From Stable to Unstable: Shannon’s Story of Deepening Poverty

Posted on August 9, 2023
By Maureen Owens

Every person has a story.  In this blog co-written by Tamarack's Maureen Owens along with Shannon Lee Marion, read Shannon's personal story of poverty, struggles with rental hikes in Canada, and discover how you can both help and stay informed. 

Shannons Story Blog (1)

People living in deep poverty describe the instability of having stable and appropriate housing. Significant roadblocks from multiple systems can tip the balance and result in deteriorating circumstances or, at worse, homelessness. We must shift the assumption that poverty is the result of individual choices; every person has a story. Peoples’ stories can undo beliefs and break down stigma and discrimination; they help us better understand the gaps and barriers to accessible housing.  

The first step to creating change is to understand the context and complex challenges faced by those living in deep poverty. Shannon’s story of navigating landlords, rent increases, and the subsidized housing system ultimately led to deeper poverty and isolation. The story reminds us that what happened to Shannon resulted from external factors. We must amplify her story and continue to change systems; we must make a difference. 

I met Shannon virtually while planning our National Gathering, and she shared her experiences with me. 


Shannon's Story

My story is that of a pensionless, professional woman who, at 65-years-old, was forced into housing limbo due to my landlord's malfeasance and mismanagement. Today, at 71 years of age, I am living in an inadequate, inaccessible, and unaffordable apartment on the outskirts of a small town 40 minutes from Ottawa. The life I was leading has been destroyed.

In December 2018, I was poor, living in subsidized housing in Ottawa, but I never defaulted on my rent in over 50 years. I was required to relocate temporarily from my apartment so that the non-profit landlord could do repairs resulting from neglected maintenance for decades when a hallway ceiling caved in. I took a few personal items and rented one room in a small house 40 minutes from Ottawa. I thought I would be back home in a couple of months. My entire life was in Ottawa with family, friends, my neighbourhood and community, doctors, dentists, and other professionals I knew well and counted on. 

Navigating Rental Increases 

The non-profit had engineered it so that I could not return (raised the rent and decreased the size of the space) and shipped my belongings to the room I was renting; I had nowhere to unpack, and I was forced to rent a storage unit. Almost five years later, everything is still in storage.  

Since March 2019, I have been on the social housing waitlist and have not been offered a subsidized unit. On January 13, 2023, I was given an eviction notice from my room because the landlord wanted more rental income.  Days before the end of my tenancy, I felt I had no choice but to sign an agreement with my landlord at double the rent I'd been paying. 

Deepening Poverty and Isolation 

Due to the lack of subsidized or market housing in Lanark County, I now use 3/4 of my OAS/GIS income for rent. I live in an inadequate apartment with no room for a kitchen table. No living room or furniture makes it difficult to have friends over, which adds to my isolation. I have been able to replace some items that went to storage, but mostly, I do without. I am situated near an industrial park on a highway outside a small town with scant amenities for poor people.

My story is one of a senior woman with health issues, bullied out of her Ottawa home, jettisoned like so much garbage and then being ignored and mistreated by the people holding the keys to rural social housing.


Systems Stacking Barriers 

Landlord Regulations around renting vary provincially, with each one maintaining its laws around the frequency and amount by which rent prices can increase. Ultimately, however, landlords have the right to raise the rent price on their properties. 

Often, it can be more enticing for landlords to evict their current tenant and enter into a new lease agreement with a different tenant at a higher price. As a result, tenants might not be keen on launching disputes with their landlords over rent increases out of fear they’ll be evicted. 

Lack of housing – (Globe and Mail - Molly Hayes November 2022) Marie-Josée Houle, the Federal Housing Advocate – which is non-partisan and falls under the Canadian Human Rights Commission – monitors the rollout of the country’s national housing strategy (2017). Five years and billions of dollars in, Marie-Josée Houle says there is little evidence that it’s working. 

Homelessness has reached crisis levels in major cities across the country. Rents continue to surge, and social-assistance rates remain below the poverty line. Shelters are chronically full, and social-housing waiting lists are years long. 


Jill Atkey, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association's CEO, says “the higher the percentage of a household's income spent on rent, the more significant the impact on lifestyle. When it hits 50 percent, people must forego necessities — they'll cut back on groceries and activities. These are systemic failures, not individual failures, which are policy driven.” 

In the face of personal challenges and systemic complexities, the journey from stability to uncertainty showcases the pressing issue of rental increases. Shannon’s story is just one of many that emphasizes the urgent need for equitable housing solutions that prioritize stability, affordability, and community well-being. 

How can we help? 

Some reputable charities that work towards ending homelessness in Canada are listed below: 

How Does Tamarack Make a Difference? 

Tamarack plays a vital role in addressing a gap in existing literature by delving into the firsthand accounts of individuals grappling with precarious housing. The aim is to identify lessons, reasons for the successes or failures, and to show how people’s lives are affected when housing isn’t stable.  

Additionally, Tamarack supports endeavors of communities within the not-for-profit affordable housing sector. Our Ending Poverty Network provides coaching, peer learning, and more. This holistic approach serves to foster a deeper understanding of the challenges at hand and collaboratively work towards more effective solutions. 


Resources to Stay Informed: 

Below are some links to provincial and territorial guidelines on rent increases: 

Also see:

 National Housing Strategy 

Homelessness, Homepage Blog, Communities Ending Poverty, Equity

Maureen Owens

By Maureen Owens

Maureen is a Manager of Cities with the Communities Ending Poverty team at the Tamarack Institute.

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