Dump and run The first ball to drop The final straw Sections Services
In 2020, Charlottetown landlord Neil Webster rented more than 10 units to the province’s homeless population. He did this through a rental agreement with Salvation Army that was spearheaded by Michael Redmond, who managed Bedford MacDonald House for the Christian organization.
Webster was hesitant to rent to the homeless. He worried about not receiving rent on time and damage that could be caused because of addictions.
“I don’t want to be a slumlord,” he says. But at the same time, he knows people need multiple chances and support to change difficult life realities.
Webster finally agreed after reaching an understanding that Salvation Army and a combination of other social services would help the clients access adequate support.
His hesitation was eased by lease clauses that laid out rules, such as no drinking on the premises or smoking indoors. He gained confidence in the plan because Army staff were able to check in with clients to monitor their behaviour and well-being.
The personal dedication of Redmond, a former leader of the provincial New Democrats, and his colleague, Tami MacIntyre, reassured the landlord.
For awhile it seemed to be working. But over time, he says Salvation Army and social services became less engaged.
“I’m mostly renting to students now,” he said.
When the arrangement was working well, Webster said Redmond and MacIntyre would check in on tenants regularly.
“They would have meetings in the common area with these guys, just sit down with them, have a group session or even private meetings to see what they needed to make things work.”
Staff from the Native Council of PEI would also show up regularly to support their clients.
“Some of the guys don’t need much help but for the guys who did need the help, the Native Council turned around and took them to AA. The Native Council came and would sit there and talk to him. The Native counsellor would call me up or text me saying, ‘Hey, have you seen so and so?’ to make sure he was okay and on track.”
This was the support Webster expected, but he noticed some services began dropping the ball almost from the start.
“I was promised by social services that these guys would have home care nurses coming in and checking up,” said Webster. Two of the first clients placed in his units required a high level of care.
“They couldn’t even wipe their bums properly,” he said. “They needed to be in a nursing home.”
He knew that one tenant, an Indigenous Elder, had been in a nursing home but when Covid hit, he was no longer allowed to go outside. He made a run for it and wound up homeless.
“Ninety per cent of the time (the elder) wanted to be outside. He would sit in the area with the tent, smoke, and enjoy the fresh air,” said Webster. “I mean, the only time he went inside was to eat and sleep.”
He raised a tent shelter in the back yard so the elder could smoke and sit outside through bad weather.
After 16 years of homelessness, Kevin Mayhue is incredibly appreciative of Mike Redmond’s work to connect him with an affordable unit through …
Webster hired a cleaner once a week to help these two keep their units in order. But even with this help, the level of home care provided was inadequate.
“I had to tear out the floor and put in new flooring because of the feces,” said Webster. “It went through the cracks of the vinyl flooring, so we had to clean underneath the floor and re-floor it.”
One client fell down the stairs, and the landlord believes it contributed to his death. He says the client needed a more thorough medical assessment prior to obtaining the unit.
Incidents like this did make it clear to social services the apartments were not suitable to the clients’ needs. They were first moved to units in Queens Arms Motel, managed by Salvation Army in partnership with the Department of Social Housing and Development.
Both Webster’s apartments and Queens Arms are intended for clients working toward independent living and not for those requiring a high level of physical care or who deal with mobility issues.
“It was a classic case of being hot potatoes around the system,” said Jamie Tuplin, a Native Council staff member who worked with the elder.
The Indigenous Elder who fell was eventually moved to a community care home in Souris which offered 24/7 in house support.
While this was an improvement in one way, the Native Council pressured social services to re-evaluate their client’s situation of isolation and his physical health, including mobility issues.
It was determined he was being moved from unit, to unit, to unit while suffering from undiagnosed Parkinson’s disease. When diagnosed he was moved back to a nursing home in Charlottetown, but died shortly after arrival.
“I think he had given up,” said Chris Clay, outreach worker with the Native Council of PEI, who saw that living in less-than-ideal conditions for nearly a year affected his client’s mental health. “I think the move back to Charlottetown, into a living space with the right care, came too late.”
The final straw in Webster’s opinion was the firing of Redmond and MacIntyre by Salvation Army, September 1, 2020.
“This is when it all went down the toilet,” he says.
A Salvation Army staff member took issue with the lease agreement clauses Webster deemed necessary to make the rental deal work.
"I can’t afford to have people putting holes in my walls or burning a new mattress,” he says.
“It can work,” he said, adding he still rents to two formerly homeless men. One is well supported by the Native Council and neither require extensive social services support like home care or nursing.
The John Howard Society, along with 17 collaborating organizations across PEI, are working to support tenant-landlord relationships through their Addressing Homelessness PEI initiative.
Jody Sentner, with the John Howard Society, wants landlords to engage on the topic.
“Right now, landlords have clients that are in their apartments that, you know, they may have an issue with, and they’ve got nobody to call and nobody to help them work through that,” said Sentner. “So our goal is to work with both the landlord and the client, so we can prevent that eviction.”
A property owner can contact Sentner if an issue arises, and from there she will reach out to the tenant’s primary case worker or extended team to see what can be done.
“It could be weekly or bi-weekly visits from a case worker,’’ said Sentner. “We would help the client work past whatever barriers they need to overcome.”
Webster says this is a great idea, and almost the same as the plan Redmond and MacIntyre introduced him to in 2020. But, he added, it requires the client’s entire team - including social services like home care, addictions counsellors and case workers - to each to show up and do their part.
Webster is doubtful. Before entering any type of similar rental agreement he would require assurance enforceable oversight and accountability measures are in place.