An Ontario renter’s ‘scary’ situation with homelessness after landlords sell property

Robert Quinn, 61, from Barrie, Ont., is retired and spoke to Global News about becoming homeless in 2022. April 5, 2024.
Click to play video: 'Ontario renter’s ‘scary’ situation with homelessness after landlords sell property'
Ontario renter’s ‘scary’ situation with homelessness after landlords sell property
WATCH ABOVE: Robert Quinn, 61, from Barrie, Ont, shared his story of becoming homeless in 2022 and hid year-and-a-half journey to find a permanent place to live. Quinn was one of 18 people housed through a temporary rapid rehousing initiative run by the County of Simcoe in Barrie. The program led to 90 percent of participants finding permanent housing – Apr 12, 2024

When looking back on how the last few years have gone, Robert Quinn, 61, says he is full of gratitude and proudly pulls out his keychain.

You would not think a keychain could have so much significance, but for Quinn, it’s a constant reminder of how far he has come.

Quinn is quick to show off the tags he has collected, one for each of the agencies that helped him find housing — his ‘badges of gratitude,’ as he calls them and most importantly, two keys.

The two keys are for the apartment he shares with five others and a room all his own.

“I look at them as keys to the future,” he says.

But it’s a future he was uncertain about not too long ago, recounting his struggles to find a home.

Having worked for over 35 years as a janitor, Quinn never thought he would find himself without a place to live in retirement. But he says that changed in 2022 when his landlords needed to sell the home he was renting because they had experienced some health issues.

He tried finding an affordable place to live but on a fixed income, there were few options available to him with the rising cost of living. He ended up staying at a friend’s trailer for a short time. When that situation did not work out, he found himself without options.

A December 2023 Statistics Canada report about homelessness pointed to deteriorating affordable housing, combined with the pandemic and a surge in inflation leaving Canadians struggling. The report said that in the fall of 2022, 44 per cent of Canadians were very concerned with their household’s ability to afford housing or rent.

Statistics Canada says more than 235,000 people across Canada experience homelessness in any given year. But homeless advocates say that figure may be grossly underestimated because the number of hidden homeless people is unknown.


“It’s a very scary and stressful situation. There’s a couple times I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown, or you start bawling my eyes out,” he recalls. “It was hard, but it was a learning experience for me. I’ve always thought of myself as being resilient, you know, stoic. But being homeless, I found out just how resilient I was.”

Quinn says he moved from one agency to the next as he tried to find his way back to permanent housing, staying at some places for a few weeks and others for several months.

He recounts how hard it was navigating through the various systems as well as dealing with the stigma associated with being homeless.

“A lot of times they go ‘It was all their fault, or they spent their money, or they’re probably just druggies.’ When you look at the people, that’s only a small part of the puzzle. A lot of times when people become homeless, they’ve just run into bad luck,” he says.

Robert Quinn, 61, from Barrie, Ont, sitting on a couch at Redwood Park Communities office. April, 5, 2024. By Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

After moving around for over a year, Quinn found himself in a temporary shelter in a trailer on Rose Street in Barrie, run in partnership with the County of Simcoe and local community agencies. The trailers were used as overflow for the shelter system in winter and then turned into a rapid housing program in the summer.

“We wanted to demonstrate that a modular facility can be used for dual purposes based on community needs. In the winters and colder months, it’s really focused on keeping people safe and sheltered, and then in the summer, you’re trying to shift gears and focus on housing,” says Mina Fayez-Bahgat, the county’s general manager of social and community services.

Quinn says that after moving into the temporary shelter, Redwood Park Communities, a supportive housing agency in Barrie was able to help him find an apartment within three months. He now lives in a home with five other people, but now he has his own room.

“It’s nice and big and spacious. I think I may have to put more furniture in there,” Quinn jokes.

Looking back on the year and a half, Quinn says it was an exhausting experience but adds he is grateful for the help he received.

Quinn was not the only one who found help through the program. The county says the temporary initiative in Barrie led to 18 clients, or 90 per cent of all participants, moving to permanent housing during the program.

With the initiative’s success, the county is now looking to expand from the first site and open two more sites, one in Orillia and another in a community still to be decided on.

Fayez-Bahgat says the program helps in two ways: by helping people work on housing outcomes in a safe environment and by helping people move through the shelter system to free up more beds.

“Homelessness for us is a constant challenge in terms of us trying to make sure that there’s the right programs and the right agencies supporting the specific needs.”

Fayez-Bahgat says that, on average, shelters in Simcoe County are 90 per cent full, which speaks to a major need in the community.

While Quinn says he never thought he would find himself in his situation, he has a message for others.

“If you ever find yourself in that situation, don’t lose hope because there’s people out there who can help you. You just have to be willing to accept the help and cooperate with them,” he says.

Click to play video: 'Surviving Edmonton: 1 year spent with homeless people seeking stable housing'
Surviving Edmonton: 1 year spent with homeless people seeking stable housing