Mother fighting for answers about 'group homes'
Published Thursday, November 6, 2014 4:44PM EST
The tragic death Monday of a man living in an illegal group home that caught fire has affected Deborah Ezard and her family.
She calls it “devastating and disgusting” that this man died in a home with known fire code violations.
That’s why Ezard is stepping forward to speak out.
Her son was living at a similar home in London that was closed in September.
Her 27-year-old son, who has a mental health disorder and is developmentally delayed, is also angry. "It could have been us," he told her.
Ezard does not want her son's name used as he is still trying to cope with the stress of being forced from his residence under police presence, having all his clothing thrown out and now the news of this death.
"It's opening that wound," Ezard says in a candid interview, in which her emotions range from sadness to anger.
She says her son was referred to a York Street home for people with mental health issues by staff at Regional Mental Health Care in September 2013. He had been in hospital for several months at that point, after having a breakdown.
RMHC’s Jill Mustin-Powell says staff will explore people’s options for housing and what’s available to them. “We do not place individuals,” she says.
The York Street facility, that was costing residents $900 a month, had connections with the Oxford Street residence that caught fire. Keith Charles, who was managing the Oxford home was often seen at the York Street location, which is now up for sale. A group home was not a permitted use at that site.
"People take advantage of these kids and their families," Ezard says.
But because hospital staff were involved with her son, she didn't worry about the home he was in, at first.
"You trust. You trust that the system is going to do right by you and do right by your kid."
But the first time she went to see her son on York Street, her hand stuck to the doorknob. The place was a filthy and had bed bugs.
There was supposed to be 24-hour care, but staff was cut back and the residents were left alone overnight.
"He was afraid to be there at night. That's when a lot of their panic and anxiety is," she says.
Ezard says the building owners were "physically and verbally aggressive," toward the residents, including "throwing their special needs devises, slamming doors, cutting live wires so the clients cannot charge their mobility devises, cutting the wires to outside communication."
Ezard's son was also supposed to be on a special diet, but staff didn't know how to prepare food for him.
"(He) was...getting yogurt and applesauce. But paying $900 a month."
Due to these problems at the home, her son had appointments at Regional Mental Health Care to help deal with the stress.
As Ezard wasn't part of her son's health care team, she couldn't talk to his counsellors.
"Through his mental health breakdown, I was pushed away. He's an adult."
But as things became progressively worse at the home, her son reached out to her.
"He knew enough to call. But what about the other people that don't know."
Some of the York Street residents are now living at Maple Village on Hamilton Road. Others went to live with family members. She doesn't know what happened to all of them.
Ezard brought her son and his girlfriend, who was also at the York Street home, to her house. "I'm not going to leave her behind."
She's seeing improvements in the short time they've been with her and her husband.
"They're doing better. They're taking their meds. They're getting proper meals. They're going out for walks," Ezard says.
She continues to be her son's best advocate, as she has been his whole life.
When his Grade 2 teacher told him that he would never be a contributing member of society and that he couldn't learn, she pulled him from the school for 18 months and taught him at home, proving he was more than capable.
Her son does volunteer work and has the desire to continue his progress.
Ezard wants that as well, but she also wants answers to ensure people like her son are not pushed aside into homes that put their lives at risk.
She is planning to start an advocate program for those who need assistance finding appropriate housing and anyone wishing to contact Ezard about their concerns can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 226-376-2267.