Bedbugs, Drug Abuse, and Child Neglect: Living in Hell at Toronto’s Lido Motel
Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) administers homeless shelters and social housing providers. The agency also rents rooms in motels across the GTA for homeless families and to accommodate the overflow from the shelter system. The Lido Motel, at 4674 Kingston Rd in Scarborough, is one of those motels.
But if you think that the Lido’s homeless guests are living in the lap of luxury, think again. Even basic sanitation levels are hard to come by.
I was recently contacted via Facebook Messenger by “Tara” (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy). She is an autistic single mother on ODSP, approximately 45 years old and has been staying at the Lido Motel for eighteen months.
The living conditions she described were so appalling that I asked her to provide photographic evidence. Tara has a 22-year-old son who is also autistic living in the room with her. He is the one who took the photos, some of which I have included below.
Warning: Some readers may find the images disturbing.
Tara reports that there are often soiled diapers left in the hallways that the Lido’s cleaning staff neglect to dispose of. When she first entered her room, she discovered faecal matter and urine stains on the mattress. Management has yet to replace the mattress even though they promised to do so a year ago. She also reports that the bed and mattress were infested with bed bugs and that she “had to clean [it] down with a powerful cleaner… [and that over the course of] one night, she steamed four bedbug nests just on the metal bed frame [and] about [another] twenty nests on the mattress”.
She also reports that the “rooms flood with dirty water” periodically and that her own room has “had five partial floods”. The kitchen caught fire last winter; and the residual odour lingered for weeks. She still occasionally catches “the scent of burning plastic”, which could very well be coming from the electrical outlets such as the one in the photo below.
As well as a fairly serious bed bug infestation, there are also cockroaches and spiders present in the Lido. There is a problem with black mold, potentially putting guests at risk of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, the symptoms of which include cognitive decline, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, headaches, sinusitis, cough, shortness of breath, abdominal pain and blurred vision. Tara claims she is now exhibiting some of the symptoms. She also alleges that the Lido’s response to the mold was to give her and her son “a bottle to clean the mold.” She is allergic to the mold and couldn’t even attempt to wipe it clean. “The Lido staff expected us to clean it,” she said.
Tara reported the infestations and black mold to Toronto Public Health (TPH) and the electrical problems to Toronto Fire Services (TFS). TPH has yet to respond. TFS sent an inspector, however, Tara alleges that he only tested the smoke detectors and did not inspect the electrical outlets. She also filed a complaint with the SSHA to no avail.
According to Tara, the Lido is rife with alcohol and illicit drug abuse and young children are often left unattended in the hallways late at night.
Tara says that other homeless families have raised similar concerns about the conditions at the Lido, but that they are reluctant to come forward publicly because they are worried about how the Lido’s staff and management will react.
According to Tara, there is a hole in the bathroom ceiling of the room she’s staying in that came about from simply a ‘light push’. “The bathroom ceiling is that soft. It’s like that powdery foam in consistency. A dead cockroach fell out of that [hole].”
Tara says some people staying at the Lido have had to put some of their own money into the rooms just to make them habitable.
Online reviews of the Lido corroborate much of Tara’s testimonial:
“Definitely not a place I would take my children to for a night’s stay.”
“I left [because] I felt very degraded, the rooms are depressing with spiders and bed bugs.”
“The rooms don’t seem all that clean and… police are always in the area and I didn’t feel that safe with people shouting at night… definitely not a place I would take my children to for a night’s stay.”
While there are a few positive reviews, it appears that at least some of those have been written by Lido staff members:
Sadly, unlike paying guests (a room at the Lido costs $70 per night), Tara does not have the option of leaving. Like many ODSP recipients, her income falls far short of Toronto’s market rent rates, even for a single room. Homeless shelters can be as bad or worse than the Lido and, with Toronto’s social housing waitlist having grown more than 50% in the past decade, she virtually has nowhere else to go but the streets.
Tara’s testimonial speaks to the plight of many low income Torontonians negatively affected by the affordable housing crisis. Whether stuck in a seedy subsidized motel, overcrowded homeless shelters, or on prohibitively long waiting lists, as Tara says, “the system keeps you trapped”.
