A number of homeless families in the Halifax region are turning to classified ads site Kijiji to ask strangers for help as a last resort.
Shannon Graham and her 11-year-old son, DJ, are one of these families.
Graham was staying with a friend but when the lease ended earlier this month, she and her son were left homeless.
“I’ve tried all the shelters in the area, but none have room for the both of us,” she said.
Graham got help from another friend with an open room in their apartment until the end of the month, but she says the place is infested with bedbugs.
“He’s so tortured,” said Graham. “My child has welts on him the size of a baseball from bedbugs, but I can’t afford the stuff to get rid of them.”
Graham had a mini-stroke four years ago and was living on disability cheques. Income Assistance wouldn’t provide her with any extra income to compensate for the expenses that came along with having a child.
“I could have remained on disability because I was not well,” she said. “But with the cheques not covering my son, and I don’t like to sit still, I went back to work.”
Graham said she isn’t making enough money to cover her family’s living expenses, even while working.
“I’ve been working any job I can get my hands on – pizza places, McDonald’s – but it’s still not enough,” she said.
That’s when Graham decided to put out a call for help on Kijiji.
“It’s embarrassing because I work,”she said. “These things aren’t supposed to happen to working people.”
Graham said the only responses her ad has gotten so far are recommendations of shelters and food banks, but she feels she has already exhausted all available options.
Brittany Swinimer, a mother of a one-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl, said she is bouncing around from couch to couch waiting for Income Assistance to offer any kind of help to her family.
“I’ve been in the process of trying to get social assistance for some time now,” she said. “They’ve just been giving me the run around.”
Swinimer moved her family to Cape Breton from Halifax to attend NSCC in hopes of receiving her licensed practical nurse certification, but without any income assistance to support her family, Swinimer had to move back to Halifax.
She is now staying at her mother’s three-bedroom apartment with her kids and four other people.
“It’s really crammed,” Swinimer said. “I’m in a living room. I really need to be grounded and my kids need stability.”
Without income assistance, she cannot move her kids into a better place.
“I can’t stay here for much longer,” she said. “I’ve looked into shelters, but I can’t bring myself to take my kids there just yet.”
Swinimer turned to Kijiji looking for anyone who could provide the basic necessities her children need — like a crib — so once she does receive funding and can afford a place of her own, her kids can be comfortable again.
Social Assistance reforms
Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said the province is working hard to make changes to the social assistance system so that families do not end up in these desperate situations.
“This benefit reform is talking about substantial change to really make a difference in these families’ lives because quite frankly, they deserve it,” she said. “This benefit reform is long overdue. Every poverty advocate in the province will tell you this system doesn’t work.”
Without a timeline in place for the issues of family and child poverty to be fully addressed, Graham and Swinimer continue to hope someone will answer their Kijiji calls for help.