Robert Gartner and his brother Raymond have been staying at the Lighthouse Shelter in Salmon Arm since November.
The day of the interview, Robert, 44, who is younger than his brother by three years, is sitting on an Alexander Street sidewalk with a sign that reads: “Homeless. Looking for work. Anything will help. Please. Thank you.”
The people the brothers were renting from most recently in Sicamous had an illegal suite, Robert says, so when it was discovered, he and Raymond were given 24 hours to get out. They had lived in Sicamous since 2009.
“Last year, my brother and I spent all year outside in a tent.”
He said they did a lot of bottle collecting and dumpster diving, which wasn’t popular.
“People didn’t like us doing that,” he said, as they thought the two should be working.
Asked about addictions, Robert says they drink a little alcohol.
“We drink once in a while, nothing major.”
They don’t have jobs right now, he says, but, come August, they’ll be returning to work in an orchard in Kelowna.
“They give you a cabin to live in.”
Robert says he and Raymond have looked for a place, but they can’t find one they can afford – not in Salmon Arm nor Sicamous.
“I’m on a disability and he gets help from welfare. Between the two of us, we only get $1,100 per month. Once you pay the utilities and rent, there’s nothing left for food,” he says, noting they’ve found one-bedroom apartments for $900. “In this town, there’s not much to rent unless you have quite a bit of money.”
He’d like to see affordable housing made available.
“We need easier places for people to get into low-income housing,” he urges. “People on disabilities could all share bills and get together.”
Robert has done landscaping jobs, cooking and fiberglass. But he injured his arm badly when landscaping, and it’s still not right. That, combined with mental health issues, means he qualifies for PPMB (persons with persistent multiple barriers) assistance.
That provides him with $375 per month for housing, and $262 for food and support.
At the local shelter, he says, nine men and one woman have been living there, in similar circumstances.
He said he really appreciates the money people give him on the street.
“Sometimes you can go to a movie or matinee,” he says, which is a treat, as people have to be out of the shelter by 7:30 in the morning. “In general, most people are really, really nice.”