Through help from staff at Sudbury’s Samaritan Centre, David Lavigne has found an affordable bachelor apartment and is now living there.
“He’s still on the waiting list for Sudbury Housing,” his sister, Rosaleen Stojkovic, said Aug. 15. “But we’ve gotten him off the streets. It’s such a load off my mind. I was really getting worried about him.”
Lavigne moved in during the first week of August. The apartment wasn’t supposed to be ready until September, but in light of her brother’s plight, the landlord rushed to get it ready.
He had been forced to live at the Salvation Army hostel downtown, paying $25 a day for three meals and a place to sleep. But staying there was dangerous for him
because cancer surgery forced doctors to move his stomach into his chest. He requires a special bed because if he doesn’t sleep in a certain way, he could drown in his own mucus.
“I gotta sleep on a 45-degree angle, and that’s not happening now,” Lavigne said July 17. “I put two pillows at the end of my bed and I still can’t get any sleep."
Up until a year ago, Lavigne, 48, worked installing windows and doors. It was a good living, earning him as much as $70,000 a year, as well as access to a company truck. When he was laid off, he began working as a private contractor, working from a local hardware store doing piecework.
While the pay wasn’t as good, it was enough to pay the rent and make a living.
But last August, he began feeling sick, and tests showed that he had cancer. So his esophagus was taken out, and he spent the better part of a month in hospital, before he was able to move back to his apartment in September.
Unable to work, he could no longer afford rent and had to give up his home in January of this year. He moved into a room he rented from a friend. But one of the complications of the surgery – incontinence – led to problems. He would have accidents in the house, which led to conflicts, and in May, he was forced to leave.
That’s when Stojkovic began the process of trying to get him a rent-subsidized one-bedroom apartment through Sudbury Housing. She tried to fast-track his application by getting his case designated as “urgent status.” That would allow him to move close to the front of the waiting list, which typically numbers 2,000 people.
But he was denied the urgent status designation, despite appeals from his doctor, his provincial caseworker, the director of the hostel where he’s staying and a dietitian with the North East Cancer Centre. The reason? Under the city’s definition, he doesn’t qualify as homeless.
“They think that just because he has a bed at the Salvation Army, he’s not homeless,” Stojkovic said, despite a letter from administrators at the Salvation Army hostel confirming that Lavigne has nowhere else to live.
Shelly Upton, program supervisor with Greater Sudbury’s Housing Registry, says privacy laws mean she can’t comment on any specific cases. However, she said in a July interview that she has great sympathy for people in Lavigne’s situation. She said the policy for providing emergency housing has been in place since city council enacted the bylaw in 2004.
She said there are specific criteria for people to qualify for emergency housing. One of them includes people being supported by the city’s emergency shelter program.
In Lavigne’s case, the $25-a-day cost of staying at the Sally Ann is being paid for out of his disability pension, not by the shelter program. That means he was technically not homeless and, therefore, not eligible for urgent status.
“Someone who is paying a monthly stipend, who has access to a bed and three meals a day, would not be eligible,” Upton said. “At any particular point in time, there are 2,000 people on the waiting list … And many of the people on the wait list have serious health issues. But the policy does not take health issues into consideration.”
While it was difficult, Stojkovic said her persistence paid off, and now her brother at least has somewhere to live while he waits his turn on Sudbury Housing’s waiting list. Since subsidized housing is geared to income, Lavigne would have substantially more disposable income.
“He was denied four times by Sudbury Housing,” she said. “But I don’t ever give up.”
Stokjovic’s heart goes out to other people facing similar problems as her brother, especially when the weather turns colder in the fall.
“He’s not the only one out there on the streets,” she said. “How can a city allow people to live like that? How can people turn a blind eye? But what can I do? I’m only one voice.”