EXCLUSIVE: Convicted group home owner moves operations to Oshawa

A man at the centre of a months-long CityNews investigation into illegal group homes in Toronto is being investigated again, this time in Oshawa. Cynthia Mulligan with the concerns vulnerable residents are living in deplorable conditions.

By Cynthia Mulligan and Dilshad Burman

The man at the centre of an in-depth CityNews investigation into illegal group homes is now accused of moving his operations to Oshawa.

Authorities in Oshawa believe Winston Manning is in breach of probation and say more charges are pending, adding that vulnerable people have been put in danger.

In 2016, Manning was a key figure in an Ontario Provincial Police probe into illegal group homes. The investigation found that people with physical and mental health issues were living in deplorable conditions: mattresses on the floor, inadequate food, mouse feces and the smell of urine in the homes.

The findings were corroborated by a former tenant at the time, who was identified only as Dave.

“[It was] filthy. Turn on a light in the middle of the night and you could see the cockroaches moving, almost like a carpet. There were thousands of them,” he told CityNews.

Just 11 months ago, Manning plead guilty to to multiple fire code violations in relation to several illegal group homes in Toronto. He and his company, Comfort Residential Group Homes, were fined more than $80,000, put on probation and ordered not to operate any illegal homes.

Shortly after, Manning was charged again after a fire broke out at an illegal rooming house in the Victoria Park area in November 2018. Fire officials believe it was around the same time he started operating in Oshawa.

On Tuesday, authorities removed nine tenants from a residence in Oshawa — the fourth illegal home operated by Manning in that city. Three staff members were also in the home.

Carson Ryan, Fire Prevention Inspector with Oshawa Fire, says fire safety is one of the main issues in the home.

“We’ve had problems with fire separation issues, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms — which are all required in any home. And there is a higher requirement in vulnerable occupancy care in these homes, for them to be compliant,” he tells CityNews

“What’s concerning the most is a large number of residents there don’t know where they are, how they got there, how long they’ve been there or how to contact anybody,” he adds. “They lose all their documentation coming into the house, they lose their cellphones, their medications are dispensed for them, allegedly, and they don’t have anybody to turn to.”

Oshawa fire officials say the house is in violation of the fire code and vulnerable residents, who Carson says have both physical and cognitive limitations, would not be able to get out safely in an emergency.

“Not only are [illegal group homes] a danger to the people within, they are a danger to first responders going into the homes, not expecting typically 12 people inside of a single detached dwelling. It’s also an issue for neighbours for fire exposures,” says Carson.

The residents are allegedly being cared for, but Carson says from what he’s seen, he doubts they are receiving the level of care they need. He describes an upsetting scene the very first time he stepped into the home.

“The first time I walked into this home there was an adult male wearing a soiled diaper, wearing only a t-shirt, wandering around the house trying to find his way and how he got there. He was brought there the night before. A lot of questions that he asked, I unfortunately didn’t have an answer for. He did look like he was in a bit of a desperate situation,” he says.

Officials are also concerned that residents, who pay about $1,000 per month to share a bedroom, aren’t being fed properly. Carson says he’s never seen any nutritious food in the home, only instant pasta and noodles. A resident who lives nearby told Citynews a woman from the home would often knock on neighbours’ doors, asking for food and cigarettes.

The condition of the home is described as relatively clean, except for the smell of urine and feces throughout the home.

CityNews reached out to Manning several times via phone but did not get a response.

Carson says charges are pending in one of the other three cases of illegal group homes run by Manning in Oshawa – including enforcement of the probation orders obtained by Toronto Fire.

Officials in Toronto do not believe Manning is currently operating any illegal group homes within the city.

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