On Wednesday, Karen Dawson’s furniture was pulled out of her house and tossed on the street.
Lifting chipboard shelves off the couch, the 34-year-old Kwanlin Dun member discovered a tiny, pink bassinet and started to cry.
It belonged to Iris.
Her little girl died in a car accident three years go.
Karen’s mom, who was driving, died from complications not long after.
Since then, Karen hasn’t spent a lot of time in her house.
And she hasn’t spent much time sober.
“I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it,” she said.
“Iris’ stuff is in there.”
Now, Kwanlin Dun’s barebones housing department, run by a skeleton crew, is evicting her.
Fumbling with her key, Karen opened the back door to a room full of garbage bags and boxes.
Pictures of her beautiful smiling daughters had been pulled off the walls and stacked on the corner of a now bare shelf.
One of Iris’ tiny shoes lay in an otherwise empty bedroom, marked only by patterns in the dust where the six-year-old’s bed and dresser used to stand.
“I was just here this morning,” said Karen, in tears.
In a matter of hours, her home had been boxed up and cleared out.
“The eviction is related to a disturbance, and it’s not her first eviction,” said Kwanlin Dun’s new housing officer Greg Newton, who’d been on the job three days.
Kwanlin Dun has also been without a housing manager, but just filled the position.
The new manager starts on Monday.
It still doesn’t have a housing director or a housing committee.
Sitting in a boardroom with auxiliary staffer Joan Viksten, Newton was trying to explain to a very emotional Karen, and her dad Malcolm, why the First Nation chucked all her furniture and bedding onto the street.
“It seems to me like there’s a crisis in the housing situation,” said Newton.
“There’s no staff to deal with the issues.
“And there’s a waitlist of 70 families waiting to get in houses.”
“Now I’m one of them,” said Karen, who is up-to-date on her rent.
Karen’s house has three bedrooms, some with holes punched in the walls, and a basement that is full of broken glass from shattered windows now covered in plywood.
It’s a big house for one person, said Newton.
Karen was planning to have her older daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend move in with her.
Then the eviction notice came.
“There are too many letters against you and too many complaints on file,” said Viksten.
There’s partying at the house and neighbours have complained.
“I can’t show you the letters because then you would know who wrote them,” said Viksten.
“That house is unhealthy for you.”
There’s bootleggers and coke dealers here who are killing people, said Karen, naming a few individuals.
“But you pick on me.
“Why don’t you kick them out?”
One of them was “kicked out of Carmacks because he was bootlegging, so he came to Kwanlin Dun where it’s hands off,” added Malcolm.
The First Nation is trying to deal “with these issues,” said Viksten.
And Kwanlin Dun is no longer offering housing to anyone from outside, she said.
“We have a waitlist of 70 clients just from Kwanlin Dun.”
Viksten wanted to move Karen into one of their apartment blocks.
In fact, Viksten already had a truck loaded with valuables from Karen’s home, ready to drive down the street to the apartment.
“I want my stuff back in my house,” said Karen.
“You guys just threw it out like it was garbage. And you didn’t even have the decency to close up the suitcase (full of towels).”
The workers just went on lunch break, said Viksten.
“It’s not like we left the doors open.”
Someone called Malcolm to tell him his daughter’s house was being emptied.
“We didn’t even know,” he said.
The First Nation is “moving you into a very nice apartment,” said Viksten.
“Everyone in there is drunk every day and there are people cracked out on needles,” she said.
“I’m not living there.”
Karen is on another one of Kwanlin Dun’s waitlists.
She’s been waiting to be shipped out for alcohol treatment for more than seven months.
Her 16-year-old daughter is struggling with the same addictions as her mom.
She was in the car accident too, and held her little sister Iris, “when she was gone,” said Karen.
So far, the only help Karen got was in jail.
“I just started grieving healthily over my baby and mom,” she said.
“When I was grieving healthily in jail, it felt like I just buried my mom and my baby not very long ago.”
Viksten was good friends with Karen’s mom.
“When I met her on the street, we hugged,” she said. “I miss her sorely – not only that, we shared a birthday.
“And I am thinking your mom is probably thinking this is the best thing.
“I have your best interests at heart.”
It’s “not the best thing – kicking me out,” said Karen.
“I’m just doing my job,” said Viksten.
Then the RCMP showed up.
They were called to keep the peace, said Newton.
Malcolm shook his head.
“Does anyone around here know how to do things properly?” he said.
“This isn’t Nicaragua, it’s Canada.”
The elder jumped in his car and drove to the band office to see councillor Ray Webb.
After a heated exchange that was audible down the hall from the closed door, Webb walked out saying, “I never said to throw her stuff out like that – that’s dirty.”
By the time Malcolm and Karen got back to the house, workers were moving her beds and dressers back in from the street.
Visibly shaken, Karen asked her dad to take her for a drive.
By the time she gets back, everything will be back to normal.
Karen’s housing situation will still be tenuous.
The First Nation’s housing department will still be short-staffed.
There will still be 70 families waiting for homes.
And Karen will still be waiting for treatment.
Contact Genesee Keevil at