Former IHO resident Lillian experienced the housing crisis first-hand. Back in the summer, Lillian made the decision to leave her abusive partner of five years. “I remember thinking that I could change him for the better. After living through my parent’s messy divorce, I didn’t want my kids to go through the same thing.” Lillian’s abuser’s controlling behaviour had been slowly increasing over the years. The day Lillian left, her husband hadn’t spoken to her for five days after she decided to go out with a friend who he didn’t want her seeing. “It was actually my friend who told me about Interval House of Ottawa (IHO). It was such a relief to know I could bring my pets with us.” Lillian feared for their safety if they were left behind with the abuser. When Lillian had made a previous attempt to leave the relationship he had stopped feeding her cat and it had become very ill. In hindsight, she realizes that this behaviour was part of the abuse and control.
Lillian’s relief was short-lived. As is the unfortunate case for approximately 900 women a year, when Lillian first called IHO she was turned away due to the fact that we were full. Lillian, who was in her car with her two children, cat, and dog at the time, called every shelter in Ottawa only to find out they were all full. When she called the City at 311, she was told her only option was to check into a homeless shelter. “I knew that a homeless shelter was not a viable option, and that my pets would not be accepted. I didn’t know what to do.”
Lillian’s partner had always managed the finances, but about a year ago she had started hiding some cash. Every time she would go get groceries, Lillian would ask for $20 or $40 dollars’ cashback; anything higher and her husband might suspect something. With the few hundred dollars she had, Lillian checked her family into a motel. She had enough money to last a week. Wanting desperately not to have to foster her pets, she called IHO every day. As the days went by, her hopelessness grew. They needed more time. Lillian’s daughter, who was a full-time student in college, ended up using some of her student loan money to cover the cost of the motel for another week. Luckily for Lillian, a room opened up a few days later and they were able to move in.
Lillian knows she was one of the more fortunate victims of the housing crisis here in Ottawa. “Thank goodness I had some money put aside and that a room opened up quickly. Any longer and we would have been out of options.”
*names and some details have been changed for privacy