More than 140 victims of last spring's devastating flooding in Gatineau remain living in hotels, six months after they were forced from their homes.
Marianne St-Jean is one of them. The 53-year-old has been living in hotel and motel rooms since May 6, when the basement of her home on rue St-François-Xavier filled with more than two metres of muddy water.
'One week in a hotel could be fun, but six months in a hotel is not fun.' - Stéphane Boily, Red Cross
St-Jean's home is now uninhabitable — the foundation is cracked and there's no electricity. She's still waiting for a cheque from the Quebec government to help pay for the extensive repairs.
"I can't wait to be back home," St-Jean said. "It's been six months and a half. It's been very, very hard."
According to the Red Cross, 70 Gatineau families are still living in hotels while the Quebec government foots the bill.
Dozens of families
The Red Cross is in charge of managing the hotel stays for the province. The aid agency has so far helped more than 2,000 families across Quebec with emergency assistance including lodging, clothing and food vouchers.
Familes from Gatineau accounted for 795 of those, of which 525 were placed in hotels. Most have either returned to their homes or found other accommodation, but dozens have not.
"One week in a hotel could be fun, but six months in a hotel is not fun," said Stéphane Boily, coordinator for the Red Cross in Gatineau.
Boily said every case is different, but some of those still in hotels are vulnerable people who can't afford to rent an apartment or house while their own homes are being repaired.
"People are still paying for their mortgage and they don't have financial capability to rent something else," Boily said.
'It's very, very sad'
St-Jean and her friend Bill McAlistair, 52, have moved in and out of nine different hotels and motels before landing at Hotel V in Gatineau. They've now been there for more than five months, and have to eat out for their meals.
'I was always saying to everybody, 'Hopefully I'll be there for Christmas.' Now I don't think so.' - Marianne St-Jean, flood victim
They call their new lifestyle "depressing."
"Five months in the same little room, with a little TV on the wall and no couch," McAlistair said.
St-Jean had hoped they'd be back home by now, but she's waiting for $80,000 from the Quebec government to replace her cracked foundation.
"I was always saying to everybody, 'Hopefully I'll be there for Christmas,'" said St-Jean. "Now I don't think so."
She still visits her home daily to make sure it's still standing, and that no one has broken in. St-Jean's daughter, who lost all her belongings in the flood because her room was in the basement, is now living with her father.
"It's very, very sad," said St-Jean. "It was very hard. I cried for three months and a half because I thought I was going to lose everything, too."
Even after everything she's been through, St-Jean said she wants to stay in her house near the river, in the neighbourhood she's called home for 20 years.
'Every single case is different'
Stéphanie Vallée, Gatineau's representative in Quebec City and the province's justice minister, said dealing with the flood aftermath is a lot of work. She said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux has hired additional team members to deal with the workload.
"Every single case is different," Vallée said in an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "Every single case has a different situation that needs to be looked into to make sure that the person is eligible for the refund. There are conditions, and those have to be met."
She also shot down any suggestion that Quebec's Bill 62, the controversial face-covering law, is taking her attention away from constituents who are suffering after the flood.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "I am justice minister … but Bill 62 has nothing to do with this. My staff, I'm there on the ground and we work with people. So this is totally ridiculous as an excuse."