Ottawa nurse says pandemic panic has left her homeless

Health care workers are already facing added stress and personal danger because of COVID-19. Now, one Ottawa nurse says fear of the disease has also left her homeless.

She says she lost the room she was renting — and no one will rent to her now because of her work

Ottawa nurse Kathrine Slinski says she's struggling to find a place to live because no one wants to rent to her in the middle of a pandemic. (Kathrine Slinski)

UPDATE Kathrine Slinski says she's overwhelmed and grateful for numerous offers of a place to live. She tells CBC News she's still sorting through the people who have reached out to her and is hopeful she'll find a place in Ottawa's west end to call home. Read her story below.

Health care workers are already facing added stress and personal danger because of COVID-19. Now, one Ottawa nurse says fear of the disease has also left her homeless.

Kathrine Slinski told CBC News she was almost done moving house on Tuesday when she got a text from her new landlady.

"Please call me asap. I'm really sorry. I have some bad news."

Slinski said the woman told her she no longer wanted to rent her a room in her home because of her job — despite the fact the nurse had signed a lease the week before and paid her first and last months' rent.

"She was concerned that I would expose her to the COVID virus and since she was considered a high-risk person, she just couldn't rent the room to me," she said.

'I have nowhere to go'

Slinski is a community care nurse who deals frequently with palliative care patients. She said she'd already discussed with the landlord all the precautions she would take when arriving home from her job — washing her hands thoroughly, removing her work clothing and ensuring it's properly cleaned.

She said she feels some sympathy for the landlord.

"I can absolutely understand her point of view and agree with her concerns," she said.

"I'm just upset because she chose the day I was supposed to be moving into her home when I've already made all the arrangements and paid her all the money. And now I have nowhere to go."

Her job has continued to frustrate her hunt for another place to stay, Slinski said. 

She said she convinced the landlord to let her stay one night and is now spending a few days with a stranger who reached out after hearing about her through Facebook. But Slinski said she's learning that no one wants to rent to a nurse in the middle of a pandemic.

'Saddened and upset'

Slinski said she's been open about her job when reaching out to prospective landlords. Several have told her they "just don't want to take the risk," she said. She did view one room up for rent, but said she was told afterward the other tenant was uncomfortable with the idea of living with a health care worker.

"I do understand that they're concerned and I would be, too," she said. "But as a human being who serves my public and serves my community and puts a lot of life into it, I'm really kind of saddened and upset that I have no place to go and no one to help me."

CBC News spoke with the landlord who changed her mind about renting to Slinski. The woman, who didn't want her name used, said she has emphysema and still takes medication in the wake of cancer treatment.

'I'd rather be strapped for money ... than be dead'

"I was crying just trying to make the decision. I do have a good heart. It's unfair for her."

She said she refunded the first and last month's rent Slinski had already paid.

"I feel so bad. I couldn't apologize enough to her."

For the time being, she's not going to rent the room to anyone, she said.

"I'd rather be strapped for money and be safe than be dead."

The story brings back memories of the way health care workers were treated during the SARS epidemic, said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

A hospital worker wears a mask during Toronto's SARS outbreak at North York General Hospital, on May 29, 2003. (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

She said back in 2003, those who worked in health care in and around Toronto were sometimes "shunned" by friends — even family members — who feared they would spread the disease.

She said Slinski's case is the first concrete example she's heard of during the current outbreak.

Health care workers across the country are working long hours to save lives, said Silas, and it only adds to their stress and hurt when they encounter fear in the community.

"That is just plain sad," she said.

Around the world and in Canada, health care workers are falling ill with COVID-19. But Silas said the public should trust nurses and others to know what to do to avoid spreading the virus.

"When we walk out of hospitals and long term care facilities, we make sure we are well-protected to protect others."

Try to negotiate, lawyer suggests

While there is an eviction freeze in Ontario right now, Slinski's case is more complex because renting a room in a house isn't covered by the Residential Tenancies Act, said Ottawa tenants' right lawyer Daniel Tucker-Simmons of Avant Law.

He said in cases like this, one issue would be how serious the medical risk is to the landlord. An assessment of that risk would need to be based on expert medical advice, not just the landlord's opinion, he added.

He said such cases rarely wind up in court and encouraged the parties to try to work something out.

"Is there somewhere the landlord could stay, at least on an interim basis, to avoid ... making this tenant homeless? Are there options available?" he asked. "Is that landlord in a position to open another space?"

Slinski said she wouldn't stay where she's not wanted — but she is keen to find a place to live so she can concentrate on work.

To deal with pandemic, Slinski said, hospitals are keeping more patients in the community — and she needs to be at work helping those people.

"I need to be with my colleagues."


Catherine Cullen

Parliamentary Bureau

Catherine Cullen is a senior reporter covering politics and Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

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