Following a months-long standoff with a landlord who was trying to get them to leave, a Halifax couple say they had to move hundreds of kilometres away because they couldn't find any shelter beds locally.
Melody Baldock and Laurissa Forrest said they wanted to stay in their Fairview apartment at the end of April because the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of affordable housing made it impossible for them to find anywhere else to go.
Their lease expired and their landlord — Adam Barrett, the owner of Blackbay Real Estate Group — would not renew. When they stayed anyway, he turned off the power.
Four months later, Baldock and Forrest came home to find the door to their apartment and some interior doors removed, two windows missing and the tap gone from the kitchen sink.
With the help of Dalhousie Legal Aid lawyer Fiona Traynor, Baldock and Forrest filed a bylaw complaint with the Halifax Regional Municipality to have their doors reinstalled, but according to Traynor, the bylaw office never came to investigate.
No shelter beds available
By Wednesday of last week, almost a week after the landlord removed the apartment fixtures, Baldock and Forrest came to an agreement with Barrett to finally vacate the apartment by Saturday at 2 p.m. AT.
"We probably made around 10 to 15 calls last week ... just calling day after day to find out whether or not there are any shelter beds. We were told that there are no shelter beds in Halifax, which is pretty dismaying to hear," said Traynor.
So Forrest and Baldock started looking further afield, and left for the first shelter where they found a bed, which was in Moncton, N.B.
"We didn't have much of a choice," said Baldock.
She said they left most of their possessions behind and got a ride to Moncton with a friend on Friday night.
But the shelter in Moncton did not work out. Baldock said she and her partner felt unsafe after witnessing violence between other residents; and Baldock, a trans woman, slept on a couch because shelter staff wouldn't allow her to sleep in the women's wing.
Hoping for normalcy in Cape Breton
After two nights, they moved again, this time to a shelter in Cape Breton, where Baldock grew up.
Baldock said on Monday that she and Forrest were much more comfortable in the new shelter, and she said she was optimistic about finding some normalcy after months of stress and uncertainty.
She and Forrest were disqualified from income assistance when their lease expired, but now that they're in the provincial shelter system, they have access to support workers who are helping them to reapply for aid and find permanent housing.
Baldock said she and Forrest are hoping to find "a normal life," which would include having "doors on and [being] able to eat properly again and not to have the anxiety of not knowing what your landlord is going to do and stuff like that. And just go back to not having to worry if you're going to be OK or not."
Barrett did not respond to CBC's request for comment Monday. He previously said Baldock and Forrest were bad tenants who had fallen far behind on their rent, fought with neighbours and caused damage to the building.
Baldock and Forrest have filed a claim against Barrett through the residential tenancies board for losses incurred after their lease ended, including $600 in food that went bad when the fridge and freezer lost power. They have a hearing set for later this month.
Traynor said looking in vain for shelter beds with Baldock and Forrest was an "eye-opener." She said some of the community organizations she contacted offered to help the couple find a tent, as a last resort.
"A tent is not a home and a tent is not a safe place to put anyone, especially during the time of COVID," said Traynor.
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