A mother of two in Yellowknife thought she was about to get her life back on track, but due to a technicality with income assistance she says she's now homeless and had to send her children away to live with their father.

A frustrated Shelley Leonardis delivered a letter to the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment explaining her situation.

"I am asking why can't they help a person who is really trying to change her life?" she says. "Why are they sending me back to the gutter?" 

Jolene Saturnino

Jolene Saturnino, director of Income Security Programs with ECE, says the department renders decisions on completed applications within 48 hours and applicants can appeal denied applications through an independent committee. (CBC)

Leonardis says she was living with friends when she was approved for income assistance for a three-bedroom trailer for herself and her two children on Feb. 23, but the following day she learned the assistance was denied because she wrote "single occupancy" on her application.

Leonardis says her support worker knew the trailer was also for her children, and doesn't understand why the application could not have been adjusted.

"I am trying to get ahead. I know I could have done it with their help," says Leonardis. "But they denied the whole thing so now I am basically homeless and I had to send the kids back to their father's."

2 jobs, faced with living in a van

Leonardis works as a security guard in downtown Yellowknife, and moonlights at a coffee shop, but she says she doesn't make enough money to pay market rent and afford food for her children.

She says she has worn out her welcome living with friends, and is now looking at living in a van.

"It's like, 'Oh my God, what am I doing wrong?'" says Leonardis.

She's worried that if her children live with their father full-time, she won't be allowed to re-apply for assistance to get a home for the three of them.

But ECE says that's not how the program works.

"When we have a situation of shared custody, we can provide assistance." says Jolene Saturnino, director of Income Security Programs with ECE.

'I want to give up'

Saturnino is not allowed to speak specifically about Leonardis's case due to privacy laws, but she says as long as an applicant has legal custody, it doesn't matter whether or not the children are currently under their care.

"What we would do is look at when the children would be coming back into the home, and ensuring the appropriate accommodations are in place for the children when they are in the home," says Saturnino.

Unfortunately this nuance was not communicated to Leonardis.

"I wanted to give up basically," she says. "I just wanted to start drinking all over again."

She has been sober for six months.

Saturnino says the department renders decisions on completed applications within 48 hours. Applicants can appeal denied applications through an independent committee.