Charlottetown woman desperate for shelter

Jim Day
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Stephanie Douglas of Charlottetown fears she will be for the first time in her life without a place to live in just a couple weeks.

Stephanie Douglas trying to find reasonable accommodation while coping with illness

Stephanie Douglas is anxiously looking for something she has always had: a place to live.

The 52-year-old Charlottetown woman must move out of her temporary home at the end of the month.

She is living in a small, but clean, room in a bed and breakfast establishment in the capital city.

The current rent of $550/month with heat and electricity included is quite reasonable but that off-season price jumps up to $119/day starting in April — a cost well beyond her meager means.

Douglas, 52, says she has in the past always managed to find suitable accommodations in which to live. Nothing palatial, mind you, but wherever she went, she created a home.

Now, poor health and hard times have Douglas searching in vain for a suitable place to move in to with her modest possessions.

Douglas has worked as a journalist, a consultant and as a family counselor.

Today, she is not even thinking about finding work, only securing a place to live to serve as a base “for healing’’ and getting her life back on track.

She says her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD diagnosed in 2005 is “probably worse than it has ever been.’’

She has been on social assistance since November. In January, she was hospitalized for sepsis and pneumonia. For a time, she was on life support.

After surviving her illness and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was ready to discharge her, Douglas was unable to return to her shared accommodation due to poor health.

She was not provided any counseling or access to housing support.

That is when her daughter Jessika Hepburn sprung into action.

“When the hospital staff and social workers failed to assist with finding supportive housing I stepped up to try and keep Stephanie safe and off the streets until she could recover,’’ says Hepburn.

“After hundreds of calls and emails to both federal and provincial resources for housing and mental health not one organization offered a solution aside from filling an application for community housing.’’



Douglas says she simply has not been able to find any place she can afford.

She certainly isn’t looking for anything grand.

“It doesn’t matter how small it is but it needs to be functional and needs to feel like a place you can call home,’’ says Douglas. “Right now I just want a place to live...having a clean, safe, stable place where I can have people in for a cup of coffee if I want.’’

Asked why she cannot find a place to live on social assistance while so many others in P.E.I. can, Douglas says she isn’t unique. She says many people need to go hungry on lean on family support in order to afford a home on social assistance.

“I know housing is an issue for P.E.I. and it has been for a long time,’’ she says.

She believes the social assistance system is designed to humiliate and demean rather than truly assist.

“The whole system sets you up to be helpless,’’ she says.

She finds the prospect of being without a place to live extremely stressful. She has even contemplated voluntary admission to the mental health unit at the QEH.

Hepburn estimates her mother’s recent stay at the hospital’s intensive care unit cost at least $10,000.

“At best without intervention my mother will be returning to the hospital costing the province additional thousands of dollars,’’ she says.

“At worst she will take her life due to hopelessness, the cost being I lose my mom, my children lose their nana and P.E.I. loses a valuable community member all because of how difficult it has been to find housing.’’

Douglas hopes, if and when she settles into a new home, to work on once again being a productive member of society.

She would like to return to university to pursue a master’s degree and eventually go on to teach and write.

Organizations: Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Geographic location: Charlottetown, P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • Carla
    April 20, 2014 - 22:21

    What is the cause of her PTSD? If she was in the Health Care field at one point, then could she not find work somewhere other than PEI?

  • Fed up
    April 17, 2014 - 17:24

    Just call Ghiz, Docherty, Currie. Or any of our compassionate Liberals...they will rush right over with help! Look how much money they have left over from all the help they gave last year!!

  • Cassie
    April 17, 2014 - 13:02

    Jessika how Fortunate your mother is to have you Working so hard to find her safe, appropriate, comfortable housing So she can move on and claim her life back again. Stephanie may this next phase if your life be filled with so very many blessings including a new sweet home!

  • Not from here
    April 17, 2014 - 11:19

    About staying with the daughter, have any of you opened your mind to think.. Maybe the daughter doesn't live on the Island. Maybe Jessica you would have better luck moving your mother off that island. It wont be long till everybody has to move away..

