Tammy Hazelton, a Wilmot resident, receives just $240 per month to pay the light bill and buy food. She fell behind on her payments to Nova Scotia Power and is now living without any heat or electricity.
Tammy Hazelton has been burning the candles at both ends - and she’s just run out of wicks.
The Wilmot-area woman says Nova Scotia Power shut off her electricity last month after she couldn’t keep up with her payments. She was on a monthly payment plan, but some of her electric bills went over budget.
“The bills were higher than expected and it went over my budget,” she said. “I fell behind.”
Some of her outstanding bills date back to last year, when she couldn’t afford to buy oil and was using electric heaters to stay warm. While this winter has been fairly mild so far, she now finds herself with outside temperatures dropping well below zero and is living in the dark, without a heat source and food.
She had been burning propane heaters and candles to stray warm, she says, but now she’s run out of money for propane and has no more candles to burn. She says she’s also afraid of eviction from the trailer she’s been living in for the past six years.
She had been working seasonally at a local campground, but her hours were cut last season and she is now living on social assistance. While the assistance automatically pays the rent, afterwards she is left with about $240 each month to pay the light bill and buy food.
Her roommate helps cover some of the expenses, but Hazleton doesn’t have much money to put towards buying groceries or paying extra on her bills. Even her cellphone has run out of daytime minutes, so while she can accept incoming calls, she can’t make any calls before 7 p.m., making it difficult to access the help she needs from caseworkers or charities.
Making things even more complicated, she doesn’t have a vehicle and lives along a stretch of road that is not serviced by King Transit. In order to access the public transit system, she needs to catch the bus either at Frenchys or in Kingston. Either way, it means a long hike.
“I won’t even get a Christmas box this year because I couldn’t get to Middleton and missed the deadline for applying,” she said.
The local Lion’s Club has offered to help her, she says, but she so far she hasn’t heard from anyone and is unable to call them.
Because she has no reliable transportation, she has trouble getting to the food bank and even down to Middleton, where she can access emergency help through the Salvation Army. She meant to go to Middleton last week, but her cheque was late being deposited in her account.
A 12-hour delay may not seem like long time to wait, but it can be catastrophic when you are depending on the money to be there. Hazleton says she has been trying to find someone to help her. She was waiting on Leo Glavine’s office, hoping that she could access public housing.
Glavine says his office has been working on Hazelton’s behalf for a while and has some options for her to consider. He added that if she’s willing to find a new place to live, the Department of Community of Services is willing to help pay for her move.
Brenda Thompson, community outreach co-ordinator for the Women’s Place Resource Center, says that Hazelton is not alone in her situation. Since November, she has been asked to help four other women in similar circumstances, and it’s getting harder to access resources to help.
“I have a woman now waiting outside my office needing help,” she said Dec. 10. “And I can’t get a hold of people. I’ve tried the Lions Club, the Salvation Army, it’s hard to get anyone on the phone.”
Thompson added that one of the challenges of living in a rural area is the lack of public transportation. In order to access emergency help from the Salvation Army, people need to apply in person; a real problem if they don’t have access to a vehicle and live off the bus route.
Researchers at Mount St. Vincent University maintain that income-related food insecurity is an ongoing issue for at least nine per cent of Nova Scotian households, higher than the national average of 7.7 per cent.
According to data complied by Annapolis Valley Health, about 47 per cent of the people in this area are earning less than $20,000 per year. Poverty, isolation and stress are key factors in developing chronic illness, having a devastating effect on our healthcare system.
Poverty is linked with higher rates of crime, increased health care needs, higher school drop-out rates, and lost productivity, according to researchers.
In 2011, Feed Nova Scotia reported that the number of people relying on food banks is increasing, with a 59 per cent increase in the number of families assisted in the Valley-Yarmouth region since 2008.