The Housing Crisis in Sarnia-Lambton
Hi, my name is Bobbi Joe. I am an Indigenous mother of 4 beautiful children, a nine-year-old daughter, three-year-old son, two-year-old son and my daughter turns one in August. I am from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. I grew up in the foster care system separated in different homes from my 24 brothers and sisters. We came from a line of intergenerational kids raised in the system, my mother raised in foster care before me and grandmother before her in residential schools.
I have struggled as a young adult to learn the skills to survive in a middle-class world and cope in a healthy way with my past trauma, resulting in my own children entering the foster care system. I have learned to recognize my own past mistakes and poor choices that have led me into a place of hardship and worked hard to make better choices and right my wrongs. My growth and forward movement are fueled by my motivation to give myself and my children a better life.
My oldest daughter resides with family although I do see her regularly for visits and am very much a part of her life, but I am grateful she is safe in a stable place. My two middle sons were apprehended from my care due to toxic people and abusive relationships from my romantic partners. I bounced from one toxic, abusive relationship to another trapped in the cycles of domestic violence and failure to recognize the signs and red flags. I was dependent on the men I dated for housing and struggled to have any stability in my life. I became pregnant with my youngest daughter with yet another toxic relationship and started trying to break the cycle of family violence and give my children a better life. I learned to recognize the part I have played in my toxic relationships and worked towards changing myself.
When my daughter was born, I was living with my biological father and CAS deemed the home unfit for us to reside due to his addiction and abusive behaviors, this is the same father that was abusive and neglectful to me as a child resulting in me growing up in foster care. At that point I took my baby girl and stayed on my sister’s couch for around four weeks while I waited for a bed to become available for us at the Women’s Interval Home. Once we were admitted into the shelter I began working with the counselors to continue to learn about domestic violence and ways that I could break the cycle and move forward with my independence obtaining stability for my family.
I had been in the shelter for one month when CAS came and apprehended my daughter due to a miscommunication with my band rep. My regular worker was on vacation, so the covering worker acted without all of the information believing she was protecting my child. My daughter was placed in a kinship home on the reserve with an indigenous family I knew. This was one of the most difficult times in my life as I felt as though I was being punished for doing the right thing. Around this time my application for rent geared to income housing with Lambton County with special priority for victims of domestic violence was denied. My income of Ontario Works was down to a single person budget meaning $390 for shelter and $343 for my basic needs. During a housing crisis when room rentals were averaging $800, my income was $733 and shared living accommodations risked me not getting my children back into my care. Court was remanded month after month continuing to gather information to understand why the apprehension took place.
I used the time to continue trying to better myself completing a program called Getting Ahead ran by Lambton County’s Martine Creasor. At the end of January 2022, I had been at the Women’s Interval Home since September 2021 and court was remanded once again. At this time the staff at the Women’s Interval Home had no choice but to discharge me because I had far exceeded the six weeks stay policy the shelter has. The homeless shelter was full and it was the middle of the winter. Feeling as though I had no other options, I contacted my ex-boyfriend asking if he would allow me to stay with him. He was in active addiction and it didn’t take long for me to begin using substances staying there. My drug use didn’t last long, only the month of February, but during that time the abuse became unbearable with us both using and the Women’s Interval Home would not allow me to return since no beds were available. I felt trapped and alone, I didn’t want to live like this but didn’t know how else to get away or where to go with the shelters full. I couldn’t take the abuse anymore and I didn’t want to do drugs. This was my breaking point. No help, nowhere to go, no chance at getting my children back, the abuse far too much to bear. I attempted to take my life. I was terrified and contacted Aamjiwnaang mental health and addiction services. Alphonse and Michelle, the mental health and addiction workers came and got me, taking me to Bluewater Health advocating for me to be accepted into detox.
