‘Our next epidemic’: Calgary’s housing fragility takes a heavy toll on mental health

Warning: This story discusses suicide and contains distressing details.

The second time Ashley LaDurante checked into the Crisis Stabilization Unit at Rockview General Hospital, it was mostly for a warm, stable bed.

It was October, and she had just become homeless after facing foreclosure on her apartment. She’s been dealing with depression and OCD for years, but says losing her home was her breaking point.

“I was ready to end it all,” said the 28-year-old administrative employee, who now sleeps in a relative’s bed. “I felt like I had lost.” This was her second visit to the Crisis Unit in two months.

“You never think about how important it is to just have a bed, a place to sleep, a comfortable, warm place, light, and you’re safe,” she said. “It shouldn’t be something we can take away.”

A daybed in the living room, with gray sheets, a red plaid blanket, and a black pillow.
Since losing her home, Ashley Ladurante has been sleeping on a relative’s daybed. She says she feels uncomfortable sleeping in the living room, but despite working a full-time job as an administrative clerk, she can’t afford the rent in the Calgary market. (Karina Zapata/CBC)

Ladurantay reached out to CBC Calgary through our texting community after we asked for people’s stories about housing. Her story helped establish a pattern – others have also found that precarious housing and concerns about their housing take a significant toll on their mental health. It might even spark a crisis.

As the rental market becomes tighter, this is sounding alarm bells for local experts in the mental health and poverty sectors, who say the problem needs to be addressed and resourced now.

Last year, the SOS crisis line received 2,486 calls about shelter or housing. Mental health was a concern for 41 percent of those calls, and suicide was a concern for 25 percent of them.

For their 211 line, Mike Filthuis Cruz, director of programs and performance at the center, says they saw a 17 percent increase in calls or texts from 2021 about shelter or housing.

“It’s unfortunately more common than anyone would like to see,” he said.

The rent increase is the last straw

Ellen, who asked to be given her middle name, also texted CBC Calgary in late December, when she was going through a mental health crisis.

Months ago, the 67-year-old was terminated after taking extended medical leave when she contracted COVID-19.

Then her rental company said it raised her rent by 25 percent in April, for the apartment suite she’s been living in for 13 years.

“That was the final straw that tipped the scales for me. I just said, ‘I can’t do that anymore.'” “

Eileen deals with her ex-boss, worries about when employment insurance will kick in, and is now figuring out how to keep a roof over her head – Eileen says she first contemplated suicide that night.

In 2021, the Calgary Distress Center Crisis Line — which provides confidential 24/7 crisis support — received more than 1,000 calls related to housing and mental health, and more than 600 calls related to housing and suicide. (Brian Labbe/CBC)

After I told a friend, they called the Calgary Police for a health check. The officers gave her a basket of food and tied her to a distress post Mobile Response Team.

This eased her crisis and she began seeing a counsellor. But after a month she is still looking for a job. It would take a good job to afford the $1,425 rent on her own, and the April deadline looms.

She said, “I’ve been working since I was 15. I never thought I’d be struggling to survive like this.”

“What will happen to me? I’ll probably be on the street.”

Local experts see a mental health crisis looming

Meaghon Reid, executive director of anti-poverty group Vibrant Communities Calgary, listens to personal stories and compiles economic indicators to track both the city’s housing and mental health issues.

She says the two are deeply intertwined. Poor mental health makes it difficult to deal with housing problems, and housing problems can worsen people’s mental health.

“This problem is much deeper and more widespread than we have [appreciated] “Over the past few years,” Reed said.

“I think this is our next epidemic. It’s a mental health crisis and I’m not sure we’re ready for that.”

She says that about 44 percent of Canadians are one paycheck away from financial disaster, and 48 percent of Canadians lose sleep over financial stress — a large part of which involves worrying about paying rent.

Meanwhile, the rental market is tight in Calgary It is expected to get worse This year with lower vacancy rates and higher rents. on Friday, Rentals.ca reported Another increase — Rents for two-bedroom units in Calgary increased 18 percent to an average of $1,850 last year. in addition to, Record large numbers of people Transitioned here from out of province and internationally.

At the same time, rising interest rates mean that others struggle to obtain or pay mortgages.

“These are now middle-income people; they’re a lot of people,” Reed said. “We need some solutions geared toward everyone in this one.”

Falling through the cracks

As for Ellen, she would like to see politicians ask more questions about companies raising rents. And she wonders if the provincial or federal government could create an emergency fund to help when the threat of losing a home leads to a mental health crisis.

Laduranteay says her struggles with mental health played a role in her loss of her home, as well as the loss of home causing a crisis. When her depression worsened, she struggled to properly take care of her home. While she was recovering, the condo board took her to court for $30,000 in upgrades to the unit.

When she couldn’t pay, the bank decided to foreclose on the apartment. She had to give up her cats.

Two cats lying on a carpeted floor looking at the camera.
When she lost her home, Ashley LaDurante had to give up her two cats, Shanahan and Bendel, which she says are important to her mental health. (Submitted by Ashley LaDurante)

She says people in her position — who work stable, full-time jobs but still can’t afford a home — fall through the cracks of the system. She can’t access Temporary new regional affordability payments Because she is single, she has no children.

She’s been looking for transitional housing, but says most of the resources are for people struggling with addiction or fleeing domestic violence.

“I’m supposed to be able to pay for a house, pay the rent, but the prices are way too high,” she said.

“There were times when I seriously thought, Should I do drugs just in order to qualify for a house? … I want that space again, that freedom again.”

Resources for Calgars in Crisis


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