I've addressed the topic of housing for the chemically ill several times, and I'm sure I'll continue to return to the issue. People who are very reactive to chemicals and other toxins (including those produced by mold) generally find that acquiring and maintaining safe housing is one of their largest struggles and needs. This week, an online friend detailed her search for safe housing over the last few years. I've asked if I could share her story with you, because I think it illustrates the problem well. She writes:
April 2010: We left our moldy house.
June 2010: I was chased (by chemicals/toxins) out of our townhouse.
July 2010: We stayed near family while looking for a rental in a drier climate. I experienced a lot of pain there.
August 2010: We rented a wonderful home in a dry climate.
July 2011: A TERRIBLY wet spring/summer (like wetter than in 20 years) created enough outdoor mold in the woods and on the house's wooden decks (etc.) that I was having 24/7 trouble breathing, couldn't eat, etc. I camped for two weeks.
August 2011: We rented a home and I was chased out by new chemicals (plus I was feeling horrible anyway because the house was very "mediocre" and there was an airport nearby).
October 2011: We rented a home with a great outdoor environment, but indoors it harbored mold. Eventually, I couldn't breathe well or function there. I slept in the car two nights.
February 2012: We rented another place because I was desperate. (It doesn’t work well when it’s very cold, you have three kids, and you can’t breathe in your house.) I only lasted in the new place two weeks. I couldn't stop having dry heaves, plus I had other scary symptoms. I stayed in an expensive camping cabin in a nearby state park for a week or so. I had heat and a bed, but I wasn't allowed to cook in it. My husband had to drive 30 minutes to bring me food.
Friends and family helped provide an almost-all-aluminum camper for me to use. I stayed in a campground by myself for six weeks. I had a tiny fridge and griddle and I came back to our rental home every few days for showers. I improved quite a bit during those six weeks. Then the campground owner stained all his picnic tables and sprayed his trees. But by then I could tolerate living at the rental again for another couple of weeks before it became impossible again. I bounced around to various places in my (wonderful) camper to survive April and May. I sweltered in the rental cabin a few times because opening the windows gave me asthma from wood burning and the air conditioner unit had mold.
June 2012: Someone GAVE us a Winnebago, so we camped in the Winnebago and my camper. We did three months of dry camping (yikes, difficult), then two months at campgrounds because there was a burn ban (which kept me safe from campfires) and tourist season was winding down (reducing propane exhaust, etc.) I got SIGNIFICANTLY better during this time. Not totally healed by any means, but way better.
October 2012: We began staying in this "decent" mobile home (with real wood walls, not formaldehyde-laden paneling), but with the second worst outdoor environment of our homes, which became worse over time.
January 2013: We became aware of an increasing mold problem here. It's not reasonable to ask the landlord to do anything about it (long story), especially because the outdoor environment here is so bad for me.
February 2013: I REALLY started to go downhill. The outside air here has made my camper unusable unless we move it. There's no safe place to move it that has electricity to keep it warm. We've been searching for rentals almost every day since January. We actually DID find that needle-in-a-haystack house (for sale, not rent) that would probably work amazingly well. It's half the price of what we estimated to build from scratch (not to mention no headache of building.) But, we don't have the money for contract for deed and absolutely can't get financing (so far, unless there's something we missed), even if our church raised a big down payment for us. We have also been turned down by over 20 major organizations for help, both religious and secular.
This is where the story currently stands. Will you pray for my friend? Will you pray for all of us struggling with health-related housing issues? I'm still trying to reclaim my own house, hoping to be able to sleep inside again at some point.
In addition to prayer, people who care about this issue can help in other ways, some of which I've previously mentioned.
1. Do your best not to contribute to outdoor air quality problems. Your choice of laundry products, for instance, affects your neighbors because the chemicals are pumped into the neighborhood air through your dryer vent. When you choose to use lawn chemicals or burn leaves, it doesn't only affect you and your family, but also those who live nearby.
2. Financial help is always appreciated. Chemical illness is an expensive condition to manage. In 2003, an article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported on a study that examined the efficacy of over a hundred treatments used by people with MCS. The study found that participants had spent more than a third of their annual income on health care costs and had spent an average of $57,000 in their attempts to create safe homes. My friend is still struggling with housing issues, but as you read, the help she received made a significant difference for her. I am also extremely grateful for help that I've received. A previous post mentions two non-profit organizations trying to raise funds to address the problem.
3. Consider participating in activities to raise awareness and help for the chemically ill. The Jennifer Parker Foundation is sponsoring a series of walkathons to be held on Sunday, May 5th. See their website for more information and to register.
Housing problems are daunting, but not insurmountable. Thank you for caring and helping.