British Columbia

Vancouver woman with disability facing homelessness after waiting for B.C. Housing for 7 years

Karen Norton has been waiting to get into B.C. Housing since 2009. Her need for housing has become more desperate after she was handed an eviction notice asking her to move out by the end of January.

Karen Norton, 54, has primary progressive MS and needs to leave her place by the end of January

Karen Norton has MS and is terrified of being homeless. She was handed an eviction notice and has to move out by the end of January. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Karen Norton says she has been waiting to get into B.C. Housing since 2009.

Her need for housing has become more desperate after she was handed an eviction notice in November asking her to move out by the end of January, so the landlord can undertake renovations.

"I have no place to go," said Norton, who was diagnosed with primary progressive MS. 

"I don't know if I'm going to be homeless, if my belongings are going to be in a storage locker. I don't know what is going to happen to me," she said. 

Norton, once a vibrant character amongst her friends in the music industry, has been housebound for six years.

"It's very, very difficult," she said. 

Norton said she has been housebound for six years because her house doesn't accommodate her disability. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

She says her current house near Main and Broadway — which she moved into 11 years ago when she was able-bodied — has two sets of stairs that she can't climb because of her disability.

She has to be carried up the stairs of the house and requires a cane, wheelchair and scooter to get around. 

"I have a loving partner and he gets me out once a week to get my hair done and then for dinner," she said. 

Due to her disability, Norton can no longer wash her hair or get in the tub. She spends the entire day in a chair and uses an office chair to motor herself to the bathroom. 

Norton says her current residence is completely rundown, has a bedbug problem and admits it really is in need of renovations. She describes her living conditions as deplorable.

She says she has applied to at least 40 different B.C Housing buildings in Vancouver, but there is no estimated wait time on when she will get in. 

Norton said she is terrified of the thought of being homeless. She fears she won't survive on the streets because of her disability. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Tenants are picked based on need, and she may not even be a priority, says her MLA, Melanie Mark, who has penned a letter to B.C.'s minister of housing asking her file be reviewed immediately. 

"They treat her as someone who has a roof over her head, therefore you're not in dire need. Yet, she has been living in these circumstances for a number of years and her health is continually being compromised," said Mark. 

B.C. Housing says it can't provide details about Norton's housing history because of privacy rules, but a person at risk of homelessness with a disability is given priority for housing. 

Currently, there are 4, 210 applications for housing in Vancouver, 85 per cent of which are applicants who currently have housing and are looking for alternate forms of housing.

In the letter to the housing minister, Mark wrote that her office sees "one person a day on average with concerns about how long they have been on the B.C. Housing wait list."

Mark said a person in Norton's condition won't be able to survive on the streets. 

"She can't go from shelter to shelter with her belongings," she said. 

Norton says the thought of being homeless with her disability is frightening.

"Terrifies me. Terrifies me. I have panic attacks about it. Nothing I can do," she said.