Woman, 91, kicked out of her trailer then crashed her car trying to sleep in the woods, now looking for a new home
CAMBRIDGE — A picture of the Toronto skyline hangs above the bed in the Cambridge Super 8 motel room. It’s a different Toronto than Pat Fenemore remembers from his youth. At 91, most things are different these days.
The bed is expertly made, and a container of Tim Hortons chili sits next to a small black microwave that works just like the one Fenemore had in his trailer.
It’s pretty much the only familiar object in the room, and that’s a small relief.
Fenemore is still figuring out her key card swipe, so she doesn’t leave the room very often unless someone comes to see her – she doesn’t want to lock herself in and not be able to get in.
It’s not his house. Until late April when the sheriff knocked on the door, Fenemore lived by the Grand River in a trailer park tucked away in North Dumfries.
She has no surviving siblings. Apart from a brief marriage in what seems like a lifetime ago, she has spent much of her life in solitude. Her next of kin is a nephew, Rick, who will be in Europe until August.
Now, sitting in a motel room in an area of over 600,000 people, she has never been so alone, trapped in a system that has somehow ignored her.
A long struggle for evictions begins
Fenemore knew the sheriff’s hit was coming.
Even before Pat Campbell took over ownership of the Everglades Mobile Park in September 2019, the Department of the Environment worked with the previous owner to address environmental concerns about the trailer park’s sewage system.
The ministry imposes certain standards on any sewage system that produces more than 10,000 liters of wastewater per day.
The Campbells “seriously” considered redoing the property’s entire waste management system, Caitlin McIntyre, the Campbells’ attorney, wrote in an email to Fenemore’s legal counsel.
But that solution was simply too expensive, leaving landlords no choice but to evict some tenants so the park could meet departmental regulations, McIntyre said.
The Campbells have offered to reduce the number of tenants at the park to bring its total wastewater to below 10,000 liters, she said in the email.
However, the ministry said it is not suggesting evictions, nor requiring them.
“It was about the landowner’s decision to meet outstanding environmental approval requirements,” said ministry spokesperson Lindsay Davidson.
A 2017 ministry inspection made it clear that the trailer park’s sewage system may need upgrades to meet ministry approval, Davidson said.
“We have been in constant communication with the site owner since the inspection and continue to work with them to ensure compliance,” Davidson said. “Until the necessary approval for the current system is obtained, we continue to require enhanced maintenance, monitoring, inspection and pumping to ensure there are no adverse off-site effects.”
Meanwhile, the Campbells decided to go ahead with evictions, giving tenants a year’s notice in March 2020. In a statement sent to The Record, McIntyre said Campbell had no another comment on this and did not explain how the owners chose. tenants to be evicted.
A hearing was scheduled with the Landlord and Tenant Board in September 2021 to fight the eviction, but neither Campbell nor Fenemore showed up. When a second hearing was scheduled for December, Fenemore no longer showed up.
On April 22, the sheriff arrived at Fenemore’s doorstep and told him it was time to leave. That’s when things started to go downhill.
Nowhere to go but sleep under the stars
Fenemore had no plan on where she was going to go next.
She has three cats that she considers family and wanted to find a solution that could keep them together in peace.
She bought the converted trailer 15 years ago for $50,000 and had been renting out the riverside spot ever since. Her nephew, Rick Fenemore, describes her as a former beatnik, a woman who lived on a ship in Toronto harbor, then on a farm, then for a while in her car, traveling across the country.
She planned to live in her car when the sheriff showed up, so she packed up and drove to the campground side of the park to settle in for the night. But a gate locked the campsite and Fenemore crashed her car as she tried to back up and turn around.
“It didn’t quite work out the way I hoped it would,” Fenemore said with a small smile.
When police arrived responding to calls about the accident, they told her she needed to find a real place to stay.
His car was towed to a garage in Ayr, where a woman who heard Fenemore’s story offered him a place for the night.
The next day, after getting her car back, Fenemore said she drove to Paris in search of a motel after returning to the trailer park to check on her cats.
“I’m driving and all I see is these developments, reaching into the sky in all directions, filled with more and more people,” she said. “Yet they want to evict an old woman from a caravan on the river.”