A 2017 study published originally by the Canadian Medical Association Journal and reposted by the Homeless Hub cites the average annual cost per homeless person in Canada as $53,144 and $59,144 in Toronto. According to the SSHA, up to 60 City-subsidized rooms were being used at the Lido in 2019. Since January of this year, that number has been reduced to 50 with the SSHA noting that”the bulk of them [are] located in the newer section of the building.” The operating agreement between the City and the Lido Motel (New Lido Inc.) also stipulates that it is the motel’s responsibility to maintain the property “in a good state of repair.” It is unclear how much money the Lido receives from the City for the use of its rooms.
Tara says that she and her son sent pictures of the motel to city council and that “they are well aware of this building’s conditions.”
When Toronto Storeys alerted the Mayor’s office to the allegations being made against the Lido Motel, Mayor Tory’s office issued the following statement:
The Mayor and City Council understand the importance of residents having access to safe and clean shelter spaces in the city.
We understand City staff are working to address issues at this property right now and that starting on Monday, Shelter, Support and Housing staff will have regularly scheduled office hours on site to speak directly with residents and provide any supports needed.
City Councillor Jennifer McKelvie of Ward 25 Scarborough-Rouge Park, the ward in which the Lido is located, also commented on the motel’s ongoing issues:
I have personally visited the Lido Motel and agree that the site has some serious issues and a reputation for poor cleanliness. Since assuming office on December 1, 2018, I have shared resident concerns to City Staff, and as a result of subsequent inspections, two rooms were taken offline. The issues at the Lido Hotel underscore the need for additional investment in shelters in the City. City Staff have continually expressed the reality that it is extremely difficult to find suitable locations for shelter spaces. This is an ongoing struggle.
When contacted about this story, the SSHA division provided the following statement to Toronto Storeys:
The City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration has a contract with New Lido Inc,. located at 4674 Kingston Road to allow for use of motel rooms, otherwise available to the public, as emergency shelter spaces. The operating agreement with New Lido Inc. makes the provider responsible for maintaining the motel property in a good state of repair.
The RFP process for motel/hotel services outlines service level expectations. These expectations are also in the legal contract signed once the contract is awarded. Any contracted motels must abide by all legalisation that pertains to motel operations in Ontario – such as the Innkeepers Act, Ontario Fire Code and the Building Code Act and Ontario Health & Safety Act.
The City regularly conducts site visits to connect with shelter residents to review their housing case plans and conducts periodic inspections to ensure that the motel property is in a state of good repair. If maintenance issues are brought to the City’s attention, they are addressed as quickly as possible, in collaboration with the motel operator. Motel operators are responsible for addressing the concerns at their own expense within a reasonable time period – immediately if there is a health and safety risk.
On November 26, 2019, SSHA staff inspected all rooms at the Lido Motel – reviewing the facility and the approximately 60 rooms occupied by City clients. Based on those findings, two rooms were immediately taken offline due to poor conditions. A detailed list of property maintenance deficiencies was provided to motel staff. The safety issues that were identified were addressed immediately and worn or broken fixtures and furnishings were replaced. Once rooms are vacated, the needs that were identified as cosmetic – painting or flooring will be addressed.
Beginning January 20, SSHA staff will have regularly scheduled office hours on site at the Lido to strengthen client case management services and supports and enhance communications with all stakeholders.
The total of number of rooms in use was reduced to approximately 50 at the beginning of January, with the bulk of them located in the newer section of the building.
Currently, staff inspect recently vacated rooms before a family is referred to ensure the room condition is in good condition. Moving forward, they will be conducted on a quarterly basis.
In December 2019, SSHA staff completed a review of the two other contracted motels in use on Kingston Road to verify their state of good repair in accordance with the terms of the contract agreement in place. Minor property maintenance issues were found; all were addressed immediately. The next inspections are scheduled for January 28 and 29 at all three sites.
According to the Toronto Shelter Standards, “Audits and reviews focus on shelter providers’ services, bed management practices, budget and related submissions, financial controls, capital assets and organizational/ administrative functions. They are conducted at regular intervals and as needed.”
Perhaps, more importantly, that same document also states for all to read that “Housing is a basic human need. All persons deserve safe, secure, affordable and well-maintained housing.”
Tara’s story begs the question, is the City more interested in words than it is in actions.