River Place owner, advocate for the homeless look at next steps as tenants face eviction

The City of Windsor posted an 'unsafe building' notice to the front of River Place residence Thursday. A day later, work was done to restore running water. (Sanjay Maru/CBC - image credit)
The City of Windsor posted an 'unsafe building' notice to the front of River Place residence Thursday. A day later, work was done to restore running water. (Sanjay Maru/CBC - image credit)

An advocate for people experiencing homelessness says she's among volunteers who will try to secure accommodations over the next month for former residents of a Windsor tent city who are living at River Place Residence, where work is underway to address safety concerns.

Lisa Valente spoke after the southwestern Ontario city's building department posted an "unsafe building" notice Thursday to the front door of River Place, which houses about 25 people from the ravine encampment and others.

The notice demanded that functional fire alarms and running water be restored in the building. Tenants and advocates told CBC News that water is back on, and the owner says fire alarms will be replaced this weekend.

Now, the focus shifts to what's next for people at River Place. Two weeks ago, they were issued N13 notices, which give them 120 days before they can be legally evicted for demolition purposes.

"We are going to go down there over the next week and see who we can reach as far as trying to see what their situation is," said Valente.

"Some people can be housed easily and some may need other support systems."

Sanjay Maru/CBC
Sanjay Maru/CBC

According to building owner Yelong Li, vandalism has been an issue since his group took ownership at the start of this year. That was shortly after volunteers paired with tent city residents to move them into River Place, which had been under previous ownership.

"There were things already happening before we took over," said Li. "But I was only aware of the problems a couple months later when they suspended our garbage collection because of needles in the garbage."

The vandalism worsened following a sudden influx of visitors entering the building over the past year, Li said, giving him no choice but to ask everyone to leave.

Sanjay Maru/CBC
Sanjay Maru/CBC

"My only concern is not even if our business can be sustainable. It's not even that anymore," said Li. "My goal is just to peacefully having everybody safely out of the building at the end of the 120 days."

Li said that over the past year, he's spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to address vandalism, such as security cameras being ripped out and the coin slides of washing machines being stolen.

Li also learned a gas line in the building had been tampered with, he said.

Sanjay Maru/CBC
Sanjay Maru/CBC

"They could hurt anyone if it exploded," said Li. "What if no one was in that room? If those people were smoking in and out, they could easily set the place on fire and explode it."

Valente said she and other volunteers would like to speak with the owner directly to discuss ways to tackle ongoing issues at River Place.

"I can't promise the world, of course," said Valente. "We will have to sit at a roundtable or a quick Zoom call, and let's see how many volunteers we have and who we have in place, because when they did have two [volunteers] actually residing there, these things weren't happening to this extreme."

Sanjay Maru/CBC
Sanjay Maru/CBC

Li told CBC News he's concerned about bringing security and maintenance staff into the building out of fear they may be assaulted — and bringing 24/7 security costs way too much, as more repairs would need to be continuously fixed.

But Valente said that may have to do with the "stigma" associated with people experiencing homelessness.

We have to make sure those [violations] are not happening again — but I don't have any confidence. - Yelong Li, an owner of River Place residence

"What about a security guard in the evening just to oversee? When you're talking about cost efficiency, it's probably costing a lot more money fixing the place up than it would have been to just have a security guard standing around."

Despite River Place's tenants having 120 days to line up alternate housing accommodations, Valente said her goal is to have all former tent city residents relocated by the next 60 days.

Meanwhile, Li said, he plans to ensure the residence continues to comply with all building and fire codes until the 120-day period elapses.

"We have to make sure those [violations] are not happening again — but I don't have any confidence."

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