Watch above: Health concerns have prompted officials to condemn some rooms and Social Services refuses to fund people living in a run-down Saskatoon motel. Wendy Winiewski meets one displaced family.
SASKATOON – Health inspectors from the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) have closed 21 rooms at the Northwoods Inn and Suites. The rooms at the Idylwyld Drive motel have been deemed “unfit for occupation.”
The reasons vary, according to Deputy Medical Health Officer Michael Schwandt.
“A lack of running water in terms of taps and toilets for example. the overall state of cleanliness and sanitation in some of the spaces. Also strong evidence of infestation with rodents and insects,” Schwandt explained.
Sixteen occupied rooms have deficiencies that need to be remediated. The health region was notified about what appeared to be substandard living conditions by the Saskatoon Police Service.
Room closures have left many long term tenants displaced. Marie-Eve Smith is one of them.
“We lived with mice, bed bugs, cockroaches.”
The conditions were disturbing but it’s the only option she, her husband and their six children could find that kept them living together. The family had been living at the Inn since December. Their landlord sold the home they were renting on Avenue F and a long search for a new place was fruitless, leading them to the Inn.
“We can’t afford to live in a five-bedroom house and a lot of the landlords in the city who have rental properties don’t want to rent even a three-bedroom to us because we have so many children.”
The family is on assistance and receives $849 monthly from the Ministry of Social Services. Staying in the two-bedroom room at the inn cost $1600 per month, according to Smith, who says they topped up the rent with money from their child tax credit. On assistance, the family says landlords hesitate to rent to them because of bad past experiences with tenants not paying rent.
There is always the option of living in a shelter, but according to DeAnne Mercier with the Lighthouse Supported Living, the Smith family doesn’t fit the specs for a shelter.
“A lot of shelters will take mom and kids,” said Mercier.
“But there’s very few shelters that will take dad and kids or mom and dad and kids so that’s definitely a gap that we see within the community.”
Teary eyed, Smith admits she’s desperate. “The most important thing for me is to keep my family together.”
The Lighthouse is already providing emergency shelter to some of the displaced residents but their 58 affordable apartments are full. The displacement of this family and several other residents points to a serious lack of affordable housing in Saskatoon.
The Ministry of Social Services has been funding the rental of rooms at the motel as a long term living arrangement for clients.
The ministry is covering the Smith’s stay at the Heritage Inn until June 2.
“My family is my whole reason for living and you have no idea what it feels like to not be able to give them a home,” said Smith.