Who Decides for Seniors Living in Low-Income Housing?

 

760 Gamelin Garbage Chute Summer 2011

 

Fifty of the hundred seniors living at 760 Gamelin have signed a petition in favour of reinstating their tenants’ association, but a spokesperson for the low-income housing authority that runs their building says their request will be refused.

“They can work in collaboration with us, but they can’t organize a tenant’s association until the problems are solved,” says Valerie Rheme, a communications officer with the Office municipal d’habitation de Montreal (OMHM). “We have to take baby steps to get back on track.”

This is just the latest display of the lack of respect tenants say they’ve come to expect of the OMHM. When the Suburban first met with five tenants from the building during the long weekend holiday in late June, their biggest concerns were their struggles handling medical and security emergencies without full-time staff in the building. They told me that more former Douglas Hospital residents arrive every year and since they aren’t medically supervised, they often cause abuse, noise and fear. A part-time security guard tells them to call police when something is stolen or they fear for their safety.

The building looked well-maintained and freshly painted on the third floor where we met, but tenants said they worried about hidden mould and fungus from the water used to put out a fire two years earlier. They also said that their janitor couldn’t clean and repair everything in the building in only two days a week. They also complained that rat and bed bug infestations are difficult to eradicate because the housing authority sprays single units at a time.

A facility tour confirmed a dirty garbage chute, mould on some ceiling tiles and locked doors on unused office space in the basement. The common room—the only air-conditioned public space in the building—was also locked, although by my next visit, a volunteer tenant had been given a key to open it daily. The adjoining kitchen remains locked, except on Wednesdays.

Subsequent tours of four other LaSalle-based OMHM-run buildings for low-income seniors (720 Gamelin, 1580 Shevchenko, and 9576 and 9601 rue Jean-Milot) revealed similar circumstances. Residents work hard to take care of pleasant gardens and create a homey atmosphere but get little support to solve problems. Floor tiles in hallways are cracked, common rooms are locked and grass grows freely through the stones on public patios. Tenants report problem tenants and extra fees for everything, including rides to doctors, dentists and the CLSC.

None of the buildings have active tenant associations.

(This article appeared in the city edition of the Suburban on August 3.)

LaSalle Fishing Festival Set for Saturday

Fishing in the St. Lawrence River

Long line-ups are expected Saturday morning at des Rapids Park on the waterfront south of 7th Avenue in LaSalle. Registration begins at 8 a.m. for the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources’ popular introductory fishing course. Only 125 spots are available for resident youth, and the course includes a free fishing rod and a fishing permit that lasts until participants’ 18th birthdays.

The event forms part of the 12th annual Fishing Festival in which Quebec residents can fish without a permit all weekend.

“The Provincial Ministry of National Resources holds this event every June,” says Patrick Asch, the director of Héritage Laurentian, one of the many partners in the weekend-long LaSalle borough celebration. “There are fish stocked in the central basin (800 Rainbow trout) to make sure that everyone can take part. In a world where people are always looking at screens, this gives people a chance to try a sport that’s good for socializing, it’s good for food and it relaxes you.”

Volunteers and staff with Héritage Laurentian patrol the des Rapids Park to ensure that people fish without endangering the ecosystem or their own safety. “At the outer perimeter of the Park, the water goes at 4 metres a second so everyone fishing within those zones must wear a life jacket,” says Asch.

This isn’t the only weekend that the organization teaches people about fishing in the St. Lawrence River, either. Thanks to a $175,000 stipend approved by the LaSalle Borough last February, Héritage Laurentian members are on site at Park des Rapids every Sunday from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m., between May and October. They use a hundred-foot net to scientifically inventory fish while treating visitors to a description of the fish found, the inventory process and background about the St. Lawrence River.

Asch says that the organization usually collects 12 or so species every weekend and has found a total of 47 species since they began in 2009. Unfortunately, every year they find more gobies, an introduced species. They only found a few individuals in 2009 and more last year, but of the 176 fish they caught last weekend, 106 were gobies. On the other hand, they usually find lots of carp, another introduced species, but they haven’t found any this year, something that pleases Asch. He’s also particularly happy about the multiple protected red horses species found so far this year, because the rate is significantly higher than either of their previous years. Asch thinks that the high water may make it easier for these fish to breed.

“We would like to educate people that there is more biodiversity in the Saint Lawrence than people expect,” says Asch. “Things are getting better. In Verdun and LaSalle, they’ve been cleaning things up. There used to be sewage pipes straight into the water, but you don’t have that anymore. As far as eating the fish goes, if you follow the standards of the Ministry of Natural Resources, you can eat the fish you catch.”

(A version of this article appeared on page 12 of the  June 8, 2011 city edition of The Suburban.)

