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BEHIND THE SCENES: 'Worst times': Single dad fighting cancer becomes homeless

NewmarketToday reporter Joseph Quigley takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on NewmarketToday's Joseph Quigley, whose story "'Worst times': Single dad fighting cancer becomes homeless" was published on May 9.

Below is the full story, in case you missed it.

Stouffville area resident Fernando Caceres has faced a difficult reality in recent months.

A single father with three kids, he was diagnosed with colon cancer nine months ago. With treatments keeping him out of construction work and a poor credit rating, he said his family has been driven to homelessness and he is upset he cannot get consideration for a home.

“It’s been very hard to take care of myself and find a place to live,” he said. “This is one of the worst times of my life.”

Fercaela is calling out what he sees as a flawed housing market and system. He also said the stringent standards of landlords and the oft-required credit report check is flawed.

The man has been getting treatment at multiple hospitals, including Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Markham Stouffville Hospital and Sunnybrook Hospital.

Currently living out of a hotel, he said he has had difficulties finding a stable home for a long period. He said being a victim of fraudulent activities damaged his credit score, now leaving him with few options.

It is unfair for landlords to bar him for credit reports, or for being a single father, Fercaela said.

“Everybody’s got the right to a home,” he said. “But it seems like that doesn’t apply here.”

Fercaela said he has attempted to get onto affordable housing waitlists. His illness may give him a boost there, he said, but that does not seem likely to work out anytime soon.

Social Planning Council of York Region's Yvonne Kelly said she heard stories like Caceres's. She said it highlights how there is nowhere for people to go living on low income.

"Even being a high priority for housing, when there's nothing there, there's nothing there," Kelly said. "It’s a pretty devastating example of the crisis that families are facing."

With his illness leaving him unable to work his previous job welding at high-rise construction sites, he said he has been struggling to live off Ontario Works. He only recently got approved for Ontario Disability pay.

“You don’t get a lot,” he said of Ontario Works, noting that a two-bedroom apartment can go for about $2,000 plus utilities in the area.

The federal government is examining policy around rentals and credit scores, with renters potentially able to have rental bills paid on time count toward their credit score.

Although the government said this can stand to improve renters' credit scores, critics like the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights said this could cause further issues for those families who may struggle to pay rent on time due to affordability challenges.

Kelly said the high demand in the market means having a good credit score becomes a minimum to get access to private housing.

“That’s the low bar now. You have to have a (good) credit score, and then on top of that, be able to put more money down than would normally be required,” she said.

Meanwhile, advocates have continued to call for better funding for Ontario’s social assistance programs. While Ontario did increase the Ontario Disability Support Program by 6.5 per cent in July 2023 and indexing it to inflation thereafter, advocates have said such social assistance is still not enough to live on.

“ODSP rates do not provide sufficient income for a basic standard of living and, as a result, hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the program live in poverty,” Feed Ontario said in a news release.

Kelly said more government regulation is needed to help protect renters.

"It's only going to get worse if we don't have some regulation," she said. 

Although Caceres said he is desperate to find a more permanent home, instead of drifting from place to place. 

“By the time I get a house, I’m going to be dead?” he said. “I’m not the only one in this kind of situation, which is very sad our government doesn’t do more.”