Uninsured during a wildfire

When Philip woke up on the afternoon of May 28, 2023, he thought he’d take advantage of an unseasonably warm and sunny day. He and his partner Sue both work back shift, and typically rest up on Sunday. But Philip noticed it was darker than expected, and when he went outside, he saw some small fires on one part of the property. He tried to put those fires out, and then noticed his neighbour’s house was on fire. He rushed back inside.

Philip urged Sue to pack up their three cats and whatever else they could take. In the panic, one of the cats took off out the door before they could pack all three in their vehicles (he was thankfully found unscathed a few weeks later). By the time they left, they couldn’t see the distance between their vehicles because the smoke was so thick. They had not yet received an emergency alert.

Before the fire

Philip and Sue are nearing retirement age. Before the wildfire, they had a nice little house in a subdivision in
Upper Tantallon that suited them and their three cats, who are incredibly special to them. Like many people, they were working hard to get by. “The mortgage was a little more than we could really afford,” says Philip. “We were paycheque to paycheque.”

Philip is a Red Seal mechanic and has a lot of skills that are helpful for a homeowner. He did his best to make sure the house was well-kept, staying on top of repairs as much as possible. When his oil tank needed replacing, he went ahead and did the work on his own. The insurance company though, said it needed to be replaced by a certified installer. That was a bigger cost, meaning it would take time to pull together the money to cover it. In the meantime, their insurance wouldn’t cover them. “We never thought there would be a wildfire,” says Sue.

Philip and Sue were one of the 150 families that lost their home in the wildfires. They were distraught and heartbroken when they learned their home was gone. “What are we going to do, at our age?” Philip couldn’t bear the thought of starting over from scratch, when there was still a mortgage to pay on a house that was no longer standing.

Navigation and support

The couple was in deep despair when they were connected to a United Way staff member, Michelle. “United Way helped us keep breathing,” they say. “They saved our lives.” As part of United Way’s Wildfire Recovery Appeal response, Michelle became a navigator for a number of uninsured families. She connected them to supports they needed, ensured they could get in touch with their representative from Red Cross, and helped to find them housing. “Everywhere we looked for housing was either too expensive, wouldn’t allow pets or was gone by the time we tried to go for a viewing,” says Sue. “We just needed a place where we could go home and sleep, and where our cats could be safe.

The couple found navigating supports alone to be very difficult despite having wonderful and supportive neighbours and friends. In one case, their income was too high for government support, despite paying on a house that doesn’t exist. In another case they had friends who could help clean up the property, but it required costly permits and special disposal of materials. They are both people who are usually offering, not asking for help. They didn’t know where to turn.

With United Way’s support, they were able to find and settle into an apartment with their beloved cats, as well
as obtain furniture and basic household supplies. They’ve also been connected to Habitat for Humanity and hope
to have a new home built on their existing property. Retirement plans are on hold, but the future is no longer
as bleak. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but they’re hopeful they can move back to the neighbourhood they
love and miss so much. “Most of the neighbours are rebuilding in the same neighbourhood,” says Philip with a smile. “They want us back.”

An empty lot where a home was burned in a wildfire