Behchoko elder with failing furnace says she has nowhere to turn

The sound of Adele Camile's furnace rumbles up from the basement and shakes the floors of her home in Behchoko, N.W.T. 

The furnace is buzzing for the first time in a month.

Camile's neighbour came by earlier this week and pushed a few buttons to reset the furnace, so it will work for roughly two hours before it goes out again. 

Still, the sound and the temporary solution keeps Camile, 82, up at night. Temperatures in the territory this week have been in the –30s.

"I'm afraid of it," Camile told the CBC in Tlicho. 

Anna Desmarais/CBC

For weeks, Camile was only able to heat her home with the help of a pellet stove in the middle of her living room and a block heater. Neighbours also helped out by chopping wood and leaving it outside her home. 

She's lived in the house for the last 20 years and this is the first time she has needed a furnace repair. 

Camile says she and her relatives asked the local housing authority for help, but she says they were asked to pay for the service because she is a private homeowner. She can't afford it, she says.

We are refused help. - Adele Camile

Behchokö Kö Gha K'àodèe, the local housing authority, is responsible for managing and maintaining public housing units in the community.

"I want someone who is trained to look at it," Camile said in Tlicho. "There are people like that here [in Behchoko] but we are refused help."

Camile said the housing authority has not responded to her request.

Anna Desmarais/CBC

'Where do they go?'

Martha Landry often comes with her husband, one of Camile's nephews, to check on her. Landry's work takes her across the territory, where she said many elders do not know where to turn when there is an issue with their home. 

"[Elders] don't know their rights," Landry said. "It's happening all over the North … that elders are having problems with housing for fuel, gas or wood ... but where do they go?"

Clifford Daniels, the chief of Behchoko's community government, said he had not heard about Camile's case but he brings many house repair requests from elders directly to the Behchoko housing authority. 

"They would be willing to help individuals," Daniels said. "If it's an emergency, I'm sure they would go and help the elder."

A furnace repair, Daniels continued, could take anywhere from an hour to half a day unless the furnace needs additional parts. 

The Behchoko housing authority did not respond to a request for comment.

Anna Desmarais/CBC

The territorial government offers up to $10,000 in short-term loans to low-income homeowners who need an emergency housing repair, including furnace failures.

Homeowners are expected to pay part of the cost of the bill and the amount depends on their income. The Senior Home Heating Subsidy is another alternative that helps seniors in the N.W.T. with the cost of their heating bill. 

Daniels said it's important to continue reminding elders about the programs and options available to them to fix their homes.

"We know that elders are not very knowledgeable on furnaces and other mechanical things in the household," Daniels said. "There are programs there, so some awareness could be good."

Daniels said he will be following up on Camile's case with the housing authority.