Vera Fillion lost her 23-year-old son nearly six years ago from a Fentanyl overdose. Now her partner is hooked on hard drugs once again, after he moved into an apartment at the brand new 68 Lindsay Street North building, at the corner of Queen Street.
She calls the new housing “a terrible place to be” and says it “smells like death.”
“It feels like they got this building to get the worst of the worst together,” she tells the Advocate.
“The girls wander the hallways like zombies…covered in open wounds from crystal meth. My partner got a room in there – he went in sober and now he’s back on drugs.”
She has seen the inside of three units, counting her partner’s. Fillion says she knows the building’s entrance door had its glass smashed, and there’s a hole in one of the walls “because a body went through it in a fight.”
In an online petition she is circulating, Fillion writes that drug dealers and addicts “run from apartment to apartment, getting their next fix.”
She wants the mandate of this housing complex to change so that there is more oversight and rules for the people who live there – in other words, a rehabilitation centre.
“Why not house those who truly wanted help? The people who wanted a better life…could have had a chance at being rehabilitated and then becoming a sober and healthy member of the community…agreeing to terms like regular drugs testing, being active in counselling and meetings…” her petition states.
However, Rod Sutherland, director of human services for the City of Kawartha Lakes, says the units are private residences with people who hold leases – not a rehabilitation site.
“It’s a ‘Housing First’ approach, not a program,” Sutherland says, referring to the philosophy that has been adopted across much of Canada and the United States as a way to end homelessness – including its devastating costs.
On the Canadian Housing First site, the goal is clear:
“The goal of Housing First is to end chronic homelessness by providing immediate housing and then working with participants to promote recovery and wellbeing.”
“The core principles of Housing First are: immediate access to housing with no housing readiness requirements; consumer choice and self-determination, which is enabled through the provision of a rent supplement; individualized, client-driven, and recovery-oriented supports; separation of housing and services; harm reduction; and community integration.”
Sutherland says under a harm reduction approach, “a large number of people there do have mental health issues, addictions, or a combination of both.”
“Before anyone can start looking at recovering, stable housing is needed first,” says Sutherland and notes that intensive case management is available on site provided through Fourcast — if the residents ask for assistance.
The role of Fourcast
The new building is part Human Services Offices on one side (employees will begin working there in mid-September) and 24 units of affordable housing for those who were chronically homeless on the other side. The building was built by the City. The residential section is managed by Kawartha Lakes Housing Corp, and Fourcast staff are on site to be there for the residents if they choose to reach out for help.
Fourcast provides support for individuals and family members with alcohol, drug or gambling related problems. According to its website, Fourcast offers individual and group counselling, and supports those who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness.
“Our goal is to support our clients by empowering them to make their own choices in an open, non-judgmental atmosphere. Our focus is on encouraging positive change,” reads their About Us page.
Sutherland says the hope is that “over time they will consider recovery.”
While these are private residences, he says, “if people start impacting…others, they can be evicted.”
Fillion says the 24 one-bedroom units are a nice design – “beautiful little apartments.”
“They (the people who live there) should be grateful, but they’re not. Maybe a couple are.”
She says that if people needed furniture as they were moving in Fourcast helped out with that.
“And everybody got a brand new double bed. And they’ll hand out food sometimes from food banks.”
Fillion says they do inspections sometimes, but not in the way she’d like to see, with real oversight to try and curb certain behaviours, like using drugs.
“I was there for one of these inspections. They walk in and look around. They ask if there are any issues with the room. They don’t go looking in peoples drawers and they know people are doing drugs,” she says.
Making this building a rehab centre is the only way this will work, in Fillion’s opinion.
“Don’t condone what’s happening here. There should be rules and restrictions to follow. Once they start dying — and they will — maybe they’ll look at this again.”
Evidence for Success
While Fillion may believe this is the wrong approach, Sutherland says the Housing First strategy is rooted in “evidence-based research” despite some initial incidents between residents.
“There’s a settling in period,” in new buildings like this, Sutherland says, when there are many people who are starting to develop relationships.
“It’s always a challenge.”
He points out that some issues are caused by visitors entering the building – sometimes it’s not the actual tenant.
The Advocate has heard from two different people who didn’t want to be identified that some City staff are uneasy with working at the new building, given it is attached to these 24 residential units.
“Some staff have raised some concerns about the building,” says Sutherland. “But we work with vulnerable people on a regular basis. It’s a change. We have protocols in our offices for safety and security.”
Sutherland believes that positive results are already happening, at least in terms of the “trust and relationship building” going on between the new tenants.
“Hopefully a recovery mindset will kick in soon,” he adds.
As the months go by there will be more data available, as stats are gathered on the number of emergency room visits, police calls, and other touchstones that connect to overall well-being.
Just what is the cost of homelessness to society? Out of the few thousand people collecting basic income for a short time in Ontario, eight per cent were homeless in the past 12 months, prior to collecting the benefit. They were homeless an average more than 120 nights a year, according to the baseline survey.
The cost of one night of homelessness at A Place Called Home (and probably similar places in Thunder Bay, Hamilton, or elsewhere) is $62.62 a night, according to Dave Tilley, manager of fund development and operations at A Place Called Home in Lindsay.
One person multiplied by 120 nights at the homeless shelter is $7,514. And eight per cent of the 6,500 people who were involved in the basic income pilot in some way is 520 people.
That’s $3,907,280 a year – for just 520 people.
If any of those nights had been spent in a hospital, the average stay costs about $500 on the citizens’ dime.
As for Fillion, she’s still convinced the building should have been a rehabilitation unit. Given what she’s seen, particularly in terms of drugs, she’s not sold on the current model at all.
“The other day Fourcast was handing out Narcan kits (Naloxone) and it was like Christmas in the hallways,” says Fillion.
“I just don’t believe it’s going to work – not for these people.”