SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Eighty-two-year-old Manfred Skiello was at a doctor’s appointment when an RV plowed through a concrete barrier and destroyed his Surrey home earlier this month.
For nine days after the accident, his family had no idea that he’d been left homeless, was living in his van, and had been hospitalized because the shock of suddenly losing everything exacerbated his underlying health issues.
On Sept. 5 firefighters were called to 116 Avenue and 140A Street for reports of a woman trapped inside an RV screaming. The brakes on the motorhome had failed, sending it careening off the road where it landed on top of cars parked in a driveway before colliding with a house. The driver was rescued using the jaws of life and suffered minor injuries.
Crews said it was “remarkably fortunate that no one was in the home at the time.”
Skiello had lived in that home by himself for about 30 years.
“He’s the most independent person you’ll ever know and he lived in there all alone,” his daughter-in-law Keri Dudely tells NEWS 1130.
“He’s lost everything.”
The damage to Skiello’s home meant he was unable to safely go in and get anything, and the sudden loss left him stunned.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for him. At 82, when you have your whole everything taken away — there’s a lot of confusion,” Dudley says.
“He had no access to phone numbers or contact information because it was all in the home. There’s no access to it, plus he’s elderly and he’s tired.”
On Sept. 14, a neighbour tracked Dudley’s husband down on Facebook.
“An RV takes out a home, it was a little shocking. But the first focus was Manfred,” Dudley says.
“He was living in a van with no way to contact anyone. This is not right, he needs a place to sleep,” she and her husband decided. So they set out to Surrey from Calgary.
Skiello has been allowed in once, and retrieved some mementos.
“The restoration company that was there at the time let him go in and get a few possessions — and I’m talking very few possessions — out of the home,” Dudley explains.
“He has a few pictures, and luckily he has those because they’re memories of his mom and his dad and his brothers and sisters that are gone. That’s what he needs to hold on to for his memories. Everything else within the home is un-accessible.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up because Skiello did not have home insurance.
The prospect of finding a new place to live is daunting.
“It’s a tight market, things are very expensive, you’ve got a gentleman that lives on a pension, and has lived in his home mortgage-free for a long time, suddenly having to look at paying large dollars for rent,” Dudley notes.
“We keep delaying our return because we want to make sure things are lined up for him and he’s settled and he’s comfortable and he can take steps forward with his new life. That’s the hardest thing for me is to watch him be alone. We’ve tried to convince him to come home with us. Nope, Surrey’s his home. He loves this place, this is what he knows.”
She says the money raised will all go toward basic necessities like rent, clothing, and food.
“It will go toward making sure that he stays in a proper home versus feeling like he can only live in his van,” Dudley says.
Skiello has few clothes, and is proudly reluctant to let his family buy him new ones.
“He’s been getting looks from society because he’s looking pretty rough,” Dudley says, adding that Skiello noticed people staring during a recent trip to Walmart.
“That kind of hurt, that he’s noticing that people are seeing he’s looking tattered.”
Skiello is currently in temporary shelter provided by the Red Cross. Another non-profit has helped him find a short-term apartment to move into, and will work with him to find long-term housing.
But the process of finding support in the immediate aftermath of the accident was frustrating for Dudley, who says it would have been virtually impossible for Skiello to navigate the system himself.
“I found it very hard to find any help here. B.C. has a hundred thousand different social service programs but they’re referral programs, everyone will refer you on to another organization. No one can actually help get what you need,” she says.
The one bright spot has been the support shown by neighbors.
“The neighbours have been a blessing, and I’m assuming they will continue to be a blessing for him because he will continue to return to the site. It’s his home.”
Several donations to the online fundraiser are from neighbours.
“This is our neighbor right beside us! Manfred has had health issues this year and this traumatic incident has absolutely devastated him! He can’t get into his house at this point, had no insurance and is basically left homeless. Please help,” reads one post.
“Just a caring and concerned neighbour,” reads another.
Settlement with ICBC pending
A spokesperson with ICBC tells NEWS 1130 that the RV driver’s insurance will compensate the homeowner.
“ICBC has expedited this claim and has been in regular communication with the customer and his family. All outstanding information was received last week and we contacted the customer to discuss a settlement,” reads an email.
The corporation also says that the house is too unstable to be covered, or emptied.
“ICBC has been advised by a structural engineer that it’s not safe to put a tarp over the home or to remove the contents.”