North·Feature

No water, power or furnace: Life in an abandoned home in Behchoko, N.W.T.

For the past three months, Sammy Mantla has been living in his parents' abandoned house in Behchoko, N.W.T. He's one of dozens facing housing issues in the community of 2,100 just 100 kilometres north of Yellowknife.

Lack of housing forces some residents to seek shelter in boarded-up units

Sammy Mantla has been living in his parent's abandoned house in Behchoko, N.W.T., for the past three months. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Sammy Mantla says he is worried about the cold as he places one of the few remaining blocks of wood into his stove.

Mantla has been living in his parents' abandoned house in Behchoko, N.W.T., for the past three months. He does not have any running water, electricity, or working furnace in the three-bedroom bungalow.

The house has no running water, electricity or furnace. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

He sleeps on a twin-sized mattress on the living room floor. He says he prefers to sleep next to the wood stove, especially now that temperatures are below freezing.

Two old couches that double as beds line the back wall. Mantla says he lets his homeless friends sleep on them. The three spare bedrooms are also available but only two have mattresses.

Mantla began living in his parents' old house after being evicted from his public housing unit this summer. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

"If they're not drunk, it's OK," he says. "Next day they say thank you."

However, the 49-year-old says he is concerned because he only has six pieces of wood left and it is getting cold outside. He says he had to board up some of the windows and the back door to keep the place warm.

"Some guys have to use an extra jacket to sleep."

He sleeps on a twin mattress on the living room floor next to the woodstove. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Mantla lights his home with a gas lantern and uses candles; wax has melted into parts of his tablecloth. He visits family and friends for meals. 

He walks down the hallway and points toward a dimly lit room.

"This used to be the washroom. Now, they put the honey bucket over there."

The room has no toilet, sink, shower or door. Just the honey bucket — a large white pail with a black garbage bag liner, and a toilet seat sitting on top.

The bathroom, which has no door, contains a honeybucket. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Evicted from public housing

Mantla's situation is not uncommon for many in the community of roughly 2,100. Joe Pintarics, who runs the Tlicho Friendship Centre, says there could be anywhere from 75 to 120 people who are homeless and in need of shelter while upwards of 45 to 50 housing units in the community are boarded up.

Mantla lived in a public housing unit for two years. He got an eviction order from the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation this past August. However, English is not his first language and he did not know what was said in the order.

Two of the bedrooms have mattresses, and Mantla lets friends stay if they're not drunk. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Mantla works as a seasonal firefighter every summer and, not thinking there was any urgency, returned to work at a remote bush camp. When he returned home from camp, about a week later, the locks to his apartment had been changed.

"They kicked me out for I don't know why," he says.

"I wish I made my sister read the letter to me."

Two couches also double as beds. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Mantla says he owed money to the housing corporation due to late rent payments but says he was repaying the debt. He says the housing corporation did not always send him bills on a consistent basis.

With no functional kitchen, Mantla says he visits friends and family for meals. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

When he was working, Mantla says he was paying about $800 a month in rent. After the firefighting season is over, he would normally pay up to $200 a month, which was taken from his employment insurance cheques.

Following his eviction, he moved into his parents' abandoned home soon after. 

With no electricity, and nights growing longer, Mantla uses candles and lanterns for light. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

As the temperature continues to plummet, Mantla says he plans to buy a generator so he could at least have electricity. However, he says his income support cheques are probably not enough to get him by.

This article is the second in a series looking at housing in the community of Behchoko, N.W.T. Have a story or experience to share? Email: curtis.mandeville@cbc.ca.

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