Napanee family of eight faces homelessness after fire

A Napanee family of eight people is running out of time and money before they find themselves homeless. The family has been looking for shelter since they lost their rented home on Beverly Street in Napanee to a fire on the morning of Sunday, Jun. 25, 2023. 

Shannon Scott says she and her partner had gone to the Itty Bitty Diner in Napanee for Sunday breakfast when tragedy struck: “At 9 a.m. my phone started ringing. It was my daughter screaming, ‘The house is on fire! Mom, please hurry!’ All the kids were in bed sleeping, and my oldest son, Zach, was able to wake everyone up and get them out.”

Luckily everyone was safe, but Scott says, “We lost everything. Our lives were in that house, and we are left with none of it.” The family is now living in a motel while struggling to find a place to live. “We keep getting rejected because our family is too big, or because there are so many other applicants that we don’t stand a chance.”

“As a mom, I’m struggling to hold it together,” Scott says. “I’ve reached out to all resources, and we have only got help from one, and that was the Red Cross. They were amazing enough to help pay for three nights in a motel, but after that, it came out of my pocket. I’m out of funds now; I don’t have that amount of money to keep paying.”

In a Facebook post, Scott, who has had to take time off from work to navigate her situation, writes, “I can’t believe that there are no resources to help keep us safe and off the streets. I’ve never been in a position like this, and I don’t know how people do it! We’ve now lost a week of work because we’ve been trying to find a home or a trailer or something, but we are having no luck. I’m terrified to see what’s going to happen… For the first time in my life, I will have to tell people… we’re homeless with children. This is not fair.”

Kevin Alkenbrack, Executive Director of Napanee’s Morningstar Mission, calls this family’s situation “a wake-up, a little reminder of how complacent we all get” when confronted by the idea of homelessness.

He admits that he, too, sometimes finds himself sinking into a pattern of acceptance. “People come to the door [of the Mission] all the time [asking for food or shelter], and we just sort of act like, ‘well, this is just how it is now.’ And then something like this happens, and you [realize], ‘Wait, no! This isn’t acceptable,’” he expresses.

Alkenbrack posted Scott’s story on the Mission’s Facebook page to draw attention to her plight.

Morningstar Mission tried to help out directly, but found they were limited in what they could do, explains Alkenbrack. “We can do food — that’s what we do — but they can’t cook in a motel. I could offer premade meals, but there is no refrigerator.”

Alkenbrack also hoped he could offer the Mission’s warming shelter as a temporary space for the family, but, he says, “Our insurance wouldn’t cover it… I wanted to bring them into the [mission] centre but I can’t…. It’s ridiculous, but what can I do? We’re too big to fail,” he says, explaining that pre-pandemic they might have been able to take a risk as an organization, but now there are too many people depending on Morningstar. “A lot of people would suffer. So that’s the difference… We’ve just grown to the point now that we would be hurting a lot of people if something bad happened.”

Alkenbrack is frustrated and hopes someone can reach out with temporary shelter, which would be “way better than $400 or $500 a night at the hotel… It’s just the most expensive way to do anything.”

Fire ravaged the rented house Shannon Scott and her family called home on the morning on Sunday, Jun. 25, 2023. Photo via GoFundMe page.

Scott has reached out to Social Services, but Alkenbrack says, “She is given the usual speech”: that there is no place for a family of eight to go where they wouldn’t be broken up. “There’s a possibility to maybe go somewhere and then the family gets split up and then it’s traumatic, right? She’s not working, and they’re just falling farther behind, and then whatever money they did have is gone. And now they have no possessions, no nothing. The nightmare scenario, right?”

Sadly, this happens too often, he says, “and then it takes something like this story to sort of shake up the community… A lot of people are feeling really moved about this situation, but this is not unique. The fact that it’s kids and a mom and a fire might be unique, but we know what’s going on [with homelessness] in Kingston and Belleville, and it’s happening here too.” 

Alkenbrack laments the “complicated nature of dealing with unhoused people… There’s no legislation, the government isn’t funding things… we really need mental health services and affordable housing and transitional housing and everything,”

He says the ‘powers that be’ tend to push back: “They go ‘We don’t have the process. We don’t have the resources. So we should be careful what we do. But let’s not do anything because we’re just inviting people from outside the community.’”

He points out, “When they get confronted with [homelessness] face to face, people don’t like what they see… Once you see homelessness for its complicated nature, you can’t unsee what you see… [People] say, ‘So what are we going to do with this? This is really hard.’” According to Alkenbrack, the talk always circles back to how complicated it is and what should be done, but not much ever actually gets accomplished.

This vicious spiral needs to end, Alkenbrack says, stating that we each have a part to play, whether it is telling Scott’s story or the story of those like her, offering financial assistance, or providing a roof to sleep under.

He acknowledges that his enterprise has become so big, he sometimes forgets the importance of telling stories like Scott’s. “Stuff like this, where we just sort of tell just tell a little story. … it brings people out [to help]. A lady — no kidding — came in and said, ‘I’ve been carrying around a cheque for $6,000; I just haven’t brought it to you. I read this story that made me cry. And so I thought, God is telling me I have to get over there.'”

Alkenbrack hopes this story will touch more people and move them to do something to help.

Those wishing to help Scott and her family can donate directly to Morningstar Mission or contribute to the GoFundMe set up by Scott’s sister.

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