HUNGRY IN LAMBTON: Down on his luck

Steve Esseltine, 61, a former horse trainer, struggles to navigate into the Petrolia Food Refrigerator.
The Independent presents a six-part series by Reporter Cathy Dobson and Photographer Glenn Ogilvie focused on the alarming number of rural Lambton residents who increasingly cannot afford to feed themselves and their families. 
Over the last nine months, we investigated how food insecurity is impacting our community and talked to the people who regularly access more than a dozen area food banks. We also examined the challenges faced by the extraordinary volunteers and agencies providing free food to a wide cross section of adults and children.
Here are their stories.

Former horseman finds a place but feels ‘lost in the system’

Cathy Dobson/For The Independent

Steve Esseltine lost his right leg in 2017 when a horse fell on him and crushed it.

Four years later, his left leg was ravaged by diabetes and amputated as well.

After recuperating in hospital, Esseltine was moved to a nursing home in London for rehab.
“It was great there. I liked it,” explains the 61-year-old who trained horses for 40 years before losing his legs.

“But at the nursing home, they told me my time there was over and they put me out, just told me I had to leave and pushed me out into the cold in a wheelchair.”

That’s when his doctor came to his rescue, says Esseltine.

“The doctor knew I had gone to a mall that day.  I didn’t know where else to go,” he said.  “It was the doctor who called the police. He told them I would harm myself.

“It wasn’t true, but it gave the police a reason to take me to the hospital and I stayed there until spring came.”

Even with that extra time to look, Esseltine said he could not find a place to live that would accommodate a double amputee whose only income comes from Ontario’s Disability Supplement Program.

“All kinds of people tried helping me, but there was nothing.”

The Salvation Army in London finally gave him a room at their homeless shelter where he says he paid $700 a month.  It was a roof over his head but he didn’t want to stay.

“Everyone was doing drugs,” Esseltine said.  While there, he became friends with a woman who also wanted to leave.

So when an old friend from his horse training days, offered Esseltine and his girlfriend space to live in a garage, they took it.

It meant moving to a property just outside Petrolia, an area new to Esseltine. He said he is grateful for it, especially since the owner has horses and Steve loves to be around them again. But there is no hot water and it’s not insulated for winter.

Steve Esseltine, 61, a former horse trainer, at the Petrolia Food Refrigerator.

When we met Esseltine, he said he was working with a Lambton County social services worker to find an apartment in Petrolia.  We met him at the Petrolia Community Refrigerator beside St. Paul’s Church on the main street.

“I come into town a couple of times a day in my electric wheelchair just for something to do,” he said.  If he needs groceries, he picks them up for free at the community refrigerator, which is usually well-stocked.

Recently, his diabetes became a serious problem, mostly because he didn’t have access to a doctor or insulin.

“I went to the ER and got help,” he said. “I don’t want a lot. I just want a doctor and I can’t find one.”
But clearly he also needs adequate housing.  He’d like to live in Petrolia. He finds it a safe and friendly place.

However, his social worker is gathering the paperwork for an application for housing in Thedford. First, he has to get some photo ID.  Everything takes a lot of time.

“The government got me this electric chair,” said Esseltine. “And it is really great.  “But I’ve been looking for housing for two to three years. They said they’d put me at the top of the list, but still, there’s nothing.

“I feel lost in the system.”

Next Week in The Independent’s six-part series Hungry in Lambton from Reporter Cathy Dobson and Photographer Glenn Ogilvie read how a rural food bank meets surprising demand and the stories of the people who depend on it.



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