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BUILDing the narrative: The importance of telling the story

Throughout our previous blogs, data points were presented to state the case on the importance and purpose of a healthy housing initiative in New Brunswick. For example, we pointed out that approximately 75% of residents in the city are renters and that a significant issue they have faced is landlords refusing to complete necessary repairs. In fact, New Brunswick households reported having at least one of four housing problems classified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development including: lacking complete kitchen and/or plumbing facilities and overcrowded houses due to cost burden. Although these facts are important, they don’t sufficiently illustrate the human story. We’ve come to recognize the importance of the community’s narrative to “tell the story” in order to really understand the issues people are dealing with.

Meet Lucero, (see picture) a resident of New Brunswick and one of our community health ambassadors (CHAs). A few years ago, at just 2 years old, Lucero’s daughter was dealing with respiratory issues and severe skin rashes. In addition to these issues, high levels of lead were found in her blood.  Lucero was informed that these issues were more than likely a result of the housing conditions in her home. Lucero’s apartment in New Brunswick indeed had many water leakage problems from places such as the drainage pipes, the roof, and some windows. These leaks had caused the floors to warp and become undone as well as caused mold to grow throughout the apartment. Lucero requested that the landlord make the necessary repairs to address these issues especially considering the effect it was having on the health of her child.

The landlord’s response was less than supportive and he took the position that the apartment was in adequate condition and that Lucero was simply trying to use her child’s condition to “make some money”. He suggested that if she didn’t like the apartment then she should just leave. Lucero didn’t know her rights or where to turn to for help. She accepted the landlord’s refusal with the rationale that it was his house so he could do as he wished. A few weeks later, the landlord left a note on Lucero’s door stating that they had a court date in 3 days to evict her for non-payment of rent. Although Lucero had paid her rent, she never received or requested rent receipts. Lucero searched for help and found an attorney to represent her but in the end the attorney didn’t show up at the hearing. Not being able to demonstrate that she had indeed paid her rent, the judge sided with the landlord and she was evicted and lost her security deposit. The only positive side of this story is that Lucero and her family were able to find another apartment to move into.

Lucero’s tribulation left a profound impact on her. She began to seek information and assistance in order prevent her and her family from having to experience this ordeal again. She found Unity Square, one of the neighborhood projects of our healthy housing collaborative. She learned about their services and more importantly, her rights as a tenant. Lucero didn’t want to see anyone else have to go through a similar or worse scenario. This ignited her drive to become a community advocate and ultimately landed her a key role as one of our esteemed CHAs.

Lucero’s story is just one of many that need to be told to really understand how people are impacted and serve as the true call to action. As such, the CHAs have been working with an expert of the field of “Sociodramas” or people’s theater, an interactive story telling method that elicits participation from people affected by the issue to learn and explore its cause and effect. These sociodramas will also provide the skills necessary for the CHAs to facilitate and conduct community workshops. They will be leading these workshops on the focused relevant housing topics which will be developed and implemented under the initiative.

About the Grantee

New Brunswick Tomorrow (NBT)

New Brunswick Tomorrow's mission is to improve the quality of life for all New Brunswick residents; driving ideas, partnerships and initiatives that reinvigorate lives and move people forward. Within Community Health, a major focus area, we look to improve health outcomes by promoting health active lifestyles, preventing diseases, and increasing access to health services.