Housing for the Disabled in Ontario – A Barbaric Cultural Practice

By Marvin Ross

During the 2015 Federal election in Canada, the Conservative Party thought they could win support by proposing a tip line where citizens could call and report the barbaric practices of presumably their immigrant and likely Muslim neighbours. It was not well received and the Conservatives lost the election.

We do, however, have barbaric cultural practices in how we treat the poor, ill and disabled citizens among us in Ontario. Last Spring, I wrote of the pitfalls of supportive housing from the experience of my family member being exposed to murder, addiction and trafficking. That was followed by a more theoretical one by Dr Dawson. The agency in question renovated old and abandoned buildings into very acceptable housing for those who needed it at affordable rates but then failed to adequately support the residents. The consequences of that is described in the linked articles.

The latest outrage was that one of the residents of that particular supported housing buildings died in his sleep and his body was not discovered for 7 days. It seems that no one noticed that the poor man was not seen even though dinner is served to residents, the staff is comprised of nurses, addiction counselors and others and they talk of wrap around support. Actually, a staff member did check his apartment a day before he was formally found and initially said he was asleep in bed, that there was an odour coming from the apartment but closed the door and walked away. Later, it was claimed that she knew he was dead and that it was so traumatic for her that she ignored it and did not report it to anyone or even call 911.

An outside health agency that the gentleman (Michael Miller) was involved with was concerned when they had no contact with him so they asked police to do a wellness check. That was when his body was discovered but it was in such an advanced state of decomposition that the coroner was not able to determine a cause of death. Michael’s mother told the agency that she was going to the local paper and was asked not to as that would “shame residents”.

When confronted by the press, the director claimed he opposed her going to the press “for the sake of our tenants, for the sake of our elderly, to stop stigmatizing vulnerable people.”

That makes no sense to me and if there is any shame, it belongs to the organization.

As bad as all this is, it pales in comparison to other residential facilities for the mentally ill, disabled and elderly where the service is nothing but barbaric!

The Toronto Star did an investigation into what is described as a grey area “where no one is in charge of proactively making sure these facilities provide a minimum standard of care to an ever-growing number of at-risk residents.” This sector exists because  “homeless shelters, hospitals and rehabilitation centres across Ontario run out of room and affordable housing options start with years-long wait-lists, …. unlicensed facilities have become increasingly popular places to park marginalized people.”

The Star expose dealt with a chain of such homes throughout Southwest Ontario called Supportive Living . Take a look at their glowing website and then compare that to what the Star found in its investigation. The pictures will disgust you. Residents are of various ages and health conditions and many have mental illnesses and/or addictions. Others are older people with dementia or physical conditions who cannot find a placement in long term care.

The majority of the residents receive financial support from the Ontario Disability and Support Services Program and payments are made directly to the landlord to cover room and board. The amount paid ranges from $745 to $1095 a month depending on the region. There was a 5% increase in that allowance recently. The residents themselves get around $75 a month for their personal needs. Thus far, three attempts have been made to impose legislative standards on these homes but those bills never got past 2nd reading in the legislature. One of the attempts was accompanied by 44 municipalities supporting the effort. A fourth private members bill has just been introduced.

The Toronto Star’s sister paper in York Region, Metroland, recently reported on a group home in rural Newmarket north of Toronto for adults with physical and cognitive impairments. One of their residents was killed by a passing car while wandering the roads unsupervised. Local drivers have been warning about the elderly wandering the rural, unlit roads for years to no avail. One driver reported in 2017 that she almost hit an elderly man on the highway at night. He was dressed in pyjamas and “His entire backside, all the way down to his feet, was covered in dried feces.”

She went to the property to get help and found  “many low-functioning residents with very high needs and little supervision”. This is but one of 22 such homes in that region that get subsidies from various levels of government to “look after” those who can’t afford better. Numerous calls from various individuals and organizations to investigate these places have been ignored.

Barbaric is the only word to describe what is happening and is being allowed to continue.

Now, in its wisdom, the Ontario government has decreed that patients in hospitals awaiting long term care placement, rehab, home care, mental health services or complex care can be moved against their will to wherever there is an opening. Even if your family is nowhere near where they want to send you and you have a fragile spouse with no car and not able to use public transit, that is where you go. Take it or pay the hospital per diem ($400) normally covered as part of our health benefits. The homes with vacancies tend to be the for profit homes as, during covid, they had a much worse mortality than did the not for profit or the municipally run homes (See table 2).

I would appreciate comments from those of you outside of Ontario on what the situation is like in your jurisdictions. Ontario, after all, has the largest share of the total Canadian GDP at 38.59% or $891,811 million compared to the other provinces and territories.

Surely, we can do better.

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