KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As predicted, Dorian blew through the province and wreaked havoc. While power crews struggled to get residents back on the grid, some of us fared better than others. Walking through residential neighbourhoods in Halifax, it would seem that there was no rhyme or reason to how some properties were affected, while those next door appeared unscathed. Folks with generators welcomed neighbours into their homes or ran extension cords next door. We had a lot of notice. We had time to prepare and stock up. For many, Juan is still fresh in the collective memory, and those of us who missed it have certainly heard the tales. We knew what to do this time.
Except, if you are among the working poor or living on income assistance in Nova Scotia and existing check-to-check is a regular feat of survival, you don’t have the privilege of preparing in advance. Buying extra non-perishable food and bottled water to last for three days, much less carrying bulk supplies on foot and by bus, is not an option when your personal allowance for the month is a meagre $275.00. It all has a place to go already, and there is no extra cushion for emergencies. And your neighbour likely doesn’t own a generator or a vehicle to give you a lift to one of the three temporary shelters/comfort centres in HRM, all set up kilometres away from the city core and inaccessible to folks without transportation.
The city’s efforts to prepare in advance were commendable. Additional safety measures taken, such as removing buses from the roads for 24 hours, were certainly necessary. Metro Transit drivers need to be safe while extra vehicles on the roads impede emergency vehicles from getting to where they need to be, not to mention crews that are busy removing debris and attending to fallen trees and wires. However, there were no measures taken to ensure that the folks who are most vulnerable would have access to those shelters or other necessary supports.
Such gaps in planning put extra pressures on non-profit agencies to stretch already thin resources to come up with creative solutions to help those in need. The ‘regular’ shelters that offer emergency shelter and services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness did what they could to prepare and respond. They made space for extra guests, added staff (sometimes on overtime), bought extra food and batteries, and flashlights and supplies because, invariably, the power would go out. The resources were not just financial. Shelters were already filled with people experiencing crises and challenges that many of us would find difficult to endure. Add in Dorian and its impacts and the stress levels climb, for everyone. There is a very human element, and a gendered assumption, that draws upon the energies and commitments of dedicated shelter workers. It is noteworthy that women comprise the majority of workers in non-profit support roles, and too often when additional work is required, there is an unspoken expectation that workers in the helping professions can and should take on extra responsibilities, without added funding or supports.
While Dorian has been an inconvenience to all of us, and indeed a hardship to many who still struggle without power and whose homes and businesses have been damaged or compromised, the folks who fare the worst in such circumstances are the most marginalized in our communities. The storm’s adverse effects aren’t just arbitrary. They are most impactful on those of us with the fewest resources. It’s not just luck of the draw. While climate change promises to unleash increasing weather events like Dorian upon us, we need to better prepare for our community’s most vulnerable.
Sheri Lecker is Executive Director of Adsum for Women & Children
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