Community Counselling & Resource Centre

Forum to discuss protecting vulnerable adults

February 12th, 2018

Vulnerable adults living in privately run group homes need better protection, says Welland MPP Cindy Forster.

Their homes should be licensed by the province instead of existing in a largely unregulated system that allows shady operators to take advantage of residents — people who are generally surviving on low income and coping with challenges in life, she said.

They might be living with a mental illness, early dementia, a physical or developmental disability. And many exist on Ontario Disability Support Program cheques. Many times, family can no longer care for them. Maybe their parents have died, or are in long-term care themselves. Maybe their family is simply burned out from years of caring for a sick loved-one, she said.

She introduced a private member’s bill to require private SLAs — supportive living accommodations — be licensed by the province. It also specifies a $1,000 per day fine for violations. The bill still has a few stages to go before it has any hope of becoming law.

On Wednesday, Forster will be discussing her proposed Bill 135 — the Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Act — at a forum at St. Catharines Public Library. The discussion, organized by Niagara District Council of Women, will begin at 8 p.m.

Neal Schoen of Justice Niagara will be another speaker.

Forster said an overall framework is needed, then the government can go about setting regulations.

Alberta already has a similar bill and regulations in place and could be used as a foundation.

She introduced the bill last year after hearing stories both local and around the province of poor living conditions in private group homes. While they are bound by fire codes, building codes and public health standards, there is nothing that compels them to provide a minimum standard of care, she said.

Problems have included: bed bugs, no toilet paper, an absence of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a shortage of food in the cupboards and refrigerator.

In London, a 72-year-old man died in a fire at his group home in 2014.

After hearing stories from a worker about a former home in Welland, she stopped by one Thanksgiving weekend to take a look. “It was clean enough. But in the kitchen there was not a morsel of food. Not a quart of milk. Not a loaf of bread. There was really nothing there and it was Thanksgiving Sunday.”

Typically, private group homes are run by an operator who rents the building from a landlord. Sometimes, the two are working together, said Forster.

The building might have formerly been an apartment complex or house with multiple units. They are usually converted so that people have their own rooms but everything else is shared accommodation.

Some services are usually provided. Food. Varying levels of care.

Many times, it’s a community agency that directs a person to the home. “There’s no place left for them to go,” she said.

Wait lists for affordable housing are long and in many cases, the person is not independent enough to live on their own.

While there are many examples of quality homes in the province, the shady ones are allowed to proliferate in a system that has little weight to leverage against them, she said.

There are likely hundreds of private SLAs in the province but since they are not regulated, no one keeps data on them, she said.

“It’s something that’s vitally necessary as these places crop up all over,” she said.

“It would go a long way to supporting a lot of people in this province.”

“At any time, any one of us can find one of our family members in this situation.

“At least if there’s some regulation … we’ll all be better for that.”