Natasha Cleary stands with her husband, John Cleary, their five children, and her stepdaughter. (Submitted by Natasha Cleary)
An N.W.T. family who lost their home in a wildfire says they're being kicked out of their temporary accommodation — despite one territorial minister's promise they could stay until the end of January.
Natasha Cleary has been staying at Castaways Cottages in Hay River, N.W.T., with her husband, John Cleary, and their five children after their home in Enterprise was destroyed by wildfire in August. The fire destroyed most of the small community.
The territory's Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) said it's been providing tenants who lost their homes with temporary accommodations since the wildfire evacuation orders were lifted in September.
Cleary told Peter Sheldon, guest host of CBC's The Trailbreaker, that MACA had been clear with them that the accommodation would come to an end on the last day of November.
An aerial view after a wildfire tore through Enterprise, burning down most of the small N.W.T. community. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)
But then, on Oct. 3, Shane Thompson — the Municipal and Community Affairs Minister at the time — committed to providing accommodations for those who lost their homes until the end of January. It was Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson who asked Thompson about it at the Legislative Assembly.
"I've got a couple of people who are actually in the temporary accommodation right now, and they've been told they might only be there until the end of November," said Simpson, asking Thompson to formalize the longer commitment and to make sure families would know in advance before accommodations would end.
"People are pretty anxious right now, they're worried they're going to be out in the cold," Simpson said.
Thompson responded by saying: "My understanding is that the accommodations are until at least January, but if the member has heard of different situations please reach out to us and we'll reach out to the Department (of Municipal and Community Affairs) to make sure we fix that.
"We don't want these people being impacted by the fires to then … be impacted by the accommodation."
An unwelcome surprise
The exchange brought Cleary and her family some peace.
That is, until her husband received a call from the owner of Castaway Cabins asking if MACA had told them they needed to leave at the end of November. According to Cleary, the owner said he had tried to fight for them, but MACA "wouldn't budge to put an extension on it because they were putting flood victims there."
Cleary and her husband were renting to own their home in Enterprise.
MACA said it's providing different levels of support to people who lost their homes in Enterprise to fire: those who rent are receiving accommodations until the end of November, while those who owned their homes are receiving accommodation until the end of January.
Cleary thinks homeowners and renters should be treated equally.
"There's a whole lot of miscommunication and they didn't give confirmation on anything. So it's got very confusing," she said.
Simpson said Wednesday morning he was "just as surprised as her" and that the family should be given more support because they were investing into ownership of the home where they lived.
CBC News reached out to Shane Thompson, who was re-elected to the 20th Legislative Assembly earlier this month. He said he is aware of Cleary's situation but declined to do an interview.
What the territory has to say
In an interview with CBC News, MACA spokesperson Jay Boast said homeowners are provided a longer accommodation period because it takes longer for them to apply for support through the Disaster Assistance Policy.
"There are more questions that need to be answered, there is more documentation that needs to be covered, and there's the issue of the assessment of their homes," he explained.
Boast said three months accommodation is consistent with what the territory has provided to tenants affected by other disasters, and that MACA believes it's "an adequate amount of time for people to figure out their own accommodation needs and get themselves set up."
Shane Thompson in a file photo from 2020. He was minister of two N.W.T. departments during the 19th Legislative Assembly, and was re-elected earlier this month. Ministerial roles for the new term have not yet been decided. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)
No long-term plan
Cleary said her family has a place to go, for now. They'll be renting off a friend, but it won't be a long-term set up.
"At first we kind of wanted to relocate to Alberta or something but, I mean, given the circumstances and no support, it's really hard to financially be able to do anything," she explained.
They've also searched for options in Hay River, with no success.
"There's a housing crisis in Hay River, so it's almost impossible to find anywhere to rent with the size of my family that's affordable."
The situation is taking its toll on the family. Cleary said her older kids long to be settled somewhere so they can have a normal life again, and they've been struggling to get one of the kids counselling in Hay River as well.
"They keep saying this was an extraordinary fire and they've never seen anything like it. Well, why aren't extraordinary precautions being taken to help us?" Cleary said.
"It's hard not being able to rely on the help that people were promised."