'People are maxing out their credit cards': Evacuees call for extra emergency money in wildfire aftermath
Westwood Hills resident Johanne Thompson wrote a letter to Premier Tim Houston and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, calling for more financial aid for wildfire evacuees who still haven’t been able to go back home.
The $500 in emergency funding provided by the province at the outset of the emergency is now long gone.
“It was gone with the first trip, to get essentials at the store, just to get those essentials of everyday life that got left behind,” she says. “Especially for the families that have lost their houses completely, they really need additional support.”
She considers herself lucky as her family of six has been staying with friends, but she knows there are others from her neighborhood that are in tight spots.
Thompson says some residents are still waiting for the $500, and like herself, haven’t received any insurance payouts yet.
“A lot of people are in hotels, they don't have friends, family to rely on, so they're sort of figuring it out on their own,” she says. “The neighborhood chat has been (that) people are maxing out their credit cards paying for hotel rooms, and at this point they don’t know what else to do.”
“The funding that’s been offered to people who are reeling from the wildfire, it's just inadequate, and it's unfair,” says the Liberal MLA for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville, Ben Jessome.
He sent his own letter to the PC Premier, pointing to the $1,000 per household in relief handed out to Nova Scotians forced from their homes by Fiona.
Jessome says what Nova Scotia has offered so far is far less than what other provinces are providing in the wake of their own wildfires.
“The government of Alberta is offering $3,500 for families of four,” he explains, “so it just doesn't really add up.”
“I’m hoping for ongoing, more meaningful support,” he adds.
So far, the province hasn't committed additional funds.
The Canadian Red Cross wants evacuees who haven't registered with them already to do so in order to access both the emergency money and any long-term assistance.
The acting vice-president for the Red Cross in Atlantic Canada, Bill Lawlor, says almost 8,900 households have done so to this point, and it’s handed out the $500 emergency payment to just over 6,344 households.
The money is designated for residents affected by mandatory evacuation orders during and since the wildfires.
It has also raised $2.4 million so far in its Nova Scotia – Atlantic Fires Appeal. All the money raised in total will then be matched by both the province and the federal government.
But Lawlor says details on how that will be handed out are still being worked out.
“For this, it is likely that we would focus exclusively on those mandatory evacuation zones, but again, we’re still working through some of those details,” he says. “We know the impact has been great for so many throughout both of the affected areas.”
He says anyone who needs assistance in the interim should reach out.
“We’re working everyday not only with the non-profit sector, but with provincial and local authorities to get a really good sense of what’s happening on the ground,” he explains.
“That's why we're in both HRM as well as Shelburne county and Barrington, to make sure we can provide some good support for those who have more pressing needs beyond the $500,” Lawlor adds.
The United Way Halifax is also raising relief money through its Wildfire Recovery Appeal, which goes to charitable organizations to address different needs.
Funding will soon be distributed to organizations in the Tantallon area, Sarah White, the non-profit’s communications manager, said in an email.
The cash will be used “to help with food, transportation, PPE for cleanup and other identified needs. This will just be the first round of funding to meet those immediate needs,” White said.
White says the United Way has raised more than $870,000 so far.
In the meantime, residents of evacuated areas are calling on the province to do more.
“We need leadership,” says Jacob Killawee, an evacuee from Westwood Hills.
“(Some people) are eating into, beyond their savings and their credit, and even if they don't have that, they're in a difficult spot,” he says. “Communicate to us what is being done, and make sure we see an increase in supports for those individuals who need it.”
The president of the Westwood Hills Residents Association, a community still largely under the evacuation order, agrees time is of the essence.
“It’s been really challenging and unfortunately it’s not getting any easier,” he says. “Even though the $500 was a tremendous help to people at the time, some folks are on day eleven right now, renting Air BnBs or hotels, and $500 doesn’t take you a long way.”
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