High cost of a downturn

After 40 years of working in the oilfield, Ronald Olson is about to lose his home. The 53-year-old lives in a specially-designed house in Blackfalds with his wife, Irene Olson, 51.

Ronald Olson watches as his wife Irene

After 40 years of working in the oilfield, Ronald Olson is about to lose his home.

The 53-year-old lives in a specially-designed house in Blackfalds with his wife, Irene Olson, 51.

Irene was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 41 and the couple built the home so that it could accommodate her as her disease progressed, with room for a wheelchair, big doorways and ramps.

MS affects the immune system, interrupting the flow of nerve impulses, and can eventually cause problems with vision, co-ordination and speech. In its final stages, the disease can lead to paralysis.

Ronald — a victim of the slowdown in the oilpatch — has been out of work since April. In the past, he worked as a back truck operator and ran the power tongs.

Until now, he’d never been out of work for more than two weeks.

He said on Friday that he has put out 600 resumes and done three interviews. Employers want him to work away from home but with Irene’s condition, it isn’t possible. The MS has meant her peripheral vision has already been affected and she can no longer drive.

The couple’s mortgage is $1,700 a month. Ronald’s employment insurance is $1,600 a month. They have eaten into savings trying to cover all of their bills, maxing out credit cards in the process.

People have told them to declare bankruptcy but they reject the idea.

“Every time someone does that it ripples out to everyone else,” Irene said.

They have put up Irene’s electric scooter for sale to help pay bills.

The couple has three grown children who no longer live at home.

The couple’s bank served them with papers to foreclose on their home in August.

Ronald figures they would need around $10,000 to cover the arrears, court costs and lawyers fees to ensure they could keep their home.

Irene can’t collect AISH because Ronald’s paycheque in the past was considered too high.

The couple can’t get legal aid for the same reason.

Ronald said he would like to see Premier Ed Stelmach do something to help people who are struggling.

“He’s got to get out and help the middle class. They are the backbone of the workforce. If he doesn’t help to keep these jobs, it will get worse,” Ronald said.

He’d like to see an incentive offered to companies so they would keep their workers employed. He’d also like to have a little more time to find a way to pay for the couple’s home before it is taken away.

“There are too many people losing their houses and walking away,” Ronald said.

The only thing that has kept them going is the volunteer work they do in Blackfalds. The couple serve as the block captains with the local Neighbourhood Watch group and are involved with the Blackfalds Food Bank.

Irene started volunteering at the food bank five years ago and Ronald has helped along the way. Now the couple spends 20 to 30 hours a week helping others at the food bank, at a time when they could use some help themselves.

“This is the only thing that has kept us sane,” Ronald said. “It’s the only thing that has kept us going.”

The couple isn’t alone, they’ve seen the need grow in the community exponentially, with 70 new families using the food bank who never had to before.

“Our philosophy here is it could be anyone at any time. This is a hand up, not a hand out,” Irene said.


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