Lasalle Roads Close for Sikh Parade Sunday, May 22

 

Members of Lasalle’s SikhTemple Association plan to hold a procession on Sunday, May 22 to celebrate the Khalsa Festival. Three flat-bed floats, a marching band and groups of people in orange turbans and white shirts will leave from the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar at 7801 Cordner at 1:30 p.m. They’ll slowly follow the route approved by the borough council last March, which runs along Cordner to Lapierre, south to Newman, west to Thierry, north to Juliette, west to Lise, north to Danièle, northeast to Gervais and then east again on Cordner. They’ll arrive back at the temple at about 3:45 p.m.

Punjabi food will be served throughout the event from the temple kitchen in the basement and from five tents to be installed in the parking lot.

Local police are scheduled to oversee road closures and make sure that the parade and the festival afterwards proceeds calmly.

“We expect between 7,000 and 10,000 people to participate, depending on the weather,” says Hardev Singh, a Sikh Temple member who helps organizers when needed. Singh says that visitors come from Ottawa and Toronto to participate in the procession, which honours the first five people to be baptised into the Sikh Religion in 1699.

The Khalsa parade has taken place in Montreal every year since at least 1993, although it began in Lasalle in 1996, says Singh. “It used to be held downtown in Victoria Square, but the shop keepers there were always unhappy about losing business. After we bought land in LaSalle for our new temple in 1995 [their previous temple was located at 1090 St. Joseph in Lachine], we started gathering on that piece of land instead. Most of our route travels through a residential area, and people here really like it.”

(Note: This article first published in The Suburban, City Edition, p 1, May 18, 2011)

Trust Broken between Tenants and Officials at Low Income Senior Residences

Lasalle— Two long meetings did little to reassure tenants in the seniors buildings on Gamelin that life will get back to normal anytime soon, despite several announcements fulfilling some of their needs. Instead, mutual distrust will keep the kitchen doors locked, non-profit groups in charge of finances, and tenants feeling helpless. “This is a terrible place to live,” said Lise Mitchell, a tenant at 720, after the meeting. “Whatever you do, don’t end up in a place like this.”

The three-hour meetings took place on Thursday September 22 at 760 Gamelin, and last Friday at 720 Gamelin. A buffet lunch preceded more than an hour of presentations by representatives from Montreal’s municipal housing authority (OMHM), local police, the CLSC, the Borough of Lasalle and the Saint Antoine and Vieux Moulin community centres. “For us, it was very important that we show that the four organizations, the Borough of Lasalle and the CLSC are working closely together,” said Louise Hébert, OMHM’s director of communications. “We are four organisms who have received complaints about serious abuse and harassment in those buildings. We are putting more resources there because we want it to stop.”

The tense mood before, during, and after both meetings marked a sharp contrast to the sunny day in August when 92 people attended a corn roast at 760 Gamelin. That day wasn’t organized or attended by any officials, other than a Suburban reporter. Tenants collaborated to organize an afternoon of laughter, relaxed conversation combined with delicious food.

While almost half of the 720 tenants attended their official meeting, fewer than 30 tenants attended the 760 meeting. A tiny crowded room and the presence of three police officers in uniform may have kept more away. One police officer was on the official panel, but two additional uniformed officers arrived in police cruisers soon after the meeting began. A very loud woman was complaining outside of the room at the time, but she happily accompanied a reporter outside to express her complaints without force. No other disturbances were obvious. The Suburban already has a request in to interview the Lasalle police chief; we’ll add the reason for this show of force to our list of questions.

During both meetings, tenants quietly waited for their turn to speak while officials explained their roles and announced up-coming programs. Bingo games will resume in both buildings, garbage ventilation systems should be installed by November, and assertiveness training begins in October.

When tenants got the right to speak, they raised issues about locked kitchen doors, dirty public spaces, lengthy waits for repairs, over-bearing security, bullying and favouritism by officials and even mild assault. Many of their concerns were brushed aside, and in one case, a resident was told that the incident she described didn’t happen.

The meeting at 720 Gamelin seemed relatively smooth until Teddy Macintyre’s request to speak was refused. Macintyre commutes daily from Lachine to look after her 83-year-old father who has Alzheimer’s. She lived in 720 Gamelin until June, when she gave up the possibility of a two-bedroom apartment in Lasalle and sleeping on the couch was no longer possible. She also used to be president of the tenants’ association.

When officials refused her the right to speak, she stood up and yelled, “I knew you wouldn’t let me speak, I knew it.” At least thirteen other tenants also raised their voices and requested that she be allowed to talk, but officials refused. Despite many raised voices, Macintyre was the only person who had to leave the room.

(Note: This was published on p3 of the city edition of The Suburban yesterday.)

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