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EXCLUSIVE: Toronto Fire shuts down illegal group home in Scarborough

Last Updated Dec 8, 2017 at 1:54 pm EDT

An illegal group home at the heart of a CityNews investigation has been shut down by Toronto Fire officials.

Police, fire and ambulance arrived at the Scarborough home on Rouge River Drive late Thursday afternoon. Initially the operator of the home refused to let them inside but emergency services were allowed in after the owner of the house was called.

The owner, who asked not to be identified, said he has been trying to evict the tenants for over a year, saying he had no idea an illegal group home has been operating there.

The home has been mentioned repeatedly in our CityNews investigation into illegal group homes.

“This is not something we want to do. Toronto Fire and Toronto police have been put in a horrible situation in dealing with this issue,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop. “We now have to make sure at the end of the day if there is a fire in this building our biggest responsibility is the fire safety of not only the occupants but also the care workers in there.”

The home is operated by a man named Winston Manning under the company Comfort Residential Inc. Toronto Fire believes he operates at least six other homes, some of which have already been closed: one on Littles Road and another on Fawcett Trail, which had a fire in late October. All of the residents there escaped unharmed.

Manning’s company was convicted last week of multiple fire code violations for another property and fined $15,000 plus a 25 per cent victim surcharge. There are several more charges still before the courts.

CityNews found Manning at the home on Rouge River Drive last week but he refused to speak to us.

“Toronto Fire has issued multiple orders and multiple notices of violations and have charged not only the owner but the operator of this building,” said Jessop.

“None of the violations have been corrected. The transient nature of the individuals, the care they receive and the sheer number that fluctuate that we have no idea is happening, quite candidly has put us in a position where we have no choice.”

Two women have died in the Scarborough residence in the past six months. One passed away in the summer. Her cause of death has not been released but conditions in the house were so bad it sparked a city crackdown on illegal group homes with multiple charges laid. A second woman died in the home on November 15th. Sources tell CityNews she had fallen out of bed. When police arrived they found 16 residents in the house.

The front door of 78 Rouge River Drive is still plastered with notices of fire code violations from several months ago, including one that states it is an “imminent threat to life.” Toronto fire officials say orders to fix the fire code violations have gone unnoticed.

The illegal group home’s closure could be temporary. If Manning manages to address and repair the fire code violations, it could re-open again.

“It’s unacceptable,” Mayor John Tory told CityNews. “In order to actually close the homes down the only agency we have that can close them down is the fire department. They can close them until it’s fixed, so if it’s an electrical problem they may fix it and it will re-open. But the rest of it we would have to seek an order to have them closed which could take up to a year to do the appropriate court proceedings. Sometimes you close them and as fast as you close them they open again.”

A man, who was recovering from lung cancer while living in three of Manning’s homes last year during a seven month period, describes the conditions as “disgusting, terrible.” Dave – not his real name – said there were so many cockroaches it was “almost a moving carpet, there were thousands of them everywhere,” and that residents would often go days without food.

Manning, and some of the properties he operates, was mentioned in an OPP investigation into illegal group homes that found residents sleeping on mattresses on the floor, the smell of urine and human feces, mouse droppings and improperly stored medication. The OPP decided not to shut them down because there was nowhere else for residents to go due to a housing shortage, concluding they would end up in shelters or on the streets. The people who live in them are some of the most vulnerable, the elderly and those with mental health issues. They belong in long term care but the wait list can be years.

“When it comes to the health care system, we don’t run that and I’m not trying to pass the buck,” Tory said “I’m just saying we have a partnership here (with the provincial government) and we have to do our part on the regulatory and enforcement side and they have to do their part on supportive housing”