Medically assisted death nonprofit says fear is hampering its search for permanent space

Thirteen months into an extensive search in Toronto, a nonprofit that provides a free space to receive the MAID procedure has yet to find a suitable space.

MAiDhouse has spent more than a year searching for an appropriate place to rent

Dr. Chantal Perrot, a MAID provider and the chair of the board of directors for MAiDHouse, says they've struggled for months to find a landlord who would rent a suitable space to them. (Submitted by Chantal Perrot)

When Tekla Hendrickson pictures the ideal home for her nonprofit, MAiDHouse, she imagines a house on a quiet, leafy street in downtown Toronto. 

Hendrickson, who is the group's executive director, says it would be accessible for people with disabilities, with space inside to run programs and prepare food. Most importantly, it would have "a lovely room, preferably [with a] fireplace, that we can make cozy and comfortable with a chair and a couch." 

That's the room where MAiDHouse would carry out one of its core missions: providing people with a free, home-like setting where they can get Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID). 

But 13 months into an extensive search in Toronto, the group has yet to find a suitable space, forcing it to continue to rely on a temporary room that limits the number of people the nonprofit can help, said Hendrickson. 

"It's been much more difficult than we had thought," said Dr. Chantal Perrot, chair of MAiDHouse's board of directors and herself a MAID provider. 

Hendrickson says they've put in numerous applications to rent, and have even approached developers directly in hopes of striking a deal — but she says discomfort and misperceptions have gotten in the way. 

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"We discovered that landlords, even though they would be interested and willing to rent to us, when we put in our offer to lease, they got squeamish and backed out," explained Perrot. 

When hospital and home don't fit 

Since MAID became legal in 2016, the procedure has been carried out in clinical settings, houses and apartments, and in specially rented rooms — including motels, hotels and funeral homes

What's missing, says the team behind MAiDHouse, is access to a free and comfortable place for those who can't afford to rent somewhere, or can't — or don't want to — die at home or at the hospital. 

They might be unhoused or underhoused, or "concerned about those who they share a home with, and whether that's what they want their last memories to be," said Hendrickson. 

Hospitals, meanwhile, can be "very clinical, and also, in the pandemic, people are limited in the number of people who can come with them," she continued. 

A converted room at a London, Ont. funeral home that is now being used for MAID procedures. Similarly, MAiDhouse seeks to provide a free alternative for those who don't want to die at home or at a hospital. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"And some hospitals are not even allowing people to come in for their MAID procedure." 

That struggle to find the right place can have disastrous consequences, says Hendrickson. 

She says the MAID providers who work with her organization have described patients who are unable to find a suitable place in time to receive the procedure, resulting in more painful, drawn-out deaths.

MAiDHouse, which she says is the first nonprofit of its kind in Canada, seeks to make sure that doesn't happen. 

"We have a legislative right to MAID, and now we need the equivalent community-based supports," said Hendrickson. 

A sector-wide issue 

MAiDHouse's realtor, Jeff Good, says the group is bumping up against a strain of NIMBYism — landlords may be sympathetic to their work, but shy away from the idea of it happening on their property.

Good, who is also a senior vice-president at CRESA, a commercial real estate company, says it's a common issue with some of his nonprofit and charity clients. 

"Whether you are dealing with marginalized people who are street involved, or sex workers, or people who have developmental or other delays … the sorts of organizations serving them often struggle with sometimes quite subtle challenges in finding space and in getting acceptance," he said.

Good says there are steps the city could take to make it easier for organizations like MAiDHouse to find a home, including increasing the property tax break that charities receive, relaxing zoning rules in some cases, and making it easier to identify city property that could be used by charitable groups.  

In the meantime, MAiDHouse continues to search for a permanent home, and has recently shifted gears to begin looking to buy a property. 

"It's not intrusive, it doesn't destroy neighbourhoods, there aren't hearses coming out of a building all day long — it's very discreet and very peaceful," said Perrot of the work they do.

"I wish people would be less afraid of death in general, and certainly I wish people were less afraid of MAID and MAiDHouse in their vicinity."