Lack of accessible apartments forces Summerside man to live in motel
'I think that a lot of people with disabilities are living in conditions they shouldn't be'
A Summerside man with a disability says a shortage of accessible apartments is forcing him to live in a motel.
Gordon Smith, 53, had to move out of his own home last month because his chronic pain, osteoarthritis and blood clots were making it too difficult to stay there.
He had hoped to find an accessible apartment but says he couldn't find anything, so he's renting a motel room.
"It was the only option," Smith said.
He says the setup is not ideal. Although everything is on one level, there are still a couple of steps to get up and the parking area is sloped, making it difficult for him get his balance.
"You just don't go out, you don't leave," he said.
The bathroom is also not accessible.
"I can't get in the shower or tub because there's no grab bars or anything like that."
Smith also has dyslexia so it's difficult for him to read ads online, but he's been making calls to property managers and reaching out to his disability support worker, provincial officials and the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.
"As far as I know there's nothing out there," Smith said. He said he's been looking since last March.
He said he can afford to pay about $1,000 per month for rent, but he says it's not a budget issue, it's a supply issue.
"It doesn't really matter that much to me as long as it's suitable," he said.
He said he ideally wants an accessible apartment with parking and a shower he can get into.
"I think that a lot of people with disabilities are living in conditions they shouldn't be, that are probably dangerous," he said.
Limited options means limited choice
An accessible apartment can mean much more than just a place to live for someone with a disability, said James Poirier, resident of the Kay Reynolds Centre in Charlottetown.
The centre is a complex of accessible, affordable apartments designed for people with a range of disabilities.
"Freedom of choice of where they want to live," Poirier said. "When there is one building with a wait-list, you don't feel like you have anywhere to go."
Poirier has a form of muscular dystrophy and has been in a wheelchair since he was 25.
He said he is lucky to have a spot in a place that has been set up with the accessibility of residents in mind.
"I need a place that is accessible, like counters I can get under, washer and dryer that is front loading," Poirier said.
"There are other apartments that say they're accessible but that's mainly just to get in the front door."
The Kay Reynolds Centre has wider doorways, he said, with sinks and counters he can work with.
From being on the centre's board, he knows how difficult it is for those still looking for a place to call their own.
"There is no affordable places to rent. It might say accessible but who can afford $1,200 a month when you are in a wheelchair," he said.
"I think it's a big problem," Poirier said. "It's all I hear about, there's nowhere to live."
No units available
Marcia Carroll, executive director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities, says the group gets calls daily from people looking for accessible places to live.
"There's none available right now," Carroll said.
There are only about 300 accessible units province-wide, she said, and currently the group is working with United Way to put together a database of where the units are located.
Carroll said people are living in inappropriate housing because units aren't available or the ones that might be available aren't affordable.
She said although the problem has worsened in the last couple of years, it's been an issue for a long time.
"Finding affordable, accessible housing in P.E.I. has been a problem as long as I've been around, and that's 11 years," she said.
Proposal to build
Carroll said housing is everyone's responsibility, and the council has put forward a proposal to government.
The council hopes to work closely with government to secure funding, find a location and come up with a design for 100 more accessible units across P.E.I. in the next five years. Carroll said it put together a formal expression of interest in October.
She said the council is entering into the housing arena because it wants a solution to the problem.
"It has to get better, I'm not sure it can get much worse," she said.