  • Jessika Hepburn
    April 17, 2014 - 08:55

    Thank you Jim for publishing this story and helping to raise awareness of my mom's struggle to find housing. If anyone reading is interested in taking action on this or reading more please visit the Change petition directly to the Premier and Minister Valerie Docherty/Minister Doug Currie here I would like to address the comments about my mom living with me as this is a question that has come up repeatedly and has a simple answer. I live in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in a small 200 year old home with my fiance and my two little girls. There are no mental health services in our town capable of supporting my mom. PTSD is a complex and difficult illness and while I love my mom with everything in my heart and would do just about anything for her living together would not be healthy for any of us. I want my mom to have a foundation for success so she can overcome this difficult time, if I could give her that myself believe me it would already have been done! I am doing everything in my power to raise her a home through the site I made for her and reaching out for help. Thank you for taking time to read our story!

    • illness
      April 17, 2014 - 11:35

      Ptsd is a complicated illness I woukd say that some have ptsd just from living here on PEI with judgemental attitudes and hopelessness

    • Think
      April 18, 2014 - 18:11

      It says house raiser as long as you know if you own a home and require social assistance .Many are told that they will not help because they have real property which can be sold for income .you own a home they will not give assistance they request you sell it .And live off the sale of you property .I know because I was told to do just that in 2007 .one likely reason houses are for sale and rental units little vacancy .

  • Ann
    April 17, 2014 - 08:19

    I feel for this woman and so many more who are struggling. Rents and the overall cost of living are very high, especially for people on social assistance and minimum wage earners. The comments on here are hurtful. I do not know the answer, but I know that the system is not working in a lot of cases. Best of luck to this woman. I hope she finds a beautiful place to live, and gets to follow her dreams. And to the negative comment makers, I hope that you have a better day.

    • lies
      April 26, 2014 - 17:51

      530.00 ? I know a young adult that requires help short term that was told the limit for housing was 346.oo not 530 .00! If you are a single person why is it decided one individual is provided with a different amount ? HOW IS THAT FAIR ? must be why there is a surplus ! I really think that landlords set the rent above what social service clients are allowed any way . They know what this information and set rents so that they cant rent decent housing .most of them are not worth what they are charging . There is not one place in town for 346 or 530 heat and lights .

  • maureen
    April 17, 2014 - 07:21

    What is wrong with staying with her daughter. If it was my Mom he would be coming to live with me. .

  • Here's a Thought
    April 17, 2014 - 06:44

    I hope Valerie Doherty reads this article. She thinks there was no need for the 2.3 million that was in her budget. And for those small minds that are commenting on the abuse of social assistance by some. Yes, it happens sometimes. Just look at the abuse of funds that our politicians spend. There will always be abuses of gov't money. It doesn't mean they should turn everyone away which is what the goal seems to be for Ms. Doherty.

  • gail ellsworth
    April 17, 2014 - 05:39

    Did i not read an article above about socital assistance not using their budget for last year. Can she not use this or do we want to tap into our health care funds again a concerned person

  • sandy ramsay
    April 16, 2014 - 23:40

    I am wondering if Mrs. Douglas has been given an opportunity to apply for Senior Housing...50 yrs & over....she could have her own small place & get back on her feet....just a suggestion

    • Brenda
      April 17, 2014 - 09:37

      You must be 60 years of age to be in senior housing.

    • Jessika Hepburn
      April 17, 2014 - 10:21

      Thanks for the suggestion Sandy! Unfortunately my mom is not eligible because she is under 60-however it was suggested I call each individual facility to see if they have space-sadly none of them did.

  • watchdog
    April 16, 2014 - 21:36

    What is the true purpose of some of the stories the guardian features on its website? To spur ignorant comments and battles between people commenting on the story?

  • oh my
    April 16, 2014 - 20:48

    wow, those are a lot of negative comments down there. Her daughter said in the interview that (and I quote) "I stepped up to try and keep Stephanie safe and off the streets until she could recover,’’ which leads me to believe that she IS staying there until she can find a permanent residence of her own. Instead of judging and looking down on this woman or questioning her situation, why cant we acknowledge that her situation is unfortunate and offer assistance or at the very least kindness.

