Residents of a Hamilton Road care home licensed by the City of London continue to speak out about a bed bug and cockroach problem, as well as issues with staff and food and medication distribution.
But a manager brought in a week ago to fix the Bruce Residence’s myriad of issues says he needs more funding from the city and more time to fix problems that have been escalating for a number of years.
“These are vulnerable people who need help, and I understand that there are problems, that’s why I was brought in,” said facility manager Joe Todd, who said he speaks on behalf of the owner of the facility at 722 Hamilton Road, designated by the city as an informal residential care facility.
“I know there are issues. I’m trying to rectify them.”
Two residents first sounded the alarm about conditions at the home earlier this week. They detailed vermin outbreaks, poor sanitation and cleanliness, and lack of healthy or edible food.
“You need to move everyone out and fumigate the whole building,” former resident Jim Austin, who lived at the Bruce Residence for almost four years before moving out last August, told CBC News on Wednesday.
Informal care facilities are licensed
“I was fortunate because I could afford to go out to eat. If I didn’t eat out four times a week, I would have starved. The food was the cheapest of the cheap.”
The 47 residents of the facility live independently but need help with the routines of daily life, including meal preparation or paying the rent.
The city passed a bylaw to license informal residential care facilities in 2016, in part because a 72-year-old man died in a fire at an unlicensed group home in 2014 that left about two dozen others with disabilities and mental health challenges homeless. The bylaw was meant to make living situations safer for vulnerable Londoners.
There are two such facilities in London, city officials told CBC News, including Bruce Residence. There’s a $750 licensing fee and license holders must adhere to the bylaw or face steep fines.
The city also operates something called a vulnerable occupancy protocol (VOP), which brings together fire, bylaw and health unit inspectors and officers to coordinate a response when there’s a complaint about unsafe living conditions, said Craig Cooper, the city’s manager in charge of homeless prevention.
“We want to try to address any complaints that come in of unsafe conditions for vulnerable populations,” he said.
A former cook at the facility said she routinely gave out medicine to sick residents even though she has no medical training.
“I don’t have any nursing background,” said Julie Walters, who left her job in January. “Nobody had a certificate [for] food handling. I was the only one who ended up getting one. I’m not qualified to give out medications but I had to do that and put diabetic monitors on people’s arms and stuff like that.”
When they move in, residents sign contracts with the facility, Todd said.
“They sign a contract when they come to our home, with a list of rules. They sign a contract that says ‘If I break those rules, I have to leave immediately,'” he said.
Residents pay between $700 and $950 a month and, particularly with inflation, that is not enough to provide all the services for them, Todd said.
“We haven’t turned a profit in this home since we bought it,” he said.
The company owns other homes in Mount Brydges, Strathroy and St. Thomas. There, the funding and residents are different, Todd said.
Residents CBC News spoke in detail about food that was inedible or did not meet dietary needs, such as for residents with diabetes, and skin conditions because of the bed bugs and other unsanitary conditions.
“We used to have three meals and two snacks a day and when I left last August, we were down to just three meals, and the portions were so small, and the milk or juice, you only got one very small glass,” said Austin, who said he was asked to double as the facility’s security guard, despite the fact that he has no legs and uses a wheelchair to get around.
Resident Ricky Williams, one of the two people who first complained about the conditions on Hamilton Road to CBC News earlier this week, said he has wounds on his legs from his living conditions.
“I came here to heal but it looks like I’m going to die here,” Williams told CBC News. “I’ve been back to the hospital twice with sepsis since coming here. it’s so stressful. I just want to break down and cry because there is no solution to my situation.”
‘Nowhere else to go’
The facility has private rooms for residents plus a shared bathroom and shared kitchen where meals are made by staff, Todd said.
“We’re supportive housing to a point. We’re trying to help them where we can, but if they don’t allow us in their room, or if we clean it and the next day there’s food all over and beer bottles when they’re not supposed to have alcohol in there, these are the things that cause the bed bugs and the cockroaches,” he said.
Bruce Residence provides a vital resource for people who would have nowhere else to go, Todd added.
Walters, the former cook, said she developed friendships with many of the residents and thinks of them often.
“There’s no where else in London for them to go,” she said.
With files from Rebecca Zandbergen