Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Shawville Nov. 13, 2023
On Sunday afternoon, Robert Brown packed up his small drafting table, his antique mantle clock, and a few boxes of paperwork and clothing, loaded them into the back of his friend’s car, and closed the door to his shoebox room in Motel Shawville for the last time.
In with Brown’s small collection of cherished items were his CDs, all 600 of them, mostly jazz and classical music; “relaxing stuff,” as he calls it. But last week they did little to help him relax.
Six days earlier, Brown and the three other residents living in the motel had received eviction notices from AutonHomme Pontiac, the local social service organization that had placed him there just over a year earlier.
“As of November 6, 2023 Robert Clifford Brown is served with a final notice of eviction from the property and that all personal belongings be removed from the property no later than November 12, 2023. You will not be allowed to return to the property,” the notice read, citing the need to treat a flea infestation as the reason for eviction.
Brown said he didn’t understand why they had given him so little time to leave.
“If they knew ahead of time that they were going to do this, why didn’t they give these letters out two weeks ago?” Brown asked. “At least that way we would have time to try and get it organized for them before they come, rather than telling me Sunday I have to be out or they’re going to get rid of all my stuff.”
“I cried myself to sleep last night,” he said, welling up again recounting the devastation he felt when he got word he had to move, and only had six days to do so.
He said he was also worried about Gilmore, his neighbour living in the room next door, for whom he’s been cooking and doing groceries for the time they’ve both been at the motel.
“Poor Gilmore, he cried because he said, ‘If you go, who’s going to cook for me,’” Brown said.
While Brown has arranged to house sit for a friend in Wakefield for a couple of weeks, he is not sure where Gilmore will end up.
Never meant to be long term
AutonHomme Pontiac began leasing the motel building in June 2022.
“We have five rooms at the motel,” explained Tyler Ladouceur, director of the organization.
“Two of those rooms are supposed to be emergency rooms, for 30 days or less. That’s where we’ll place the person right when they ask for help,” Ladouceur said, explaining that the organization does everything it can to help people in those rooms find housing within the 30-day period.
“We have three extra rooms for a transition period because the reality of it is it’s hard to place somebody within 30 days, especially clients that come from the street. A lot of them have a lot of paperwork to get in order so we help them with that and a month just isn’t enough.”
Ladouceur said the three extra rooms are meant as a temporary housing option for up to four months, but that the organization sometimes extends that period if the person is still unable to find longer term housing.
Brown has been living in a room on the second floor of the motel since October 2022.
Previously, he had been living in his cottage in the Luskville area, one of three he’s proud to have designed and built. The cold weather made it uncomfortable for him to stay there into the winter, but he had nowhere else to go.
Two strokes in 2019 left Brown blind, and almost unable to walk.
“At the time, I said, ‘No this is not going to beat me’,” Brown recalled. “Now I walk normally, but my arm, when I get nervous, it just shakes. I can’t write anymore, I can’t do anything.”
After his strokes, Brown was unable to continue his work as a carpenter and repair man, or in any of the other jobs he had previously held, including as a porter and as an x-ray technician at Ottawa’s Civic hospital.
He relied on his pension income to get by, but it was barely enough to cover rent for any kind of apartment in Ottawa or in the Pontiac, and still have money for food.
Brown said a neighbour of his at the cottage in Luskville connected him with AutonHomme, a social service group based in Campbell’s Bay that works to support men in need of help.
And Brown needed help.
Ladouceur said that every person who is brought into the organization’s shelter system is made aware of the terms of their stay, which include being willing to collaborate with AutonHomme to find a more permanent option.
“About ninety per cent of the clients we help at the Shawville Motel are in a better, or suitable housing situation within the four month period I was talking about,” Ladouceur said.
“My objective, our objective as an organization, is never to throw someone out on the street, but honestly some clients either don’t collaborate or often completely refuse our help.”
He said he can say with certainty that the people being evicted got all the support the organization could offer and many opportunities for collaboration. Some of the clients found new housing, but others rejected every option for relocation.
He said the flea infestation at the motel has made it impossible to keep extending the term of the people living there.
“We do have a flea infestation. That’s one hundred per cent true and we do need to address that for health issues and we also need to get all the rooms professionally cleaned.”
Refused to pay rent
AutonHomme requests $400 a month for the rooms in the motel.
It’s a fee Ladouceur said the organization rarely collects, but uses as an opportunity to open a conversation with the people about their finances, with the goal of setting them up to be able to pay rent in the future.
Brown said he refused to pay rent at the shelter because he didn’t feel the support he was receiving, or the quality of the room he was placed in, were worth the money.
The apartment is outfitted with a bed, a kitchen table, an electric burner and a small fridge.
Brown’s room was packed to the brim with his items. He navigated narrow pathways between his piles of clothing and paperwork using a headlamp because he often found the overhead light to be too bright.
And even then, he could barely see where he was going.
“That’s where we’re supposed to do dishes,” Brown said, gesturing from the chair he was sitting in to the ceramic bathroom sink.
“It’s not super duper clean because I can’t see what I’m doing.”
He said he did his laundry in the bathtub, using a plunger to simulate the churn of a washing machine. On a warm, sunny day, he would do this outside in a bucket.
“The rooms are not the best, that I agree,” Ladouceur said, admitting they could use some updates, but that that requires money they don’t have. “Also we’re not the owners of the building.”
Ladouceur figured the free rent is a big factor contributing to the reluctance of some people to be relocated.
He said AutonHomme often lets people extend their stay at the motel if it is clear they cannot afford rent elsewhere.
“With the housing market what it is right now, we know what’s out there and it’s not easy. But I think we’re really lenient too. It might not seem like it in this situation, but at a certain point the client also has to take certain responsibility in his journey back onto his feet and into his own living situation.”
Ladouceur said several oral notices had been given in the months leading up to the final eviction notice, but that they were never respected.
“I can admit maybe we should have given written notices before,” he said.
“The problem is, when clients stay longer, then we don’t have any emergency rooms for anyone else. That’s why we need to relocate people.”
Few alternatives in the Pontiac
Ladouceur said part of the problem is that there are few long term low-income housing options in the Pontiac.
This means that once people are taken into the temporary rooms in the motel, there are almost no affordable housing options for them to move into afterwards.
“It is a huge hole in the services is low-income housing for a variety of clientele. We do have some in the Pontiac but it’s mostly for elderly people,” Ladouceur explained.
According to a 2021 report from the Pontiac Community Development Corporation, there is only one housing cooperative in the Pontiac, BENFRAC Housing Cooperative, which has four units for independent people.
The Kogaluk Centre also offers small houses in the Municipality of Pontiac for single people and families in need of support.
“Single people of all ages and single-parent families are those households most in need of safe and affordable housing. However, there are few options available to them,” the report states.
“There is insufficient rental housing for the low-income population, as well as for people who wish to settle in the MRC,” it concludes.
It’s a problem Ladouceur would like for his organization to take on, but he said it’s still far from being able to do so.
AutonHomme did just receive $100,000 from the MRC Pontiac to build a two-bedroom apartment for fathers that have custody of their kids and need a safe place to stay, but this is only one additional unit.
“My hope is that we can shut down because there’s no more need for it, but I don’t see that happening,” Ladouceur said.
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