Power turned off in cold
Seated in the corner of a L-shaped couch, wrapped in a pile of blankets, Rudolf holds a stick with a claw at the end and draws a semi-circle in the air.
"This is my world," he says with the hint of a Slavic accent, pointing to metre-wide area around him.
Rudy (last name withheld for security reasons) is unable to walk more than a few steps. It's been six months since he's left the confines of his cluttered couch. He suffers from Crohn's disease, which has advanced to a stage where he needs an ostomy bag.
His house in Maple Ridge is a mess. The living room that is his world is jammed with flats of soup cans, juice boxes, a computer keyboard, two heaters, a dusty entertainment unit, ceiling-high shelves stacked with video cassettes, books and scattered with other unidentifiable detritus from his life. Curtains of cobwebs hang from the ceiling.
With a skinny tabby cat asleep on his knee, Rudy shivered under the blankets on Monday, waiting for his power to be turned back on.
The 60-year-old disabled man spent four and half days without electricity as temperatures dropped below zero across Metro Vancouver.
"I can't believe they would do that," he says.
Rudy acknowledges he's had trouble paying his B.C. Hydro bill for the past few months.
Rudy lives on his own. Through the week, he eats out of cans. On Sunday, a friend drops by with more food.
Once a month, another acquaintance checks Rudy's mail box, cashes his disability cheque and pays his bills.
His Hydro bill, however, shot up in spring. He suspects a tenant who has been living on his property for the past five years hooked a trailer to the house and used power to grow or dry marijuana.
Although Rudy told the tenant to stop siphoning electricity from him, there is still a tangle of wires hooked to his electrical board. Through a hole in the side of his basement, the wires snake behind Rudy's home and disappear in a thicket of blackberry bushes towards a shed.
Rudy claims he told B.C. Hydro about the tenant stealing power. He also claims he tried to keep up with bill payments that currently total $1,200.
Things came to head Thursday, however, when B.C. Hydro shut off power to his property.
Rudy languished alone in the cold until Sunday, praying that his friend would arrive.
Without power, Rudy's cordless telephone wouldn't work. He salvaged four candles from an Advent wreath left over from Christmas - those four candles helped him cope with three nights in the dark.
When his friend arrived on Sunday, Rudy asked him to buy a small gas-powered generator which allowed him to hook up a light, a small heater and his telephone.
He said he told B.C. Hydro's customer service representatives that he wanted someone to investigate why his bills were so high, but was advised it wasn't something the company could investigate.
"Someone is stealing my power. I ask them to come and see," says Rudy.
"The people from Hydro knew I was disabled, I can't move. I can't have the house without power."
However, B.C. Hydro gave Rudy many opportunities to catch up on his bill payments. He was on a payment plan until October and got six disconnection notices before power was eventually turned off.
"Disconnection for us is a method of last resort," said Jim Nicholson, B.C. Hydro's director of customer care.
"We work hard with all of our customers, regardless of their situation, to be able to try and work out a payment plan or other options for them to retain power and carry on with their life."
But when someone has tampered with the meter box inside a home, that becomes a matter for police and the home owner to deal with.
Nicholson calls the situation "unfortunate."
The crews that went to disconnect Rudy's power called him twice before cutting it off, according to Nicholson.
"I don't want anyone to think we are going out and disconnecting a disabled individual," he added.
B.C. Hydro also does not disconnect customers if temperatures are below zero. If the daytime highs and overnight lows average a mean temperature of zero or less, the company backs off disconnection – even if customers haven't paid a bill in months.
"We don't want to be in a situation where a person is caught in cold weather, with the potential for freezing pipes and all those kinds of things," said Nicholson.
In Rudy's case, the average temperature last Thursday was above two degrees.
"All we are concerned about now is his power has been restored and he has agreed to make his payments and we are going to continue to work with him," said Nicholson.
"What we'd like to do is explore payment options so he is not caught in this situation again."
The District of Maple Ridge has been notified about the electrical hazards on Rudy's property and will be investigating.