If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that Ron Cook is no longer renting an apartment at Warmland House.
But beyond that, staff at Warmland and Cook, 82, and his supporters, including his daughter Shawna Duncan, agree on little after Cook walked away from a confrontation with staff on June 27 and had to spend a night outdoors in a park.
Cook, a life-long seaman, had been living on his boat in Cowichan Bay for years before he had to have surgery in March to deal with a very serious hernia.
After the surgery and upon his release from hospital, his surgeon said he couldn’t return to his boat for some time until his body had been given time to heal.
He rented an apartment at Warmland House, which is run by the Cowichan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, that fit his needs and had been content living and recuperating there ever since until last week.
That’s when he accidentally left the tap on in his sink, for the second time since he stay at Warmland began, which overflowed and apparently caused some damage.
It’s at this point that the stories on both sides of the issue begin to diverge.
Cook said two staff members, who he had liked and gotten along with until this point, arrived at his apartment door shortly after he left the tap on and told him he was dangerous and had to leave the apartment, and allowed him no time to collect his personal belongings.
“They said I could stay in the shelter, but I’m a paying tenant and I have rights and I refused to sleep on the floor with a room full of homeless people,” he said.
“I had never in my life been treated in such a disrespectful manner and I just walked away with nothing but the clothes on my back and my cell phone, without its charger.”
Cook said he called Cheryl Linton, a woman he had met at the hospital, and she picked him up and brought him to a park in Chemainus, where she arranged with the park’s keeper to allow Cook to spend the night sleeping on the ground on an air mattress.
“The next day, I had a call…to attend a meeting at 10 a.m. at Warmland to discuss the issue,” Cook said.
“I hitchhiked from Chemainus to make the meeting, that was held with [three managers], where I was treated like a criminal and told I was dangerous and had to leave and I just walked away. I said I had to get my stuff from my apartment, but they had changed the key and I couldn’t get back in. I spent that night on a friend’s boat.”
Lise Haddock, Warmland’s executive director, took exception to Cook’s account of what happened.
She said that due to the damage caused by the water from the sink, Cook’s apartment was not available for him to reside in for health and safety reasons, and two of the shelter staff that were on that evening offered him alternate accommodation in the bunkhouse at Warmland, and suggested to Cook that they help gather his belongings.
“Ron was not evicted, he was asked to vacate his apartment until the extent of the damage could be assessed, and the damage to the unit could be addressed,” Haddock said.
“An alternate interim placement was offered to him. This entire situation is so unfortunate. I sincerely hope that his daughter and his friends are able to provide him with the support an 82 year-old gentleman has the right to and deserves. We wish him only the best, and hope that he is able to find supportive housing.”
Haddock said Cook and his daughter have been advised that a formal review of the situation and circumstances by Warmland began on June 28.
But Cook’s daughter Shawna Duncan, who lives in Vancouver and was not made aware of the situation until June 30, said that’s not good enough, and she’s been in contact with the local MLAs, MP and other agencies in an effort to have an external review of the situation conducted.
Duncan said Warmland’s treatment of her father was cruel, cold hearted, unethical and dangerous to his health and safety, and she is now also concerned about the other tenants there.
She said Haddock’s assertion that her father needs supportive housing is nonsense.
“My father is a clean and quiet senior citizen, and is not an alcoholic or drug addict,” Duncan said.
“He is a very durable guy who just needed a place to recover after his surgery. He accidentally left the water on in the apartment and had to spend the hottest night of the year sleeping in a park. My dad always paid his rent on time and was happy at Warmland until this happened. I want something done. My dad and his friends were able to retrieve his belongings from his apartment on June 30 and they reported there was no major water damage as described by Warmland, just two holes cut in the floor and we wonder what’s really going on.”
On the province’s website dealing with tenant/landlord issues, it states that landlords must give proper notice to tenants if they plan to end a tenancy, and the notice period for ending a tenancy for demolition, renovation or repair is four months.