David Lavigne’s story, tragically, is probably not unique. Northern Life brought you the sad history of Lavigne’s battle against cancer, and his battle against homelessness, in our July 19 edition.
Once a window and door installer with a good salary, money in his pocket and a roof over his head, in less than a year, Lavigne lost his job, his home and, above all else, his health.
Esophageal cancer forced doctors to move his stomach into his chest cavity — it saved his life, but stole his dignity.
He suffers from incontinence (which cost him an apartment) and must sleep at a 45-degree angle to prevent mucous from building up in his chest and potentially drowning him.
He has been losing weight and spends most of his days outside in the sweltering July sun because the hostel where he sleeps opens its doors only after 4 p.m.
Unable to stay with family, Lavigne hoped his urgent medical needs and the fact that he is basically homeless would help him earn priority status from Greater Sudbury Housing. This would move his name more quickly up the waiting list, which at any given time can number some 2,000 names.
Lavigne hoped in vain.
There are criteria to meet to qualify for urgent status. Topping the list (as mandated by legislation) are victims of domestic violence.
Homelessness is also on the list, but the city has its own unique definition of what that means, and sleeping in a hostel does not qualify one as homeless, according to the city’s rules.
Those who have lost their home to a natural disaster, such as a fire, also qualify, as do those awaiting release from hospital who cannot return to their former home, but who cannot be released until suitable housing is found.
Families at risk of losing their children because of inadequate housing also make the list.
But surprisingly, Greater Sudbury Housing does not take a person’s physical health into consideration when determining the urgency of his or her need to access one of the 4,400 units it oversees.
Sudbury Housing is not heartless. In fact, when contacted about Lavigne’s situation, a program supervisor with the housing registry was incredibly sympathetic to his plight, and those of others in similar situations.
But it must adhere to the legislation crafted for it by the city, and right now that legislation prevents it from taking a person’s health into consideration when deciding whether said person’s status should be considered urgent.
It is time to update that legislation.
Northern Life contacted the housing authority in three Ontario municipalities, Toronto, London and Ottawa.
Each had the authority to take a person’s health into consideration when deciding on the urgency of need, particularly if that person’s current housing situation aggravated a pre-existing condition or if the person’s illness is terminal.
This is what is currently lacking in the city’s housing policy. Injecting just a little more compassion into the legislation would go a long way to helping the many David Lavignes out there who, thanks to a simple sentence left out of a policy document, are falling through the cracks.
Posted by Vivian Scinto