They are the lost and forgotten, those who have fallen through the cracks and no one knows how many of them are dying in illegal group homes. Their deaths go largely unnoticed.
Esa Lehmusjuuri was one of them. On Nov. 30, CityNews reported that the 70-year-old man died trying to escape the illegal group home he had been living in for 6 weeks. He had been illegally locked inside and tried to get out by climbing over the back fence. He fell and his body wasn’t discovered for more than 24 hours. Esa lived in a mouse-infested basement room shared with another resident and was charged $3,900 in four weeks to live there. His daughter believes more people will die in these homes.
“More people will die. People have died. People will be injured,” says Anne-Marie Pollock, Esa’s daughter. “People are not being cared for, and people are getting sick. These are elderly, vulnerable people of our community, and they need help.”
In fact, more people have died since Esa’s death in April 2016. CityNews has learned of at least two, possibly three more fatalities.
One woman died in the summer at a home at 78 Rouge River Drive in the city’s east end. The cause of her death has not been released but her living conditions in the group home were so disturbing it prompted a crackdown by the city. Multiple fire-code violations were laid at several different illegal group homes in Scarborough.
A second woman in her 50s died in that very same residence on Nov. 15 of this year. She had fallen out of her bed. At the time, police found 16 residents living in the home, sparking concerns.
In a third case, no one seems to know what happened to an elderly man with dementia at another illegal group home on Littles Road. He fell down the stairs one evening and was rushed to Sunnybrook Hospital’s trauma unit with severe head injuries. He hasn’t been seen since, and that home has since closed. Police had not been notified of the fall and were unaware of the incident.
No one can say how many more people have died in illegal group homes in the city. The reason for the utter lack of numbers or statistics is quite simply because, as confirmed by the coroner, no one is tracking the deaths.
“If the group homes are illegal, why do [authorities] allow them to run? And if they need them, why don’t they regulate them?” Pollock asks. “Otherwise, they need to charge these people.”
CityNews found out that all the group homes mentioned above are operated by Winston Manning under the company Comfort Residential Group Homes Inc. He refused to comment when we knocked on his door.
Toronto police are regularly called to these homes. A source tells CityNews they responded 69 times to one on Fawcett Trail in just the seven months from Jan to Aug 2016. The calls ranged from theft to missing persons to emotional distress and medical complications.
A report dated Oct 2016 by Spectrum Health Care, which provides home care, details disturbing findings at Fawcett Trail including “filthy bedding with patients feces,” “no clean clothes” and “broken windows…with broken shards of glass sticking out.” The report also mentions a patient who said her husband was sent to another home for being “naughty,” and that she was “told to behave otherwise she would be sent elsewhere.”
An OPP investigation earlier this year expressed concern for the safety of residents who live in the illegal group homes, but did not lay charges or shut the homes down. The investigation concluded there was nowhere else for patients to go because of a housing shortage.
Most of the people in the homes are elderly or have physical or mental health issues and need to be in long term care. But the wait-list can be up to five or six years – thereby creating a steady stream of desperate people who end up in illegal group homes.
Pollock says no one should have to die the way her father did.
“It’s horrifying. He died a death that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Unable to move due to a fractured spine, cold – it was freezing that night – and unable to call for help. Even if he was, nobody heard him.”