Crackdown at Saskatoon motel forces vulnerable tenants out

Work is now underway to find housing for some of Saskatoon’s most vulnerable citizens as a joint task force investigates living conditions at the Northwoods Inn and Suites.

Task force looking into living conditions at Northwoods Inn

Agencies are now scrambling to find homes of people forced out of the motel. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Work is now underway to find housing for some of Saskatoon's most vulnerable citizens as a joint task force investigates living conditions at the Northwoods Inn & Suites.

Many people call the west side motel home.

Tiana Egeland said she lived at the Northwoods for two years. During this time she said she saw a lot of gang activity and addictions issues.

"A lot of people that suffer with addictions and alcoholism and everything are there, because they aren't seen through society's eyes as people," she explained.

Tiana Egeland and her dog Dory. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Egeland said she rented a suite for $1,400, paid for by Social Services, and lived at the establishment because she had no other options.

"I could rent a condo for that price instead of renting at the Northwoods but I just chose to be there because nobody else would take me," she stated. 

​Recently, many people in the same situation as Egeland have been asked to leave due to the investigation. That has agencies like AIDS Saskatoon scrambling to try and the displaced new homes.

Executive Director Danielle Genest told CBC that many of her clients have been told to leave the hotel by its owner and are now homeless.

Genest is trying to help four to five families, but admitted it won't be easy.

Danielle Genest at Aids Saskatoon is trying to find new homes for clients forced out. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

"Well, with seven children you are not going to find a rental very quickly, that's a big family to move and a big family to move short notice," she said. "If you don't have a lot of possessions to begin with, if you have to abandon your furniture, having added expenses staying in a motel that can really set you off for months."

Genest explained that many of the people who lived at the Northwoods also receive rent money from Social Services and because they have been asked to leave, they will not receive more money for rent until they have a fixed address.

A representative from Social Services told CBC News the agency gives people income assistance in the form of a shelter allowance and that it is up to recipients to find their own accommodation and pay for it with their allowance.

Social Services also explained it will help cover moving expenses or temporary accommodation for people who have been forced to relocate.

Genest said most of the families she's working with will likely have to try and stay at a shelter.

Public Health involved

Michael Schwandt, a deputy medical health officer with the Saskatoon Health Region, tells CBC News that Public Health became involved in mid-May after Saskatoon police contacted the organization about "serious concerns" regarding the condition of suites at Northwoods.

He said investigators have visited a number of suites including 26 occupied ones at the time of inspection. Of those, eight were found unfit for habitation, 16 with some deficiencies and two with no major problems.

In addition, Schwandt said that 34 vacant units were looked at and 13 were found to have hazardous conditions while 21 were deemed rentable.

Some of the potential things would be... creating an environment potentially promoting mould, evidence of vermin such as mice being present- Michael Schwandt, deputy medical health officer with the Saskatoon Health Region

He said the full report is extensive and he could only provide possible concerns or hazards.

"Some of the potential things would be plumbing problems, not properly operating taps or toilet, water that's escaping from taps and creating an environment potentially promoting mould, evidence of vermin such as mice being present," Schwandt said.

However, he explained that investigators have not yet told anyone to leave, because the process only specifies which units are permissible for renting and the hotel remains licensed.

In addition, Schwandt said some of the units have not been accessed because when people have lived in the rooms for more than six months, they have more residential rights than a typical hotel tenant.

He said that Public Health would work closely with Social Services, who are in charge of finding adequate housing for these residents as the investigation continues.

Owner responds

John Pontes, the owner of the motel, said he's glad that Public Health is involved because it will force out tenants he has not wanted in his building for some time.

In his opinion, the suites are in terrible state due to the dirty and messy habits of these tenants.

Pontes said he plans to spend between $300,000 and $500,000 on renovations.

Shelters prepare

The Lighthouse Supported Living centre in the city said it has received many calls from people who have to leave their homes at the hotel.

"We were able to make some space in our emergency shelter so we have room for about a dozen individuals," said DeeAnn Mercier of her organization's efforts. 

The Lighthouse's emergency shelter had room for about 50 individuals. However, the service is only available for people who are 16 and older and is not able to accommodate families.

"Not a lot of options for families. Especially if you are a larger family size. Especially if you have a mom and a dad and the family is trying to stay together," she said.

Mercier explained that currently there is simply not enough affordable housing for people and the facility can only offer short-term solutions.


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