Time to act on Adanac: NDP
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New Democrats are calling for government intervention in a troubled Winnipeg apartment block that was the scene of two recent homicides.
“The Adanac used to be a decent building that families called home,” NDP municipal relations critic Lisa Naylor said in question period Tuesday. “But now it’s an illegal dumping ground full of garbage (and) there’s multiple bylaw infractions leading to fires, property crime, drug and sex trafficking.”
Naylor described the three-storey apartment block at 743 Sargent Ave. as a “health and safety hazard for residents and neighbours” and called on the government to intervene.
The West End building has been the source of numerous complaints and public health violations. It was also the site of two slayings in the past year. Last April, Winnipeg police officers found 26-year-old Ira Hayes Disbrowe dead of gunshot wounds in the building. A 43-year-old woman was charged with second-degree murder.
This year, emergency responders found a homicide victim in the apartment block. Star Alicia Thomas, 23, had serious injuries following a fire in a suite on Jan. 3. She was taken to hospital in critical condition and later died. A 26-year-old man has been charged with second-degree murder.
Cindy Gilroy, the area’s city councillor, said the property is one of several problem buildings in the neighbourhood, which include two other apartment blocks in which people were slain last year.
Heather Beardy, 26, was found dead inside 485 Furby St. in February 2022, and Daniel Michael George Cook, 29, was shot and killed at 583 Furby St. in November.
A review of tax documents at city hall showed all the properties, including Adanac, are registered to numbered companies. Further checks with the provincial companies database reveal that one man, Patrick Penner, is a shareholder in all of the properties.
Penner is linked to several businesses, including Harpenn Construction Ltd., K & P Properties Inc. and the Living Recovery Foundation of Winnipeg. The latter is a low-barrier rental organization aimed at helping vulnerable people secure housing.
Requests for comment from Karin Harper Penner, the foundation’s director, were not returned Tuesday.
Last week, NDP MLA Malaya Marcelino flagged concerns with the Adanac building to the government, saying tenants come directly from encampments and don’t receive adequate support services.
Government service workers, including home care providers and social workers, will not enter the building, Marcelino said.
Units are unsecured, running water and heat is not always available, windows and doors are broken, and people live in stairwells, she said.
St. Boniface Street Links director Marion Willis said the city and province have a responsibility to help people like the Penners, who are not social workers, but provide housing where others are unwilling.
“If not for the Penners, there would be hundreds of people still living outside,” she said. “This constant criticism is unfair. We want the most difficult people to be housed, but demonize the property owners who’ve been willing to house them?”
She called on the various levels of government to provide additional funding for social organizations.
If properly resourced, organizations such as Street Links could place permanent offices within low-income buildings, which would reduce the strain on private property owners, encourage affordable housing developments and improve outcomes for tenants with addictions and mental health barriers, she said.
Without social work experts on hand, private owners are not capable of handling the myriad challenges of low-income housing, Gilroy said.
“Support workers need to be in there working every single day and night to make sure those places run smoothly. We’ve had multiple deaths in those buildings, fires in those buildings; life and safety issues.”
Gilroy would like to see the province introduce licensing standards for developments that are marketed to vulnerable people. Last month, she and Mayor Scott Gillingham brought forward a motion to request provincial support to manage building neglect and safety concerns at private rentals. The motion calls for the province and city to track private apartments where tenants require social and mental health supports.
“We need to ensure the health and safety standards are met, similar to a seniors care home,” she said.
The executive policy committee, commonly called the mayor’s cabinet, will hear the motion April 18.
In respect to the Adanac site, Naylor said the province must address public health and safety concerns at the property. She called on the Tory government to act on Gilroy and Gillingham’s motion.
“Will the minister step up and answer the mayor of Winnipeg’s call for help in responding to the housing crisis at the Adanac and other buildings where vulnerable people are housed in this city?” Naylor said.
Families Minister Rochelle Squires said her government is serious about providing safe and affordable housing. It has earmarked $126 million for its homelessness strategy, which includes mental health supports.
Neither Squires nor Municipal Relations Minister Andrew Smith responded to a request for comment about the City of Winnipeg proposal.
Instead, a statement from an unnamed government spokesperson was provided. It said people who are concerned about safety should contact Manitoba Justice’s public safety investigations unit for help dealing with criminal activity.
— with files from Erik Pindera
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.