Welfare recipient blames government for home disaster

Resident forced out of house after request for assistance denied

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 11, 2014

Kim Morningstar has been forced out of her home for three weeks now after her pipes froze because she couldn't afford a hooded jacket for her propane flue and social assistance doesn't cover that expense.

©Guardian photo by Jim Day

Kim Morningstar believes a little help from the province would have avoided a major headache in what is likely shaping up to be a significant repair bill.

Morningstar has relied on social assistance for more than a decade.

She owns a relatively modest home in a trailer park in Charlottetown. She bought the place outright with money received from an insurance claim following a bad car accident in 1994.

She says a whiplash injury and chronic pain resulting from the crash keeps her from working.

Since the house is paid in full, Morningstar doesn’t have mortgage payments to contend with. She does, however, receive social assistance to pay for heat, lights, property taxes, propane and her lot fee.

On top of that she is allotted another $391 monthly for all other living expenses, notably food, clothing, and transportation.

That money does not go far, she says. In fact, before the end of each month, food is scarce.

So when an unexpected expense arises, finding a way to cover the cost is a challenge.

Each winter, she has problems with her propane heater flue getting blocked with snow causing the pilot light to go out.

Her social services worker told her to fix the problem herself but she felt unable to do the job. A propane company suggested she install a hooded jacket on the flue at a cost of $150 to rectify the problem.

She turned to social services for financial assistance. She was declined so she was not able to proceed with getting the work done.

As a result, her pipes all froze.

Morningstar has been forced out of her home for three weeks now and is living with a friend.

She returned to her home Monday to size up the damage. She was shocked at what she saw.

The floor of one bathroom is covered in a thick sheet of ice. The toilet bowl is a block of ice as is the bathtub.

A second bathroom also has ice damage, but to a lesser extent. Her many plants are dead. She fears that thawing of the ice will most likely lead to further damage.

“This is terrible,’’ she said trying to take it all in. “This is nasty.’’

Morningstar does have home insurance but is not sure yet what, if any, coverage she will receive for the damage. She plans now to call on social services once again for assistance.

“I don’t have any other choice,’’ she says. “This is way too much for me.’’

Asked to comment on Morningstar’s plight, the province’s Department of Community Services and Seniors told The Guardian Monday that it does not discuss a client’s situation even if he or she gives permission to discuss the case — something Morningstar was willing to sign off on.

However, Rhea Jenkins, director of social programs, did say that the department deals on a case-by-case basis with requests for repairs to property by homeowners on social assistance. An applicant may make a request to the department for social assistance to make repairs to their residence.

Jenkins says about seven per cent of the social assistance caseload is homeowners — that is just over 200 people.

Shelter expense for people on social assistance, she notes, includes heat, electricity, rent or mortgage.