Guest Blog – When Supportive Housing Becomes a Nightmare for Vulnerable Tenants

By: Karen Allin

In October 2023, Indwell purchased a vacant lot in Mississauga where they plan to build 50 supportive affordable housing apartments. In December, a community meeting was held at Clarkson Community Church, with over 500 people in attendance and watching online.

Indwell is a Christian charity that has been providing affordable supportive housing in Ontario for 50 years. They have 27 buildings and 9 more are either in the pre-development or development stages. Over 1200 tenants live in Indwell.

The community meeting started off with warm and fuzzy statements from Indwell. Indwell emphasized that their values are dignity, love and hope. They showed pictures of tenants holding up “I belong” signs. Indwell described various tenant activities in their buildings, including a tea time, trivia nights, yoga and potlucks. Indwell says they create communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging.

Imagine the joy a potential tenant feels when they are told there is space for them in an affordable, supportive, housing apartment. In theory, Indwell sounds like a great place to live. But unfortunately, that is only in theory. In reality, living at Indwell turns out to be a nightmare for many of their tenants.

At the community meeting, I asked the first question and I asked about Hamilton Spectator reports relating to Indwell’s Parkdale Landing in Hamilton. Susan Clairmont of the Spectator reported that in 2018, a tenant was murdered by a non-resident, in 2022, a tenant was left to decompose for almost a week and the police are at Parkdale almost every single day.

I asked what steps have you taken so that Indwell is a safe for your residents.

Jeff Neven, the CEO of Indwell, talked about how the murder victim had only been living at Indwell for 6 weeks and transformation in life takes a long time. Neven failed to highlight any of the steps Indwell has taken to address tenant safety.

After almost every response from Indwell, the crowd was yelling out, “Answer the question.”

Some tenants from Indwell’s Lakeshore Lofts were present at the community meeting. It was heartbreaking to hear them describe their life at Indwell. You could hear the desperation in their voices.

One tenant stated, “I live in Indwell. I do not feel safe. … Instead I have been pushed, threatened. … I want to be at rest, but I am not because in front of my apartment all I see is drug dealers, drug addicts, alcoholics.”

The only thing that I would love to have is the answer, when are you guys going to take one second of your time and look after the tenants that really need to be looked after? You guys are very good at looking after the drug dealers, the drug addicts and alcoholics.”

A second Indwell tenant also talked about being assaulted verbally and physically. She said out of the 68 apartment units in her building about 10 of those tenants are drug addicts and the drug addicts are the biggest problem. She explained that in the beginning they had security at night. But when the security was taken away, that is when the problems started. The drug addicts started moving in other addicts and drug dealers.

I personally don’t like where I live and many of us feel the same because we don’t feel safe.”

This tenant asked, “Are you going to house drug addicts?”

That is a simple question and should have been a simple yes or no answer. But it wasn’t. Instead, Graham Cubitt, the Director of Projects and Developments, said the problem is with a dysfunctional Landlord and Tenant Board. Cubitt explained that when they let the tenants in they don’t know how it will work for the tenant. There is no way to get them out if it doesn’t work.

Cubitt commented, “The reality is that not everybody who presents their situation presents accurately”.

The Indwell tenant who asked the question yelled out, “But you have access to our medical records.”

By not answering any questions as to whether they will house drug addicts at this new location, it was clear that Indwell did not want to acknowledge that they have a safety problem.

Whenever there were questions about drug addicts, Indwell representatives talked about mental health. Occasionally feeling depressed is much different than being diagnosed with a severe and persistent mental illness. And both of those are very different than being a drug addict. However according to Indwell’s talking points, they are all the same.

Cubitt did say he would come and deal with the issues that Lakeshore Lofts is having about security. But based on the statements from the two tenants, they have had many meetings with Indwell about security, months have gone by and Indwell has failed to act.

It is not acceptable how Indwell treats their tenants. Because of this treatment, after the meeting I started doing more research on Indwell. This research turned into a report, “A Look Inside – Indwell”, and includes files that Marvin Ross and Dr. David Laing Dawson have written about supportive housing.

While working on this report, an Indwell tenant from Heartwood Apartments in Hamilton, reached out to Marvin Ross after reading his article “The Pitfalls of Supportive Housing – Part One”. She asked if he knew of any complaint process for tenants that live in Indwell. She included pages of complaints about the living conditions at Indwell.

She stated, “It’s a crystal meth nightmare”.

She commented that she does not bring her family to her apartment. She does not feel safe in the building and does not feel that it is a suitable environment for her children and grandchildren. Instead, they visit outside of the building.

When you don’t feel safe bringing your family to your house because of other tenants in the building, how is that providing a sense of community and belonging?

I do not feel comfortable anymore approaching staff about concerns. They take the concern and yet it does not appear like anything is ever done. It just feels like we are nothing but a rent number to staff.”

Indwell continually emphasizes that they are a Christian charity and they provide wrap around supports for their tenants. The drug addicts that live in Indwell often beg, harass and assault other tenants, at all times of the day and night, for drugs or money. It appears that Indwell has these problems at all of their locations. And it also appears that Indwell does nothing to address these problems.

How is living in fear a supportive environment?

I am not a psychiatrist and I do not have any background with addictions. But it is clear from the pleas of the tenants that mixing drug addicts into a supportive, affordable housing apartment is a massive recipe for disaster. Housing drug addicts hinders the creations of communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging.

Maybe Indwell should stick to the building of the apartments and let another organization provide the supports. Moving into a supportive, affordable housing unit should be a joy for a new tenant. Instead, living at Indwell has become a nightmare for many of its tenants. That is not right. That is not treating people with dignity, love and providing hope. Something needs to be done and soon.

Indwell has received millions of dollars in funding from federal, provincial and municipal governments. All of the federal funding announcements say, “We are working with municipalities … to provide safe and affordable housing”. Unfortunately, no one, at any level of government appears to have done any due diligence to ensure that Indwell is providing safe housing.

Who will hold Indwell accountable?

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