OTTAWA: Right to housing compromised by stereotypes

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 11:04:04 -0400


October 24, 1999 The Ottawa Citizen

Seniors fear for safety with new
housing plan

Mentally ill people slated to move into
building

Jake Rupert
The Ottawa Citizen

A pilot project to move 10 mentally ill people into a downtown public
housing building has residents of the highrise worried about their
safety and
angry over their lack of say in the decision. 

Ottawa-Carleton Housing's board of directors will vote tomorrow at its
regular meeting on whether to proceed with the plan. Councillor Diane
Holmes, who is on the board, met with residents of the building Friday
to
discuss the issue and will present her findings to the board before the
vote. 

Several mentally ill people currently live in the 22-storey building at
415
MacLaren St. just west of Bank Street. However, if the new residents are
approved, a mental health worker will be on site 35 hours a week to make
sure all residents with mental problems are taking their medicine and
not
causing problems. 

But even this assurance hasn't quelled the residents' fears. 

"A lot of people who live here are scared already," said tenants' group
leader
David Mattice, 62. "We know that these people have to live somewhere,
but
we wish another, more appropriate place could be found. 

"There's about 50 per cent seniors in this building, many of them quite
elderly. In our opinion, it's not a good mix," Mr. Mattice added. 

Until two years ago, the building was designated seniors only, but a
lack of
demand for the apartments forced the housing board to rent apartments to
younger people and families. 

To get an apartment from the region's housing authority, people must put
their names on a list. Several mentally ill people have gone through the
process and have been placed. 

However, this is the first time so many mentally ill people will be put
into a
building at the same time. 

Ms. Holmes says the project came about after the Ontario Ministry of
Health made funding available to hire a mental health worker. 

"It's really a trade off for people in the building," she said. "Yes,
there will be
10 (more) mentally ill people living in the building, but there will be
a worker
there to help deal with any potential problems." 

Jane Lawn, 62, who has lived in the building for five years, understands
the
deal but doesn't think it's worth it. 

"There are mentally ill people living here now and adding 10 more will
be too
many," she said yesterday. "The worker will only be here 35 hours a
week.
What happens if there's a problem, and there are problems with sick
people,
at 4 a.m.? Where do we turn then?" 

Elizabeth Strang, 72, who has called the building home for 20 years,
agreed. 

"If they were here 24 hours (a day), it might be OK," she said. "I don't
want
to sound mean, but I can't deal with somebody having a mental breakdown
and getting violent. 

"I worry about this. I don't know what should happen -- they need a
place
to live, they went on the list. But I should be safe. It's a hard one
for sure." 

Ms. Holmes says she doesn't know which way she will vote tomorrow and
insists the project is not a done deal. However, Mr. Mattice says
residents
of the building have the impression it's already been approved. 

"That's what's getting to people," he said. "It's like we've had no say
in this
and we are the ones who'll be effected. I figure it's going to happen,
so now
I'm just trying to get what we can. There will be the worker. I guess
that's
better than nothing. 

"I just hope we don't have any serious problems."