Inn

NNSL photo/graphic


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Seniors suffered in cold

Nikolett Popovics
Northern News Services
Published Friday, November 20, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - An elderly couple was left sleeping out in the cold for two nights last week after being denied entrance to the new apartment they were promised after a phone call was never made to guarantee their damage deposit.

NNSL photo/graphic

Timothee and Helen Caisse are in the process of moving into their new apartment after spending two nights sleeping in the cold last week waiting for government approval to move in. - Nikolett Popovics/NNSL photo

Timothee Caisse, 60, and wife Helen, 61, are both disabled. Helen has severe arthritis and spinal cord problems while Timothee sports plastic knee caps, a battery-powered prosthetic arm due to a mining accident, heart problems and was recently diagnosed with cancer.

"I'm really and truly disabled," Timothee said.

The two live off Timothee's Canada Pension Disability, which serves those who have contributed enough to CPP and are in such poor shape they cannot work on a regular basis. He receives just under $800 a month.

The couple tried to apply for the Senior Home Heating Subsidy for the cabin they lived in off of Highway 3 since Timothee couldn't split the wood needed to heat their home anymore. They were denied the subsidy provided by the Department of Education Culture and Employment, however, because they failed to provide a lease for their home.

"We lived there for 16 years and we never paid a lease, never had to," Caisse said.

Coincidently, the two had applied for public housing two years ago and were approved in early November of this year.

They applied for income support from Education, Culture and Employment to guarantee their damage deposit and were approved.

They packed up their belongings, and headed into the city on Nov. 10.

Staff with the Yellowknife Housing Authority, however, wouldn't hand the keys over to them because Income Security staff with Education, Culture, and Employment neglected to phone and tell them the damage deposit would be covered, said Caisse.

The two had nowhere to go because they didn't have the gas to make the 31 kilometre drive back to their cabin, he said.

"I had to unload all of my stuff in a snow bank," Caisse said.

"I had to watch the foxes and the ravens eat my food."

They spent the evening of Nov. 10 and Nov. 11 sleeping in their four-passenger jeep with a broken back window parked by their belongings at an industrial lot at Kam Lake. The couple repeatedly tried to phone Income Security at Education, Culture and Employment, but their phone calls were unanswered due to the Remembrance Day holiday.

Jim White, chief executive officer of Yellowknife Housing Authority, said it is unfortunate when a government agency a client is relying on doesn't do its part, referring to Income Security.

"We do everything we can that we are responsible for," White said.

"We're just an agency who provides housing."

He said when a new client is approved for public housing, the damage deposit and the first month's rent is due on the day the client moves in.

"If it's not done on the first day, they can't move in."

He said if a situation similar to the Caisses does occur, they can't allow the client to stay in the apartment because there is no way of knowing if the deposit will be paid for.

"It's subsidized rent and it's reduced rent but it's still rent," he said.

"They have to pay it."

The Caisses, who both became sick after sleeping out in the cold last week where temperatures dipped to -17 C at night, were allowed to move into their one-bedroom accommodations at Dorset Apartments on Friday, however, much of their furniture was damaged after being left to the animals and the elements.

While they were provided with a bed and a microwave from Education, Culture and Employment, the only compensation for the ruined couch, TV, coffee tables and various other furniture is from friend's donations. They hope someone will take responsibility for what happened.

Officials with Income Security had not commented by press time.

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