After the flood
On Thanksgiving day this year, Hurricane Matthew caused serious flooding in Cape Breton. Hundreds of homes were damaged, dozens to the point of being deemed unlivable. My parents' home was one of the latter and a 'No Occupancy' civic order was issued. Since October 10th my parents, along with dozens of neighbours, have not been able to live in their home.
After several phone calls and emails insurance finally issued a cheque for less than it would cost to replace the furnace. The extent of the damage is tens of thousands of dollars more than just a new furnace. The neighbourhood agreed to relocate, so it is likely the house will be demolished as the city is trying to have the area turned into a no-build zone. After meeting with several government officials and our EMO contact person I stopped promoting my GoFundMe campaign to help repair the home since we weren't sure if repair was a viable option and we were assured that we would receive assistance and fair market value of our homes.
To complicate matters my dad suffered a heart attack days after the flood. We are supposed to keep his stress levels down, which has been a near impossible task to say the least.
I trusted that having good insurance coverage would protect you in a time like this. I trusted the government officials I spoke with who assured us that they would help. We waited for them to do their tests and reports. We waited while we were all left in the dark for weeks with no word on how things were progressing. We did everything in our power to try and save the home. We waited while my parents home sat without power or heat and continued to incur damage. It seems I have misplaced my trust in the systems and elected government that are supposed to protect us and advocate on our behalf.
We learned yesterday that EMO will not be providing disaster relief assistance to my parents. Apparently since my dad works in Halifax and rents an apartment there EMO doesn't consider their home to be their primary residence. That's right! Since my dad is like so many other Cape Bretoners who are forced to earn a living away from home he is not eligible to receive funds.
I wonder how many people who have to work away from their homes consider their apartments to be their primary residence? None that I've met so far.
Since the early 1950s it has been the backdrop to so many pivotal moments in our family. Births, deaths, weddings, graduations, holidays, reunions and summer barbecues.
Everything my parents have been working towards for the past 10 years has been taken away from them. My dad retires in May and now instead of living out their golden years together in their home, they will be homeless. Their retirement plan was based on the fact that they own their home and the mortgage is paid. They have no budget for rent let alone rebuilding or buying a new home and taking on a new mortgage.
Imagine if someone told you that your only home was not your primary residence. My parents lost so many priceless keepsakes and photos, every report card for my 2 brothers and me, all our school photos, my baby diary and blanky, artwork from our early childhood years, tools made by my grandfather and great grandfather and so many other irreplaceable items. Are these not the kind of things you keep in your primary residence? My brother and I both had plans to bury the remains of 2 much loved family pets under the rose tree my grandmother planted in the yard. Why would we choose to do that if this wasn't their primary residence? This summer I designed the new kitchen we were planning to put in this fall so we could start moving in the last of their things. It is the ONLY home they own and has been the only permanent home we have known our whole lives.
This home is more than just their primary residence. It's a central part of our family history and pride. It's our connection to our grandparents (my dad's parents) who are no longer with us. It's where my dad and his siblings were raised. It's where my grandparents chose to build their life together. It's where they chose to grow old together. They left this home to my dad knowing how much he and my mom stuggled to have a home of their own, knowing how much care and work they would put into the house. This home is a part of our family.
I feel so angry and sad and frustrated. At a time when my parents were finally going to be able to relax and enjoy life a little bit they've been struck by this growing snowball of a disaster. If only that hurricane had waited a few months they would have at least been eligible for some assistance. I'm old enough to know that life isn't fair, but we're not even asking for fair, hell we weren't even expecting that they'd somehow end up in the same position they were in before the flood. We were expecting that they would at least have had some assistance to get them close to where they were before the flood. Instead they are being tossed aside due to a technicality about primary residence? My parents are homeless with close to zero compensation.
I will not accept that.
This is just one story out of so many heartbreaking stories unfolding in this neighbourhood right now. There are neighbours who still have a mortgage on a home they can't live in. There are others who have been affected by both the Fort Mac fire as well as the Thanksgiving Day Flood.
I am honestly not sure what our next step should be. The local MLA (Derek Mombourquette) called me today within minutes of learning about our story. I am very grateful for his support and assistance, he has been great throughout this ordeal. He even dropped by to chat with my dad in person a few days after the flood. While it is a small relief to hear from him and know that he is going to do everything he can to help our family, I have little hope left.
How to help
While I appreciate the well wishes and prayers being sent, if you would like to help my parents and their neighbours, action is needed. Share this story, write letters requesting that my parents and their neighbours are treated with dignity and help convince our government to do right by it's citizens. Contact your local MLA, write to the NS premier or even our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if you wish.
Contact an MP, MPP or MLA
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone Number: (902) 424-6600
Contact me (sherri.flemings[at]gmail.com) if you have suggestions for other people or organizations we should get in touch with.
Close loopholes and take action
I have learned so much over the past 2 months. In addition to trying to help my parents get back to a quiet normal life again I would like to do something that will prevent this from happening to others in the future. I have heard from many families across the country who seem to have been deceived or misled by their insurance companies. I am not sure what form my action will take but I feel that our insurance companies need some kind of watchdog or regulation so they stop relying on our governments to assist on claims they should be honouring. We can't rely on our government to take action and we can't trust that insurance companies place our best interests above profits. We must do what we can for ourselves and our communities.
My first step is to gather data. I am working on a questionairre to help understand the types of issues people are facing when dealing with their insurance companies. This will help me decide what course of action to focus on. If you would like to help me in this project you are welcome to join this FB group where we can collaborate together.