Why supportive housing for vulnerable people still doesn't require a provincial license

A day after public health officials ordered the closure of Walnut Manor supportive living facility in St. Thomas, many people are asking why stronger government oversight wasn’t in place.

“Horrendous! These people are our most vulnerable population,” says next door neighbour Susan Glanfield.

On June 7, residents of Walnut Manor were removed and the doors were closed by order of Southwestern Public Health after inspectors discovered rodents, a bed bug infestation, and mold inside the building.

Glanfield believes the provincial government should have never let residents, many with mental health or developmental challenges, live under such conditions.

But according to Ontario New Democrat MPP Jeff Burch, many supportive living facilities operate within a regulatory gap at the provincial level.

“Currently there is no licensing mechanism, so there are no licenses for supportive living homes,” explains MPP Burch. “People are often shocked to hear that.”

In November 2014, an apartment fire killed a London man inside a supportive living facility on Oxford Street.

Following the death, a private member’s bill by the NDP would have required provincial licensing— but an election prevented it from becoming law.

In recent years, several municipalities have taken it upon themselves to try to regulate these types of facilities through bylaws, but that has resulted in a patchwork of rules across Ontario.

Burch has a new private member’s bill at Queens Park that would require licensing, establish a complaint process, and set inspection protocols.

But he says it’s progress has stalled.

“They’ve just not prioritized this bill. It’s not about political parties, or who gets the credit, it’s really about saving lives and making sure people can live in these homes with some dignity,” he adds.

However, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek says, as a member of the Ford Government, he supports the bill moving forward.

“We have been supportive of that private member’s bill, it’s going through its process now,” Yurek explains. “Hopefully it goes through committee this fall, then third and final reading and becomes law.”

Forty-four municipalities in Ontario have already expressed support for Burch’s bill.

SupportiveLiving.ca, which operates Walnut Manor, denies the allegations made by Southwestern Public Health, was already rectifying some mold in the basement, and adds the safety and well-being of residents is their top priority.