  • Seriously
    April 16, 2014 - 19:49

    Any particular reason the daughter won't take her mother in if she is so worried about her? Maybe she can share a spot with the armed robber/busker or the woman on welfare with the flooded mini home. Do personal want adds pass for journalism nowadays?

  • enough already
    April 16, 2014 - 19:46

    Fifty two and dreaming of a Masters Degree. When do people grow up? Dream of getting healthy and getting a job. There must be some work for someone smart enough to achieve a Masters Degree.

    • RE:Enough Already
      April 17, 2014 - 11:50

      I'm sorry but I completely disagree with you, education is something that can be achieved at any age. When you suggest that people at 52 stop dreaming of a masters degree and grow up, you are essentially aiding in social stigmas and increasing societal barriers in the way of people's education. There shouldn't be any (more) barriers for any person to go back to school whether it be college, university for a bachelor, masters or phd. You are very limited at what you can do, job-wise, with a bachelor degree. Typically these are low paying jobs that put you in little better situation than Mrs. Douglas is in now. Please be more considerate and think of the benefits that post-education offers. She would like to teach and will do something beneficial for the community(s) if and when she does. If getting an education (at any age!) is not 'growing up' then I really don't know what is, I wouldn't wish 'growing up' on anyone. Achieving an education, particularly when suffering from mental illness is a tough feat and I commend her and hope that she achieves her masters.

    • Marta
      April 17, 2014 - 12:09

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get a master's degree (or any type or education) at 52. Ignorance such as yours is what helps hold people back from pursuing their dreams for fear of what others will say about it. I think it is very influential that depaite the troubles this woman is currently facing, she is able to look to a bright future.

  • Susan
    April 16, 2014 - 18:48

    She is lucky to have a daughter there she can move it with... many don't have that much luck.

  • yep
    April 16, 2014 - 18:34

    This is same for many I have been advocating for a young person with intellectual disability .mental health issues Present housing is unfit and unsafe . Did not receive enough hours to quailify for EI and from Febuary until April to even get assistance .with eviction notice pending .due to rent arrears accumulated . The process of putting supports in place fall on deaf ears . the same from Febusry until march to even get an appointment . Called minister of community and seniors . In which reply was the ministers office not to be used as a tool .and case load were high .The process of getting an appointment is done by phone and calls not returned ..If the person does not have a phone their message cant be returned unless they them self can take the call .with no income it pretty hard to get a call for an appointment when a person does not have a phone .? As well if you go in person you are told to go home and call . Landlords of course cannot rent for free and have no concept of the lengthy wait to be approved of the social safety net .arrears of wait are not covered .There is nothong in the tennent act personsl hardship as there is as a human rights act .which states "all persons have the right to safe housing and basic needs ."and accomodations with disability ." Which results in homelessness to the only facility is a male shelter with seven beds .usually no vacancy .For islanders . Rent allowance for a sigle person is 350.00 utilities .market price for a room starts 450.

  • Sly
    April 16, 2014 - 18:17

    It doesn't say in the article whether living with her daughter is an option, and if not, why?

  • Truth
    April 16, 2014 - 18:11

    It's a real shame when someone like this woman actually needs social assistance. I know women who just don't feel like working and claim that they have anxiety or disability just so they can collect a cheque... Then still complain that it's not enough. They are the ones who ruin the system. This woman sounds like if she was given a break, she could do wonderful things. The lazy leaches make the government doubt others so they can smoke cigarettes and drink booze on tax payers money. I hope she gets the leg up she needs to make her aspirations a reality. God bless.

  • family value
    April 16, 2014 - 18:07

    And why can she not stay with her daughter?

    • Charles Foster
      Charles Foster
      April 17, 2014 - 10:21

      I was wondering the same thing since this was not dealt with in the article. However, her daughter has since posted a message explaining that where she lives in Nova Scotia there are not the appropriate medical facilities for her mother.

  • ester
    April 16, 2014 - 18:02

    Oh, MY God ---

  • How about
    April 16, 2014 - 17:59

    Living with your daughter and grandkids for a while. Maybe a tempory fix ,but a fix.