‘It’s crazy what they expect’: Newmarket Residence part of a troubled housing system for Ontario’s most vulnerable

From the Newmarket Era article

What Lynn Steele witnessed, as caregiver to a woman living in a group home on the outskirts of Newmarket, haunts her still.

“I was beyond shocked,” says Steele, a personal support worker and founder of the Canadian PSW Network, describing what she saw at The Newmarket Residence, a privately-ran, for-profit facility known as Housing with Supports (HWS).

“I was appalled by the amount of wandering, the smell. The place reeked of urine, floors were sticky and I couldn’t find staff anywhere.”

Formerly called Domiciliary Hostels, HWS have faced criticism across the province for lack of regulation and oversight.

They offer housing and meals for people who need supervision for daily living — with mental health diagnoses, physical or developmental disabilities or frail and elderly — who can’t find housing anywhere else.

Studies show over one-third of guests have a history of homelessness.

Steele says she was one of only two PSWs employed by a large agency who were willing to work with clients at the home east of Newmarket.

The other agency staff felt unsafe, she says.

“Our ‘do-not-send’ list was massive. People would go once and never go again, or just refuse because of the reputation. It was very scary to work there.”

When asking for help from residence staff, she says was met with arrogance and hostility.

Steele was assigned to Newmarket Residence for three months, caring for a client, a woman in her early 30s, placed there after surgery on her leg. A rehabilitation facility would have been more appropriate, Steele says, but there were no beds available. The client had multiple medical issues limiting her ability to be mobile and care for herself, get in and out of bed or to the commode.

“That was the very sad part. If we, as the PSWs from the agency, could not go there that day, she was left in her bed.”

Steele says she visited the client twice a day for three months. The halls and grounds were filled with wandering, sometimes emotionally volatile residents.

“She cried every single visit …. She kept saying ‘I don’t understand why they put me here.’

“I didn’t see how she’d ever get well with no nurses, no exercises, fearing for her life, not sleeping. The only time she felt safe was when police were in the room responding to an assault on her roommate.”

And police were there often, she adds. After every shift, Lynn filed reports to her agency about her concerns, but she never learned if there was follow up, nor what happened to the woman.

It’s not the first time alarm bells have gone off regarding Newmarket Residence.

Unlike long-term care and retirement homes — subject to inspections with results publicly posted online — results of complaints and inspections of HWS are not as readily available, said Jane Meadus, staff lawyer and institutional advocate with Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.

Dr. Stephen Hwang one of the world’s most renowned researchers in homelessness and part of the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital, agrees.

“If it were a shelter, or a long-term care home or retirement residence, there’d be someone who tracks it, but because of this kind of odd in-between category and because it’s run through the municipalities, there’s no standardization.”

Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre, introduced a private members bill that would do just that.

In response to what he describes as “horrific, unlivable conditions” in some of the homes across the province, Bill 164 called for provincial regulation of supportive living homes.

It passed second reading unanimously but did not become law before government broke up for the 2022 provincial election.

Burch plans to reintroduce it again.

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