This past Thursday, remaining residents of Huronia Guest Home took showers, dressed in fresh, clean clothes and loaded onto a bus to head to a nearby motel.
The motel will be serving as short-term accommodations while the County of Simcoe, Clearview Township, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and other community partners work together to establish long-term living arrangements following a nightmare experience at the home which included a bed-bug infestation and lack of food.
The question remains: How did a facility that needed interventions fall through the cracks?
While many factors may have led to the situation, one piece of the puzzle is the owner’s cancellation of their contract with the county’s domiciliary care program.
Huronia Guest Home was a privately owned assisted-living facility. Prior to August 2022, 14 of the residents living in the facility were clients of the county’s domiciliary care program. Under the program, the county had a contract with the landlord where the county would top-up their clients’ housing allowance (through programs such as Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program) for certain services.
As part of that contract to participate in the program, the landlord is required to uphold living and care standards.
“Across the province, there is no regulatory body that provides licensing for these private facilities,” said Mina Fayez-Bahgat, the county’s General Manager of Social and Community Services, in an interview with CollingwoodToday.
As of today, the county has contracts with seven landlords across Simcoe County as part of the domiciliary care program. The program is paid for through provincial funding, formerly through the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative, more recently replaced with the Homelessness Prevention Program.
“It is important to note that many of the private domiciliary facilities still being used by clients in Simcoe County are run very well,” said Fayez-Bahgat. “These homes provide options for residents who might not be eligible for full subsidies or other licensed facilities, such as long-term care, but need a certain level of affordability and support.”
“These facilities most often house a combination of individuals who are subsidized by the county as well as private renters/leasers who interact with the landlord directly,” he added.
Under domiciliary care contracts, landlords are required to provide proof of compliance with laws and regulations such as building codes, zoning, public health regulations, food safety, fire codes, and provide access for regular inspections as well as evaluations of service delivery and feedback from residents.
The county says its staff made numerous requests to the landlord of Huronia Guest Home (HGH) to address living-standard concerns. Ultimately, the landlord chose instead to terminate the contract in August 2022.
“When we have a concern of note with a provider, we do everything possible to bring them into compliance with contractual obligations,” said Fayez-Bahgat. “In the case of HGH, we brought those concerns forward and the provider elected to terminate the contract with the county.”
“This is an infrequent occurrence,” he said, noting that the clients that were living at HGH at that time that wanted to continue with the subsidy were moved into alternate living arrangements.
Overall, Fayez-Bahgat says the domiciliary care program is one of many options for residents looking for housing across Simcoe County, who may be having trouble finding affordable options.
“Affordable housing provided by the private sector is needed if we are going to continue to address needs,” he said. “These can be beneficial and cost-effective partnerships between the private and public sector when all parties have the same priorities and goals in mind.”
He says the challenge looking to the future will be maintaining affordable rental prices long-term, and keeping private and public options consistent for costs and quality.
“Affordable private-market units are a part of our overall affordable housing system and we work closely with private providers through rent subsidy and supplement agreements to help prevent and end chronic homelessness,” said Fayez-Bahgat.
For more information on the County of Simcoe’s domiciliary care program, click here.