Everyone has been encouraged to stay home as much as possible over the last 10 months, as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the globe. But for one northeastern Ontario woman, those directions couldn't have come at a worse time.
It was early in the afternoon hours of March 22 when Leah Swatko's life turned upside down. After turning on the stove to begin preparing dinner, she briefly left the room to attend to another task.
Minutes later, while on the upper floor, the smoke alarm began going off. The home, located just outside the town of Massey, was quickly filled with smoke, the stove burner red hot.
"Everything was destroyed," said Swatko. "I left and I didn't even have my glasses, I didn't have my dentures, I didn't have my medications. I had nothing, just the clothes I was wearing and the keys to my van."
Luckily, she and her dogs managed to make it out uninjured. But with the COVID-19 pandemic having been declared just days earlier, the loss of a home couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Swatko spent the coming days with a friend as she began to sort out temporary arrangements. Those calls would lead her to where she's been living for the last 10 months: inside a trailer, parked right beside what was once her home.
'A summer trailer doing a winter trailer job'
"It is a summer trailer doing a winter trailer job," Swatko said with a laugh, trying to maintain levity whenever possible. "It's not going to do it. It really isn't. It's cold. I have an electric heater that I keep under the table to keep my feet warm. I live in layers."
Swatko didn't think the trailer would have to be tested through the elements of winter, hoping to have the issue resolved before the change in season last year. While her home was destroyed, crews are working on building a new home, after investigations showed the previous structure was facing numerous code violations, primarily in the basement.
"I never believed that I would be camping in the wintertime in a trailer," said Swatko. "I do not have water. I do not have indoor plumbing. I have a propane furnace and lights and a propane stove to cook on and a refrigerator."
The timeline has stretched far longer than she imagined, largely due to challenges posed by the pandemic.
"In normal times, if you're having work done on your home, you likely would call out two, three, four different contractors," said Pete Karageorgos, director of consumer and industry relations for Ontario's chapter of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
"Unfortunately now what we're experiencing or seeing is a greater demand primarily for home improvement and construction and tradespeople."
While Karageorgos is not involved in Swatko's case, he listed problems that are likely at play in her situation. Cost of goods is rising, which can cause delays, along with the stresses of ensuring proper physical distancing with all parties involved.
"Especially in a situation for someone who may have suffered a home fire and they have to rebuild, it's the additional coordination of tradespeople so that you aren't having people literally trip over each other in tight spaces," said Karageorgos.
Swatko said that she has received the help of many friends and people from far and wide, offering support in any way that they can.
"I have found that there's a lot of truly kind people in this world that care about me in ways that you don't even realize," Swatko said.
According to the most recent news, she may be able to move into her new home by the end of this month.