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‘He died without dignity’: Man’s death exposes horrors of illegal group homes

Last Updated Oct 30, 2018 at 12:29 pm EDT

Seventy-year-old Esa Lehmusjurri died alone as he tried to escape his illegal group home last year.

His family was told he had been locked in the Scarborough house on a Saturday morning and wasn’t allowed to leave to meet a friend who was picking him up for a visit.

The front door was locked. Lehmusjurri managed to get out the back door, but the gate was also locked.

Lehmusjurri fell while trying to climb over the fence. He had a fractured vertebrae and ribs, but the coroner concluded he had died of heart disease.

It was more than 24 hours before his body was found in the neighbour’s yard.

A view of the backyard at the illegal group home in Scarborough where Esa Lehmusjurri died in August 2016. HANDOUT
A view of the backyard at the illegal group home in Scarborough where Esa Lehmusjurri died in August 2016. HANDOUT

The story of how and why Lehmusjurri was in the illegal group home illustrates a gap in the provincial health care system that leaves the most vulnerable in horrifying living conditions while the government has seemingly turned a blind eye to the problem.

More than a year later, Lehmusjurri’s daughter Anne-Marie Pollock is still trying to get answers.

“No one should die that way,” she said. “He died without dignity or grace or care or love, on the other side of a fence of a home that was supposed to be caring for him … Nobody found him for over 24 hours — over 24 hours.”

In happier times, Lehmusjurri was married, had two children and owned his own construction business. His daughter said he loved to make people laugh.

Then, alcohol consumed his life and he lost everything. The coroner’s report found there was no alcohol in his system when he died.

Living in illegal group homes

Most residents in illegal group homes are elderly or have mental and physical health issues.

What is disturbing to advocates is Lehmusjurri was apparently locked in the home. That is illegal.

“It’s illegal to confine anyone who is not in any immediate danger,” said Jane Meadus, lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.

“You can stop someone, for example, from running across the street if they’re going to be hit by a car, but you cannot confine a person.

“This is a problem in many kinds of homes, including retirement homes, where people are being illegally detained without any allowance in the law.”

Lehmusjurri had been living in a men’s shelter at Kingston and Birchmount roads for 10 years, but when the nurse who worked there was relocated to another shelter, he was told he had to move.

The problem is there was nowhere for him to go.

Pollock said Lehmusjurri had been put on wait lists for long-term care homes. While he waited, however, city staff at the shelter recommended he move to the illegal group home on Middleport Crescent, near Morningside and Finch avenues in Scarborough.

He had only been living there six weeks when he died.

When Pollock went to pick up her father’s belongings, she was shocked by his living conditions. She took photos showing his bed in the basement, covered in mouse droppings which were mixed in with his medication.

“He had to have medication for his heart and other meds,” she said. “They were supposed to administer this on a daily basis.

“As far as I know, they weren’t, because we found medication all through his room, in his pocket — loose pills that were never taken which could maybe have saved his life.

“It was horrifying. Me and my brother, it was so upsetting, we were crying … We saw mess and dirt and mouse feces and food. And the people there were not clean. They were not well cared for.”

The residence where Lehmusjurri died was listed in an OPP investigation into illegal group homes this year. The report called the homes a “systemic” problem and a direct result of the housing shortage in the GTA.

It also cited “unsafe” conditions: mouse droppings, the odour of urine and feces, inadequate food, and medications not properly stored. No charges were laid because the OPP concluded there was nowhere else for residents to go other than a shelter or the streets.

Even though Lehmusjurri only lived in the group home for six weeks, his bills were costly.

During the month of March 2016, he paid $3,940 to the home. His provincial guardian, who was in control of his finances, approved the fee.

Despite repeated inquiries to the provincial guardian, his daughter still doesn’t know why he was charged so much when his living conditions were so poor.

As for the home, it is still open — and now legal. Just four months after Lehmusjurri died, in August 2016, it was licensed as a retirement home under the name “A Better Way.”

An inspection last August found bedroom doors at the home were double locked, sparking concerns residents were being confined to their rooms. The fire department ordered them removed.

A man who identified himself as a volunteer said nine people lived in the home. From the front entrance, it appeared clean on the inside. There were double locks on the front door.

Last week, city staff who work with the homeless changed their policy. They will no longer recommend group homes that are not in good standing with the province and the city.

The home’s manager hasn’t responded to numerous requests for comment.