Affordable housing crunch difficult for Calgarians with disabilities

A Calgary couple with disabilities are facing the prospect of living in their trailer this winter.

Many Calgary homeless people have mobility issues, but there aren't many disability friendly rentals

Calgary couple September Chabai and Steve Wilcox in their trailer with their two dogs. (CBC)

A Calgary couple with physical disabilities are facing the prospect of living in their trailer this winter.

Steve Wilcox and September Chabai have been living in a trailer attached to their truck for the past six months. They spent the summer travelling around looking for a place to live, but recently returned to Calgary — the city they consider their home.

“Summer was fine. Winter is hard. It’s getting cold, the nights are getting long,” said Chabai. "I’m lost. This is the first time this has ever happened to me and I’m scared.”

Wilcox was a volunteer firefighter in northern Alberta for many years. He said he injured his back in an accident and is unable to walk very far. Chabai has mild cerebral palsy. They both use scooters to get around.

Jeff Dyer, executive director of Accessible Housing, said he hears stories like this every day.

““There literally are thousands of people in our city who are either experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity because they have limited mobility and have a lack of income.”

Very few rentals available

Accessible Housing is a non-profit group that helps people with disabilities find homes. According to Dyer, Calgary has a vacancy rate of less than one per cent and of the units available, very few are disability friendly.

“There's a huge housing crisis on our hands and we haven't gotten anywhere near how to house everyone who needs it,” said Dyer. “Then add the layer of mobility impairment on top of it and its nearly impossible for many, many people to call any place home."

Wilcox and Chabai live off of the $1,600 a month that Wilcox gets from Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH).

“When our cheque comes in we make sure we fill our propane tanks, we make sure we have water, lots of groceries and we basically just keep hunting for a place every day," said Wilcox.

The couple said they spend their days looking for a home in Calgary or surrounding towns. They talk to different landlords and different agencies but still have had no luck.

Dyer said one-quarter of Calgary’s 3,500 homeless have mobility problems and the number of clients his group helps increases dramatically every year.

"It gets frustrating but I have this can-do attitude," said Wilcox. "I can do anything and I’m not going to stop."