Stars align, community rallies to help Botwood family avoid homelessness
There was mould in the bathroom, in the corners and in the attic insulation.
© Submitted photo
Norm Peyton, with wife Elizabeth and daughter Ashley, is moved by what people have done to keep the family in their home. Missing from the photo is Nicholas, who was at school. The family is thrilled with the work done on their house.
There was mould in the bathroom, in the corners and in the attic insulation.
Windows were cracked, the rotting roof was leaking and the children were driving splinters into their feet from the worn floor.
Norm Peyton's house in Botwood was cold and literally falling to pieces.
Out of work, on income support and just managing to put grub on the table, he and his family were headed towards homelessness.
But then a chance meeting at a food bank changed their course, and began a story that shows the power of conversation and community.
"It's a great feeling to know that people actually care, to help a family along," Peyton says.
While signing up for a Christmas hamper in a Botwood church basement December past, Peyton found himself talking with Sherri Skeans.
She suggested she might be able to help, and passed Peyton a business card that included her name and title: "Housing Support Worker, Central Housing and Homelessness Network."
Skeans notes she has never approached someone to give them a card and offer direct help. But there was something different this time.
Before long, Skeans was inspecting the dilapidated house and helping the family apply for money from the province's Affordable Housing Initiative.
"It was pretty bad," Skeans says of the house's condition.
In March, the program approved $10,000 for building materials — half as a grant, the rest as a loan Peyton must repay.
Having money for materials was awesome, but the family still couldn't afford the labour to do the job.
Then, out of another conversation, came a suggestion to help the Peytons, as well as some inmates from the Bishop's Falls Correctional Centre.
It was proposed the prisoners would leave the centre and help with the rebuild — under the watch of security, of course.
Being involved would provide them with new skills and allow them to contribute to the community.
The powers that be gave it the thumbs up.
The stars were aligning, but the project still needed skilled workers. Peyton couldn't cover that, either.
Enter Paula Mills, a manager with Notre Dame All-Install who oversees construction projects within a 100-mile radius of Grand Falls-Windsor.
She dropped by the Committee Against Violence office in Grand Falls-Windsor to get information for a visiting relative in February, and happened to end up in a conversation about the housing and homelessness network, which has an office in the same building.
She was soon part of it.
"I decided that being a contractor, I could make a contribution."
Part of that contribution would soon include helping a family in Botwood, her hometown. Notre Dame All-Install would contract the project, donate skilled labour and provide resources — hard hats, safety vests, etc. — to ensure the inmates were safe and secure.
Mills took on the role of project manager and, unbeknownst to her, the house was two doors from where she grew up, and the man whose family needed assistance was a childhood friend.
"It was especially exciting for me because it was a family we knew over the years, but I was quite willing before I knew who he was to be involved and to help."
After being in Calgary for 20 years, Peyton returned to Botwood with his family — wife Elizabeth Pope and their children Ashley, now five, and Nicholas, now nine — two years ago.
They came home to help Peyton's ailing father, who passed away a few months later.
Peyton — who has 15 siblings — was left with the family home, a house that hadn't been upgraded in decades.
He worked in the steel industry in Calgary, and while there, had repeatedly heard about a shortage of workers in his home province. He was confident he'd find work, but he still hasn't landed a job. His employment insurance ran out long ago.
That's how he and his family ended up in their housing crisis.
"It's been really rough," Peyton says. "It's been a rough road."
Patching up a portion of that rough road — Peyton's house — began in mid-May.
Aside from some trim and cupboards that need paint, the project is almost finished.
An estimated $30,000 in renovations have taken place. The house has a new roof, windows, bathroom, flooring, insulation and drywall, among other things.
"Nothing was just a patch job," says Skeans. "This has completely been redone to code, basically."
Mills, who remembers being in the house as a kid, believes it's in the best shape ever. And that gives her a remarkable feeling.
"It's very much satisfying to know the children are going to be living in a safe home now, mould-free, clean, structurally sound and warm," she says.
Mills considers the project an honour to be part of.
"It wasn't a burden at all. It was a privilege to be of service. It helps you feel better about your job and better about life."
It's worth noting Mills endured some personal hardship during the rebuild. Her new house in Grand Falls-Windsor was destroyed by fire May 30.
"And I lost everything," she says, adding she is thankful no one was hurt.
Skeans says Mills didn't once take her eye off Project Peyton. She describes her as an "unbelievable woman."
The sense of satisfaction is shared by the others involved in helping the Peytons.
"George," not his real name, is one of the six inmates who helped.
"It felt pretty good to know I was helping a less fortunate family," he says.
The 40-year-old, a self-employed contractor, started serving a 75-day sentence for impaired driving about a week before the project started.
He didn't expect to be involved in such an initiative. It touched him, and made him realize he can use his skills for more than just personal gain.
Once he's released, he intends to offer his self-taught talents to organizations and people in need.
George remembers setting up some new beds for the Peyton children and imagining how excited they would feel to be warm and protected that evening.
"I just thought how nice it is for these kids to be able to have that feeling."
Skeans is also moved by how well the initiative went, and with the end result.
She's thrilled with and thankful for the commitment of everyone who helped — Mills, numerous other businesses and people, staff at the correctional centre and the inmates.
She says the latter were a pleasure to work with.
"You get to know them for the person they are. And they had a lot of skills to contribute."
This is the first such project for the homelessness network, and Skeans says the hope is it could be expanded throughout the province.
She knows the need is great in central Newfoundland, where a vacancy rate of .09 per cent is a huge problem for people of all ages.
"It's forcing people to stay in housing that is not suitable — cabins without running water, trailers that are just perched somewhere. ... I'm unfortunately aware of too many families right now that are in desperate need of this support."
Peyton is grateful his family is no longer one of them.
"It's just amazing what they did for us," he says.
Humbled, he had no idea the renos would be so extensive.
"I figured a couple of windows here and there, and a few shingles on the roof, but when they came in and did what they did, it's amazing."
Peyton believes his late father guided the project, and played a role in his introduction to Skeans at the food bank.
That must be comforting, as is knowing his children live in a safer environment.
"They love it. They love it. It's like a whole new house."
With his fortunes improved, his fingers now are crossed about landing a job.
"I just can't explain it," Peyton says. "We're just so grateful for what everybody has done for us."