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Brenda Thompson: Poverty and high rents behind a wholly preventable death in Annapolis Valley

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Last week the lack of concern over the issues of homeless and poverty by our federal, provincial and municipal governments resulted in the tragic and needless death of a young woman in the Annapolis Valley.

A young woman quietly died of carbon monoxide poisoning while her boyfriend has suffered permanent brain damage. Homeless in January, they decided to sleep in their car with their dog. They turned the car on to keep warm in the frigid January temperatures. They did not know there was a leak in the exhaust which resulted in the woman and the dog dying of carbon monoxide poisoning while the man reportedly suffered brain damage. 

Why did this happen? Who allowed this to happen? the two must have gone looking for help. Why were they not helped? If they were on social assistance, it is common knowledge the Income Assistance program does not now, nor have they ever paid the market rates for housing for their clients. If Nancy and Travis were working for a minimum wage of $12.55 an hour it is also well known that minimum wage jobs are generally unstable and a worker rarely gets 40 hours a week.

In rural Nova Scotia where transportation is almost non existent, a worker needs a car to get to work. A minimum wage worker cannot afford both a car and an apartment where the average monthly wage is $1684. This same website tells us that the average price of a one bedroom apartment is $742 a month. Yeah? Good luck finding it!  And even if you do, that is nearly 50% of the monthly income. 

There is a dire shortage of affordable rental units in the Annapolis Valley right now. Landlords have been directed not to discriminate against  potential tenants who have children but they do. And the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission allows it. Landlords are not permitted to discriminate against someones’ source of income such as social assistance. Yet they still do it. And they get away with it because our well paid government employees, both those who are supposed to enforce regulations and those who are regulating the poor, are all not doing their jobs. And the death of the woman and the injuries of the man will end up costing the taxpayers of Nova Scotia a lot more than if we had simply helped them with housing and basic needs. The man may need care and housing for the rest of his life. The family of the woman is now traumatized and will need help. 

Ironically while the two were doing their best to deal with their homelessness, the County Council in Annapolis has been debating how to bring in the elite school of Gordonstoun. Yes, they want a school in Annapolis County that will educate the elite children of millionaires and billionaires while their own citizens are dying in their cars. All levels of government need to get their priorities straight. 

Condolences to the families. May this never happen again. But I’m not holding my breath.

Brenda Thompson is an activist and author who lives in the Annapolis Valley.

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5 Comments

  1. While I agree with 99% of your perspective, you lost me with your last sarcastic sentence. The boarding school for elite, wealthy children has NO impact on your otherwise valid POV. If anything, the positive economic impact of having this school AND the dollars from those ‘wealthy elite” could potentially help the agreed-upon poor affordable housing situation. Also, there is virtually no financial risk with this project for the municipality or the province. Perhaps you should investigate the actual proposal/project before attempting to use it as a paper tiger that you can set up and tear down in support of your otherwise valid perspective.

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  2. I can’t even begin to explain how awful this article is, as if the horror of dying in a car could possible be softened by blaming government and landlords. This article is blaming the landlords and government for this outcome, for discriminating against children and those on social assistance. Well, to explain; landlords are tired of people destroying their property. (If it were a hotel, police could immediately remove those who destroy but the landlords can’t do this and the process via the tenancy board is very long and little help.) The only protection landlords have is to filter out those who may cause hundreds, if not thousands of dollars worth of loss which means not children but wild, undisciplined, destructive children, and not those on social assistance but wild, undisciplined, destructive persons on social assistance and the same goes for pets. Can people please understand the difference? More importantly, landlords are not social workers and are not in business to house all of the homeless any more than grocery store owners are in business to address starvation. Stop making ‘profits’ a dirty word with the same meaning as ‘greed’; they aren’t the same thing. Our system is set up as capitalistic but if we put ‘people over profits’, it won’t take long when there will be no businesses, therefore no jobs, no homes, no taxes for health care, roads, etc, etc, etc… In our society, more business making profits (e.g. millionaire’s schools) means more taxes available to address social needs. (You really think our system could survive if everything was ‘nonprofit’?) I wish people could grasp this. So who is responsible for this tragic death and horrible outcome? We all are equally!! Just by criticizing/bullying landlords into solving homelessness, plus complaining about who in government ‘isn’t doing what’ to prevent these terrible outcomes, will not create any positive difference….just saying.

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  3. This is so sad, but also makes me crazy! Governments never seem to learn that it is cheaper, in most cases to give people the resources they need rather than to let them become or even die because of not having the necessities of life.

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    1. There is a homeless shelter available in the Annapolis Valley, it is located in Kentville and called Inn From The Cold. I know it because I help to staff it.

      I also am a landlord in the Valley area and I am getting quite tired of being blamed for the homelessness. Being told that because I base my rents on my expenses and not my potential tenants income that I am evil and uncaring.

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  4. The fact is that when Nancy Mailman and her dog tragically died, and her boyfriend suffered permanent brain damage due to trying to keep warm in their car (with unbeknownst to them, a leaky exhaust)…. there WERE affordable housing units sitting empty in the Annapolis Valley. Those units were empty in January, when this happened. As a couple who were financially struggling and homeless, they should have been qualified to be offered one, some of the units (including those available at the time) also accept a pet dog.

    They should have qualified for emergency/affordable housing. They COULD have been living in a housing unit under the auspices of the Western Regional Housing Authority.

    The question is, did they try to get an affordable housing unit?, if they did try….were they turned away? (it wouldn’t be the first time that happened).

    There is seemingly no way to know because local authorities are not saying and they, along with the local media, have been silent, as if it never happened. I only found out about this through media in Halifax even though I live in the Annapolis Valley.

    The author of the above article is correct to ask questions concerning how this happened. It appears they are to be forgotten…except by those who knew them…. with no wider questions being asked.

    It is so extraordinarily sad that Nancy Mailman and her precious dog died, with her boyfriend left permanently brain damaged, in the winter, in the cold, in a car, when there were affordable housing units available at the time, not far from where they died.

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