When bailiffs swept into the home of an Esquimalt family last month, they took the children’s clothes and toys, every stick of furniture and even the couple’s wedding rings.
Jamie McComb’s employment insurance ran out sooner than expected after he was laid off from his job as a cook earlier this year.
Despite the imminent crisis, the Social Development Ministry did not approve his wife, Amanda Dreher-McComb, for welfare in time to pay their rent.
Now, after spending a month in a family suite at Rock Bay Landing shelter, with three children, they have a chance to move into an apartment with help from the ministry, which is paying the first month’s rent and damage deposit.
But, in a bizarre catch, the ministry is refusing to pay for their belongings to be taken out of storage because they are not moving to cheaper accommodation.
Kelly Newhook, executive director of Together Against Poverty Society, is flabbergasted that the ministry is using one clause in the legislation to deny the request, when it should be apparent that any accommodation will be more expensive than living free in a homeless shelter.
“The way they are interpreting it is not the intent of the legislation,” she said.
Kim Roberts, TAPS legal advocate, is filing a request for reconsideration to the ministry, after a supervisor confirmed the original ruling.
“If the ministry doesn’t supply assistance for moving, the family will have to ask for a crisis supplement and that will be far more,” Roberts said.
“They can’t move into a place with absolutely nothing. The legislation says if there’s a physical threat to health they can offer assistance and there’s a huge threat to physical health here in having a family living with no beds, no kitchen equipment and no clothing.”
When the bailiffs showed up, Dreher-McComb said, she managed to grab the children’s “blankie and bunny” but little else.
“We have two blankets for five people,” she said.
The couple’s three-year-old daughter, Ziya, lives with them full time, while Makenzie, 11, and Kayla, 6, are with them half time.
The month in the shelter has been difficult, even though the family is separated from adult clients, McComb said.
“Ziya likes to pick dandelions on the side of the road and I’m afraid she’ll get stuck with a needle,” he said.
The family is now receiving welfare, but cannot afford $700 to retrieve and move their belongings.
Dreher-McComb’s mother has paid for storage costs but, if their belongings remain after the end of the month, there will be additional charges.
Requests for reconsideration usually take two weeks and shelter rules say the family cannot stay at Rock Bay for more than 30 days, Roberts said.
The cost of having their household belongings moved to the new apartment is much less than has already been spent in staff time, said NDP social development critic Michelle Mungall.
“This should be a no-brainer for government. It’s one thing if this was a staff person making a mistake, but the fact that this decision has been upheld is unreal. … The minister needs to step in,” she said.
“And they wouldn’t have been in this situation of being evicted and being in a homeless centre, if they had just got a timely response from Income Assistance in the first place.”
A ministry spokesman said individual cases cannot be discussed but, if an applicant for social assistance has an immediate need or is fleeing an abusive situation, they will be scheduled for an interview within a day.
“Where applicable, staff will help ensure the immediate needs of the applicant are met even before the eligibility interview,” he said.