Raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression, Lorraine Turton learned early that “life can change on a dime.”
Later in life, she understood the full truth of that lesson.
Turton and her husband worked hard to make a comfortable life for themselves and their two children. With a background in art, she worked at a gallery, and he in Ottawa’s high-tech industry. They lived what Turton called a “prosperous, upper-middle-class lifestyle” in their own home in Orleans.
Then in 2002, their luck began to change.
Her husband lost his job. Around that time, Turton suffered an injury and was unable to work.
“We began to have financial difficulties and got behind on our bills and our mortgage,” said the soft-spoken mother of two.
Eventually, the couple lost their home and moved into a small townhouse in Vanier. After they depleted their funds, they went on social assistance and declared bankruptcy.
“Our lives began to spiral out of control,” she said. “It was a downward slide.”
Even as the UN marks its International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Oct. 19, the family’s situation is not uncommon in Canada, said Kelly Law, associate director at Canada Without Poverty.
“I think the situation… illustrates the porous nature of the so-called safety net,” said the organization’s executive director, Rob Rainer.
The family moved out to B.C.’s Fraser Valley for several years for work, but returned to Ottawa for health reasons.
Turned down by 25 potential landlords, they were homeless.
“We lived in our vehicle — a four-door car,” Turton said. “We had the clothing on our backs, and what possessions we had, we had in our vehicle. We used gas stations, local swimming pools and community facilities we were able to access. We were able to prepare sandwiches and cold beverages, but for soup and hot drinks, we went to coffee shops.”
Now 48, Turton said life has “stabilized.” She and her husband, who both received disability status, recently moved from “a substandard apartment” into a co-operative with the help of Ottawa’s Action Housing.
Poverty can happen to anyone, Turton said.
“You can lose everything you work for, your health can deteriorate, your family unit changes and you have to humble yourself,” she said. “Poverty has a great emotional and psychological impact on a person’s life.”