Adrian Mendez cannot forget the moment in October 2019 when he was so tired from walking, he could only weep.
At the time, the P.E.I. resident was walking along the middle of Brackley Point Road, on his route from his cottage near Brackley Beach to Holland College in Charlottetown. Again.
Two months earlier, Mendez had arrived with his daughters from Mexico. At 58, he had always regretted not finishing university, so he came to the Island to study computer networking technology.
“It’s a better future for me, but also for my children,” said Mendez.
He stayed in a hotel in Charlottetown while looking for an apartment near the college. He contacted Immigrant and Refugee Services Association P.E.I. to get help registering his children for school. They said he needed an address.
By this point, Mendez had come face-to-face with the housing crunch on the Island that is more than familiar to many tenants.
Unable to find a rental in Charlottetown he could afford, Mendez saw an ad for a cottage near Brackley Beach. New to the Island, he didn’t know how far it was from town. But the pictures looked nice.
The deadline for registering for school was near. He moved into the cottage in early September.
While looking for a car, Mendez travelled to Charlottetown by cab a few times. He couldn’t afford a vehicle, so on his first day at Holland College, he woke up around 4 a.m. and started walking at 5.
He arrived at Holland College at exactly 9:02 a.m. It was a Monday and his first class was project management. The instructor marked him absent because he was two minutes late. (The instructor later changed it.)
That night, Mendez walked home. The next day, he did it all again. And the next. And the next.
“I never imagined I had to do it for so many days.”
According to Google Maps, Mendez walked a total of about 32 kilometres most days in September and October.
Kindness from a stranger in a pickup
Besides the walking and classes, Mendez did the shopping and took care of his school-age daughters. (His wife remains in Mexico, although she has visited the family since the move.)
Those long daily walks finally culminated in Mendez weeping that day in October.
“I [gave] up that one day,” he said. “Winter was coming. I couldn’t find a decent car. I couldn’t focus on that because I had to study.”
Then, one day in November, he was walking to school when a pickup truck stopped. The driver leaned out of the window: “Where are you going?”
“Come with me. Jump in.”
The man took him to Charlottetown that day and most days in the following three weeks. Mendez still spent about four hours every afternoon walking home.
One day the truck driver couldn’t pick him up, so Mendez tried cycling. It was a Thursday and he had classes at 1 p.m.
“Well, I have time, I’m going to ride a bicycle,” he thought. It was the middle of November.
He spent about three hours biking to Charlottetown. He figured going back would take roughly the same amount of time.
Classes finished around 5 p.m. He started cycling.
“I was exhausted. Tired. I couldn’t pedal anymore. It started getting colder and colder and colder. It was dark. I was just freezing,” he said.
Mendez wasn’t used to sitting on a saddle that long. His butt hurt. He ended up pushing the bike and got home around midnight.
A change in the weather
Later that month, Mendez found a good car he could afford. A week later, it started snowing.
“That’s why I was very grateful to finally get the car,” he said.
Today, Mendez lives with his daughters in an apartment in Clyde River. He has a message for newcomers and international students about to move to P.E.I.
“I will recommend them to look very hard before coming, to find a place where to live and have good enough money to buy a good car.”
Mendez has not been the only newcomer who had trouble finding affordable housing in Charlottetown.
Many people cannot afford to live in there, so they have to live somewhere far from the city, said Connor Kelly, the tenant network co-ordinator of P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing.
“I have heard stories of tenants who originally were able to live somewhere, like near the core of the city,” Kelly said. “But because of an eviction situation or not being able to afford rent, they have to move all the way up to the edge or farther.”
Despite having worked with many tenants, Kelly said he hasn’t come across a story as unique as Mendez’s.