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'You could see the cockroaches swarming:' Former illegal group home resident describes horrors

Last Updated Dec 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm EDT

He lost everything in his life but he knows he is lucky because he managed to get out of living in an illegal group home. But he describes the seven months he spent in them as a horrific experience.

“Disgusting, terrible.” Dave says. “I was desperate … I was fighting cancer got behind on the rent and had no place to go.

Dave had been hospitalized for lung cancer. He had already been living paycheque to paycheque and couldn’t pay his landlord. When he was discharged he was homeless and had no money. That’s how he ended up being bounced around three different illegal group homes in Scarborough in 2016.

Illegal group homes house some of the city’s most vulnerable residents; the elderly, the poor, people with mental health issues. They have a steady supply of tenants because there is no where else for them to go due to a lack of affordable housing and long term care beds.

Dave is one of many who ended up in one of the illegal group homes in Scarborough that were identified in a lengthy OPP investigation that found appalling living conditions.

“All stakeholders were and continue to be concerned about the well being of all the residents in these homes,” the OPP concluded in its investigation.

And yet the homes are still operating and providing deplorable living conditions.

“Filthy, you turned on the light in the kitchen at night and you could see the cockroaches swarming, almost a moving carpet, there were thousands of them everywhere,” Dave says.

He described living with multiple people in each home, many with serious mental health issues. Fighting was common and so was stealing. He slept with his few belongings, including his cancer medication in his pillow case … otherwise it would be stolen. Dave says the illegal group home promised to get three meals a day plus snacks but that didn’t always happen.

“Days with no food, none, nothing,” he said. “I was lucky I had friend who would take me to restaurants but as far as food in the house, zero.” When there was food Dave said it was often rice and cabbage, which would be served again as leftovers the next day.

The group homes he stayed in were all operated by a man named Winston Manning, under Comfort Residential Group Homes Inc.

Manning also operates an illegal home on Fawcett Trail that was recently shut down by the Toronto Fire department after a fire there on October 31. And Manning operates a home on Rouge River, that is also in Scarborough, where a woman died in the summer. The conditions police found in the home were so appalling it sparked a crackdown by Toronto Fire with multiple violations posted on the doors. A second woman died there just two weeks ago.

Just Thursday, Manning’s company was convicted at trial for violations of the fire code for an illegal group home on Collingsbrook Boulevard, also in Scarborough, that were laid in January of this year. Among the violations: The home did not have portable fire extinguishers or the required fire alarm system. Manning, who did not appear in court, was fined $15,000 plus a 25 per cent victim surcharge, bring the total up to $18,000.

His company faces more charges for other illegal group homes, including one on Littles Road that has also been shut down.

CityNews found Manning this week at one of the illegal group homes. He closed the front door and refused to answer any questions. A woman, through a window, told us to leave.

No one can say how many illegal group homes are operating in Toronto but the OPP investigation found there are numerous additional individuals operating them across the GTA and likely throughout Ontario.

As for Dave, he managed to get out with the help of friends and now lives with his daughter in an apartment.

He believes the government needs to step in and provide better oversight.

He doesn’t want the group homes shut down because he says there is nowhere else for the residents to go.