Thunder Bay Flood Hero now Sinking

Jessica Sharpe and son Adam
Jessica Sharpe and son Adam – Photo by Lynda J Henshell

THUNDER BAY – During the second last week in May 2012 the City of Thunder Bay experienced a large downpour of rain that wreaked havoc on the sewer system and caused massive flooding throughout the city. Bridges were closed, homes, and buildings were flooded with water and raw sewage leaving many residents seeking shelter and help elsewhere. A state of emergency was issued by Mayor Keith Hobbs, and on June 8th the City of Thunder Bay was declared a disaster zone by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne.

It was during the last week of May that Jessica Sharpe, her husband Michael, and their now 17-months old son, Adam opened their home to take in food and clothing donations for flood victims in her East End neighborhood. “A bunch of people decided we would get together and help out wherever we could”. Sharpe’s home seemed to be spared from the flood and damage free, so after witnessing what was occurring in her community and feeling blessed her home was safe she wanted to help. Her taking in of food and clothing donations eventually took over her house causing the donations to have to be moved to a larger space in St. Peter’s Church basement, Sharpe’s actions led to the formation of a group of volunteers who became known during the floods as the “Basement Bunch”.

Now two months later Sharpe and her family are finding themselves in need with no one to help them.
The pipe under the sink that has been pulled apart by the shifting house. Photo by Lynda J Henshell

About a week after the flooding Jessica says “we went to put a bucket under to drain the sink out. We noticed that the pipe had already come out and that is when we started noticing that we had sink holes in the house, there was dry wall coming apart from the seams. We had a crack in our staircase, wood warping, lots of things inside the house. Then we went outside and noticed that there was a definite shift and we went underneath our house. We have a crawlspace dugout and we noticed that since the dirt was so soft it was just pushing the cinder blocks out of place. We’re tipping now.”

Sharpe’s home is one of many in the East end that has had after flood damage occur not covered by insurance.

Siding is pulling away from the house on the non leaning side. Photo by Lynda J Henshell

In a plea made on the social networking site Facebook, Sharpe stated “My family and I have been out of our home since June 6th due to our house sinking due to the heavy ground water from the flooding in the East End. We have gone through our insurance company and they have told us we ‘Don’t qualify’ as our house only had ‘ground water’ and not ‘sewage’ “.

crack in stairs
The large crack that appeared on the staircase about one week after the floods. Photo by Lynda J Henshell
Sharpe and her family have done everything they could think of to get help with their sinking home, “We went through the bank to see if we could qualify for a loan to do the repairs, we were denied because of the condition of the house and where it is located. We are in the process of applying for funding from the relief money raised by the City, however have been told that the process to determine IF we qualify, will take until Christmas or the New Year!”.

Sharpe was referred to the District Social Services Board for help and was told by them that they have run out of municipal funding to help low income residents with home repairs and to check back in October.

“How are we supposed to wait this long? We, and many others I’m sure are stuck! What exactly are we suppose to do? Right now the only thing we can think of is to declare bankruptcy and lose everything!”

The family is currently staying with family members but still paying mortgage, insurance and utilities at the damaged home so they are desperate to have repairs made to the home’s foundation and sinkholes fixed so that they can return home.

The family is now looking into the Ontario Aboriginal housing Association grants, since Jessica is Metis they hope it might help them but they still have to apply for the grant and then wait to hear if they qualify. In the meantime they have applied for the city flood funding but will have to wait to see if they qualify for that and funds are dispersed.

“We bought the house when I was pregnant with Adam, we were hoping we could stay for a few years. Give him a nice home to grow up in,” said Jessica, “Initially we were shocked because of the flooding, a lot of people, not just myself, were a little upset with how long it did take for processes to get moving along”.

With the announcement of if new funding will be available not occurring until the fall Sharpe says that people are feeling frustrated, “It’s frustrating because we still have these bills, they don’t go away just because we can’t live here”.

Sharpe is unsure what the future holds for her house and family or if they will ever be able to raise the estimated twenty-one thousand dollars it will take to fix the home. They are looking into every possible funding source and trying to find an affordable contractor but right now there seems to be little hope for this family who were the first to open up their doors to strangers in need.

Article and photos special to courtesy of Lynda J Henshell.

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