Losing her bearings, Fenemore finally stopped at a convenience store. After hearing his situation, the clerk called a local taxi driver, who asked Fenemore to follow him as he went from motel to motel.
When she finally found a hotel that had a room available, her hearing impairment made the check-in process difficult. Fearing that she might be suffering from dementia, the hotel manager called the police.
“I’m finally in my room, and then there’s a knock on the door,” Fenemore said. “He’s a policeman, and when I tell him I’ve got nothing wrong, he doesn’t believe me, and I have to do all these tests.”
Fenemore passes the tests and confirms that she is clear-headed and acting of her own volition.
But living in a hotel isn’t a long-term solution, so the cop put her in touch with Michelle Knight, who works in eviction prevention with the Waterloo Region Center for Social Development. Knight has been helping Fenemore since that April night.
“The problem is that Pat basically slips through the cracks,” she said. “She doesn’t have any major physical health issues or brain deterioration that could speed it up and get her treated right away. And what’s terrifying is that I know that could be me when I get older. It could be any of us.
Instead, she’s stuck on a modest fixed pension that isn’t enough for her to get a proper one-bedroom apartment. Some places she qualified for won’t accept her cats, which she won’t give up.
“What she’s really looking for is just a place in the countryside, away from everyone else, where she can live with her cats as she pleases,” Knight said. “Unfortunately, there aren’t many options like this available.”
Fenemore quips: “People don’t understand, but these cats are my children. I’m not interested in continuing without them.
More help on the way
Knight eventually brings Fenemore to the Super 8 in Cambridge where the costs are lower than where she first arrived.
Then she introduces her to Crystal Laforest, an outreach worker from Langs, a Cambridge community organization that connects people experiencing homelessness to health care. Langs and Knight also connect Fenemore with other service providers who focus on housing and food.
Since arriving at the Super 8, Fenemore has been receiving food from the Cambridge Food Bank. She was also referred to home and community care to help her find a more permanent housing option.
Meanwhile, the motel is charging her $80 a night, down from the normal rate of $120 a night, but it’s still too expensive and the bills are starting to pile up, including those for her three cats. . Their stay in a kennel is costing him about as much as his motel bill.
With each passing day, it becomes more expensive.
LaForest says she worries the lack of a home is starting to take a toll on Fenemore’s health.
“We notice that it is more and more frequent that we receive people over the age of 80 who have nowhere to go,” said Laforest. “It’s obviously an extremely stressful situation, and in older people that’s often when their mental health starts to deteriorate. So the goal is to alleviate those pressures as quickly as possible.
Many seniors cannot browse the web to find the limited housing available, she said, and that requires a lot of help.
“To do a competitive housing search, you have to be on Kijiji, you have to be on Marketplace,” Laforest said. “If you’re not familiar with this environment, it seems almost impossible.”
Fenemore will likely end up in a city apartment thanks to social housing. It won’t be what she wants, Laforest said, but it will protect her in the meantime.
“If I can wave my magic wand, she can get whatever she wants, which is to live in a rural environment. That’s what she’s used to, that’s what she’s with. comfortable,” she said. “The problem is that there’s hardly any housing in Kitchener and Waterloo. Once you go to the smaller communities, it’s even worse.
Fenemore’s nephew, Rick, and his wife Nancy wrote a biography of Fenemore to send to area agencies that could help.
The description offers a glimpse of what aging with dignity can look like and what happens when stripped down.
“Pat takes care of herself, drives her own car, does her own shopping, cleans her gutters herself, takes her cats to the vet if necessary. She does not drink, does not take drugs and is reclusive. No loud parties, no parties at Aunt Pat’s,” he wrote.
“She doesn’t own a TV, listens to the occasional static-prone radio, reads a newspaper someone might have given her, and loves the library. In other words, she lives alone, as she wishes. She is proudly independent. She always believed that she could stay in her cozy little house, with her family, her cats, until the end.
Standing in his motel room, waiting to check out an apartment block in the middle of Cambridge, Fenemore summed it up this way: “I had a pretty good life on my own until this whole situation.