Supportive Housing or Supportive Housing – Which Would You Prefer?

By Marvin Ross

I suspect that it is universally recognized that supportive housing is necessary and crucial for many with serious mental illnesses. When I think of supportive housing I think of a clean, decent place to live for vulnerable people at an affordable cost which includes qualified support staff present to supervise, monitor and to ensure safety. And, of course, legislated standards and inspections.

Unfortunately, that is not often always the case. I’ve written a few times about a local supportive housing organization that is considered to be the largest in Ontario. You can see my diatribes about them here in the Pitfalls of Supportive Housing Part I and Part II Since I wrote those, there have been more disasters with that agency exposed by the Hamilton Spectator.

Unfortunately, the Spectator has those articles behind its paywall but the first one is by reporter Susan Clairmont on October 6, 2022. She describes the death of one resident, Michael Miller, whose body was not discovered for at least a week. He was actually found a day earlier by a staff member who checked on him, saw him lying in bed, seemed unaware of the smell and assumed he was asleep.

Bear in mind that Ms Clairmont points out that “There are nurses, psychiatric social-support workers, addiction experts and housing specialist working at Parkdale” (the name of that particular building) yet no one noticed the man’s absence. His body was so badly decomposed that his identity had to be confirmed by DNA and no cause of death could be determined but there was no sign of drugs in his system.

That article points out opportunities to have seen Michael and to have noticed that he was missing:

  • He was often in and out of the front door
  • Did anyone notice that he did not pick up his dinner which is provided at that residence?
  • Did anyone ever do apartment checks on residents?

Michael’s disappearance was only noticed when he did not attend a medical appointment with another agency and they had the police do a wellness check. Police reported “that the smell was horrendous”. Michael was the second person who had died without being noticed at Indwell although in the previous case, the resident had been murdered. My posts linked above discuss that.

Then there was a third undiscovered body reported to the Spectator writer.

On November 9, 2022, Ms Clairmont reports on another death that went unnoticed for three days. This one took place between the murder and Michael Miller’s death. Eric Green had been first diagnosed with schizophrenia when in jail and had been on hard drugs in the past but he had been clean for five years according to his mother.

Unfortunately, drugs are readily available at this particular Indwell building which came out at the murder trial and Eric was lured back in. In her coverage of the murder, Susan Clairmont stated that “Security cameras inside Parkdale captured hours of video of both dealers hanging out in apartments on Michel’s floor (the murder victim), going in and out of units at all hours. The trial heard they were selling drugs and collecting debt.”

Eric’s mother said he begged her to get him out of that building but his only other choices were a shelter or the street. After his not being seen for a few days, staff called police and his body was found. An autopsy revealed that he died from an overdose of meth laced with fentanyl. The coroner stated that “there were issues with purple heroin in the complex.”

One of the suggestions Eric’s mother made to Indwell is that they set up dry floors for those who do not want to be around drugs or alcohol. She does not believe any of her suggestions were accepted.

Indwell has been a registered charity since 1984 and, to give credit where it is due, they are excellent when it comes to acquiring old properties and renovating the building into very attractive apartments. They have a number of buildings in Hamilton and in Haldimand-Norfolk, London, Peel Region, Waterloo, St Thomas and Oxford. They fail miserably, in my opinion, at running them. According to Revenue Canada, their total revenue is $65.6 million with slightly over $52 million coming from governments. Total compensation to staff comes to almost $10 million for 227 full time and 110 part-time staff. Eight staff earn between $80,000 to $119,999 per year while two earn between $120,000 and $159,999 per year.

Disclosure – my son lived in the building described above, was one of Michael Miller’s friends and lived across the hall from the man who was murdered. He now lives in another Indwell building.

In contrast to Indwell, let me describe another supportive housing group in the same city which, I confess, I just learned about from the Spectator. Options for Independent Living and Development is a small organization with residents who have “Down syndrome, schizophrenia, a variety of learning challenges and other conditions that make it helpful for them to have a special place, and if they are different in many respects, they have at least this in common here … and that is each other, as friends.”

The residents can be busy all day and involved with various activities that are available for them such as bowling, crafts, learning and at an activity centre. Day trips are arranged to various venues like the Ontario Science Centre, theatrical musicals and the butterfly conservatory.

Total revenue for this organization is just under $500,000 and they only have one full time and seven part time employees. I don’t have full details on how many clients they service but I intend to explore this organization in greater detail. The praise for it in the Spectator is intriguing and to be trusted as I know the writer. (He has written favourably about me so I know he can be trusted)

The message from this blog is that we need better rules for what constitutes supportive housing, standards that must be adhered to and inspections to ensure that is happening including evaluations of efficacy. Long term care facilities have standards and inspections so we don’t put granny into places that are substandard. What is good for grandma and grandpa should be the same for the mentally ill and others with chronic problems who need care and support.

Unfortunately, there are many long term care facilities that are substandard. These are mainly the ones which are privately run.

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