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Canada 'This is all for her': Chilliwack mom on brink of homelessness struggles to support family

13:30  13 december  2019
13:30  13 december  2019 Source:   cbc.ca

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Michelle Pacquette nearly lost her baby daughter Eleanor once — and she's trying her hardest not to lose her again.

Last summer, Pacquette found the infant lying lifeless inside her crib in the middle of the night, just weeks after she was born. The incident was later diagnosed as a case of sudden infant death syndrome.

"My attempts at giving her CPR didn't work," Pacquette told CBC News from her home in Chilliwack. "I had to call on my son Lucas to help... and he saved her life."

Though Eleanor survived, the baby, now just over six months old, suffered severe brain damage. She's partially blind and has been diagnosed with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Pacquette says she spends many of her days travelling to medical appointments across the region.

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One of our Family Support Workers helped the family find accommodation with Bethany Christian Trust. We also introduced her to a Host Family , who take out her wee one every so often to give mum a break and give her space to Please keep them in your prayers as we continue to support them.

But she has four other kids, and the family is in dire financial straits. Pacquette couldn't afford to pay the December rent on her three-bedroom apartment as she grapples with health, food and living costs.

Poverty advocates say Pacquette's situation has become all too common in the Fraser Valley and beyond, as the unaffordability crisis hits families across the province.

a person sitting on a couch: Michelle Pacquette, a single mother caring for five children, has struggled to pay her rent. Two of her children are disabled.© Provided by cbc.ca Michelle Pacquette, a single mother caring for five children, has struggled to pay her rent. Two of her children are disabled.

"As the cost of living increases, the cost of housing, the cost of child care — particularly for children with special needs — people are falling into poverty," said Helesia Luke, a spokesperson with the poverty advocacy group First Call B.C.

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Her strength is unmistakable, as is her love for her five children and fiance. Her story is particular in many ways, but it would sound all too familiar to the millions of US residents who find themselves on the brink of homelessness due to a fractured economy, a tattered safety net, and a society that

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A recent provincial report card found that one in five children in B.C. are in poverty.

"This is not a problem exclusive to the metro region at all," said Luke, "As people leave those urban centres to get more affordable housing, housing prices in those [other] areas go up as well."

Pacquette hopes her family will get accepted into an affordable home provided by B.C. Housing. But after sitting on the provincial registry for more than two years, she worries they will end up on the street.

"It's very difficult. A mother should never ever have to be put in this position — to really be faced to look at paying expenses and bills, or paying your rent," she said. "It's really hard."

a baby lying on a bed: Eleanor Pacquette has undergone rounds of medical treatment since her sudden infant death syndrome episode.© Provided by cbc.ca Eleanor Pacquette has undergone rounds of medical treatment since her sudden infant death syndrome episode.

On the move

Pacquette is a former support worker for vulnerable women, now off work and collecting a monthly disability payment.

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The family moved to Metro Vancouver from Cranbrook, B.C. in 2017, where they lived in subsidized housing. Leaving that behind was a tough decision for Pacquette, but she felt it was necessary.

Her six-year-old son Boden has autism and she said there are more health services available for him in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

"We left B.C. Housing for market rental — and we've just been trying to survive ever since," she said.

Since then, she's had three more kids. Eleanor and her twin brother, Max, were born in June. The family of six has since settled in Chilliwack.

a baby lying on a bed: Six-month old Eleanor suffered severe brain damage after suddenly losing consciousness just weeks after she was born.© Provided by cbc.ca Six-month old Eleanor suffered severe brain damage after suddenly losing consciousness just weeks after she was born.

Treating both Boden and Eleanor's disabilities on a limited income has been a challenge. Pacquette has to make weekly trips to Vancouver for medical services, often for days at a time. The costs of food, fuel, accommodations, and medications have piled up.

"I'm just overblown with the amount of appointments we have make," she said. "We see a pediatrician once a month, a neurologist once a month, physiotherapy, occupational therapy. We see a dietitian, we see an ophthalmologist... It's put us into a financial crisis."

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Families experiencing homelessness are similar to other families that are also poor, but who have a home to live in. Homeless families are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are typically young, and have young children.

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Pacquette asked to be issued an eviction notice prior to the day before her rent was due, knowing she couldn't afford it.

The document allows her to apply for a $700 crisis supplement from the Ministry of Children and Family Development. She's hopeful she can put the dollars toward a delayed rent payment.

a woman holding a teddy bear: Michelle Pacquette holds her twins, Eleanor and Max, who were born in June.© Provided by cbc.ca Michelle Pacquette holds her twins, Eleanor and Max, who were born in June.

'A miracle'

Pacquette has been working closely with housing advocates at the Salvation Army. Captain Matt Kean said the organization has been working to find housing options for her.

B.C. Housing would not comment on the circumstances due to confidentiality, but noted there are more than 20,000 people on its registry whose needs are assessed on a case-by-case basis. The agency offers subsidized units to families — but advocates say they can be difficult to access.

The Pacquette family lives in a Chillwack townhome, and are hopeful they will get into a home subsidized by B.C. Housing.© Provided by cbc.ca The Pacquette family lives in a Chillwack townhome, and are hopeful they will get into a home subsidized by B.C. Housing.

Viveca Ellis, a community organizer for the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, said single mothers with more than three children struggle to find adequate housing in Metro Vancouver and across the province.

"They end up waiting on the affordable housing lists for a very long time, because there is not enough large family stock in British Columbia."

It's a future that feels fragile, and uncertain. But Pacquette draws inspiration from her daughter.

"This is all for her. It is absolutely all for her," she said.

"Life is just too short, and when you have such a miracle such as her, you have to cherish every moment. I just look at her, and I'm just extremely blessed," she said.

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