On March 1, 2022, I was admitted into detox and then into Ryan’s house. I was offered a spot in the Lambton Circles program when I got out. While in Ryan’s house we had volunteers come in from the Narcotics Anonymous program allowing me to be introduced to the program and local members of the fellowship. One evening in Ryan’s house when the NA volunteers arrived I saw one of my old domestic violence counselors come in, but as my equal, a member of Narcotics Anonymous. She shared with me that she too was in the Circles program, previously a leader but now graduated to an ally and she would be matched with my family to provide us ongoing support. My circle of support was starting to grow as was my hope for a better life.
When I was discharged from Ryan’s House on April 6, I was fortunate to be admitted back into the Women’s Interval Home. I was having visits with my children and attending NA regularly. I began attending the Circles meetings, working with CMHA and continuing services with Aamjiwnaang. I successfully completed the House of Sophrosyne virtual treatment program with honors and have been working hard to stabilize my life. I began applying for rentals right away even though my income was still $733 per month but knew I was approved for the CMHA Subsidy program. On May 24 my infant daughter was placed back into my care due to my hard work and progress. My OW did increase to $642 for shelter and $360 basic needs bringing my budget up to $1002 per month. This money had to cover our housing, diapers, wipes, formula and food. At this time my daughter’s father was refusing to sign her birth certificate still so I was unable to apply for her Canada Child Benefit. Shortly after my daughter was returned to my care my son’s access was expanded to several days and nights per week transitioning them back into my care out of their foster home.
At this time I have my three youngest in my care. I am still successfully engaging in services with Aamjiwnaang mental health and addiction services, CMHA, NA, taking my sons to speech therapy, maintaining regular appointments for my family with our nurse practitioner and attending Circles activities with my Ally. Our shelter budget has increased to $756 and basic needs remains the same at $360. Now that I am approved for the CMHA housing subsidy, I am also approved for the Rental Assistance Program from OW until CMHA subsidy kicks in. This gives my family an overall monthly income to $2264. My three children are all in diapers so this budget has to cover that cost, feed them and buy formula for my youngest, along with covering our rent.
Since April I have applied for over 50 rentals with the support of my workers to verify they were completed and properly, with no success. I have nowhere safe to go when I discharge from the Women’s Interval Home on August 15. I have been told that my discharge date is firm and they can no longer extend myself and my babies due to how long I have been here and that they are a short term crisis centre and have women in danger waiting for a bed. Knowing this date is coming, my workers have been trying tirelessly to help us secure housing to no avail.
Last week some of the workers reached out the Inn of the Good Shepherd Lodge to secure us the family room to transfer to while we continue our search for housing. Despite the tremendous supports the Inn of the Good Shepard provides our community, the COVID 19 pandemic has had an impact on their facility and they are forced to create isolation rooms which eliminated their family rooms. I am not the first family that has been turned away. OW has no answers for us or where to go on August 15 when we discharge and the Lambton Housing waitlist is so long, there is no hope for my family for geared to income housing. I am now collecting items to prepare to live with my 3 babies in a tent as there is nowhere for us to go. All of my efforts and resources, all of these agencies, even all of these subsidies I am approved for to help me pay my rent are no match for the housing crisis we face. Every unit listed is a race to apply for with 100’s of applicants and working families with higher incomes or out of town plant workers are always accepted with priority due to the amount and sources of their incomes.
I come to you today to put a face to the housing crisis that is erupting in our city. The overflow shelters may have closed but the problem has not been resolved. In fact, the problem has escalated to babies sleeping in tents. I fought hard to better myself and get my three children back into my care and now on top of fearing how I will make their bottles in the night in a tent or bath them, I fear losing them again back into the foster system due to us being homeless, the same system myself and generations before me have been raised in.
I don’t know what the solution is but I am a desperate mother doing all the right things, all the programs, asking for all the right help, but still desperately trying to keep my babies out of a tent. I am asking for your help for myself, but also all the other families in tents in Lambton County or about to go into tents, just like myself.
Disclaimer: Women’s Interval Home is sharing this story with express permission from the client. The views expressed by the writer are their own.