Hotel once known as Northwoods Inn to be shuttered by Saskatoon Fire Department
SASKATOON -- This story has been updated to include a response from the inn's owner John Pontes, reaction from a resident who is being forced to leave and interviews with community leaders.
The former Northwoods Inn, now called City Centre Inn and Suites, will likely be forced to at least partially close — or be totally shut down — because of unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.
Officials are evacuating roughly 150 residents, including three children, from the hotel located at 610 Idylwyld Drive and placing them in safe accommodations after the discovery of several hazards.
The Saskatoon Fire Department is expected to issue an order to close all or a portion of the hotel, formerly known as the Northwoods Inn and Suites, because of unsafe and unsanitary living conditions. The notice would be in effect by 3 p.m. Thursday.
“On July 20 I viewed some of the concerns myself. We have imminent concerns and imminent hazards with fire, life and health safety. The living conditions are deplorable,” Saskatoon Fire Chief Morgan Hackl said on Wednesday.
Inspectors dressed in protective hazmat suits could be seen entering a suite at the inn Wednesday morning.
Photos taken on Monday show a bathroom in a second-floor suite with sewage on the floor.
“Nobody should be living in these conditions and it’s extremely concerning to me because I believe most of these people are First Nations people and in general it’s about people. It should be about safety, affordable housing, quality of life and when you see these types of situations arising. It’s not acceptable,” Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said
According to Saskatoon Fire Department the most recent visit revealed issues such as:
- Unsafe and unsanitary conditions
- Locked exit doors
- Stairs at risk of collapse
- Combustible material too close to buildings
- Inaccessible fire extinguishers
- Too few and uninspected extinguishers
- Improper smoke alarm records
- Failure to maintain fire alarm systems
The owner has been ordered to remedy 34 deficiencies under the Property Maintenance and Nuisance Abatement Bylaw and 27 deficiencies under the National Fire Code of Canada.
Residents will be housed in a combination of hotels, shelters or housing units in the short-term with the goal to place these residents in long-term housing, according the city.
Until residents can be relocated, a private security firm will be on fire watch duty.
'Magnet' for issues
Over the years the inn has also been the scene of several crimes.
Roman Todos, who is president of the Caswell Hill Community Association, calls the hotel an "ongoing problem."
“It seems to be a magnet for ongoing issues and it filters out to the greater neighbourhood. The individuals living there seem to be being used and if you look at the crime statistics it’s been a problem area, many people here have a big concern," Todos said.
"Police are there constantly at least once a week.”
Todos believes Saskatoon needs more affordable housing units to address the issue.
“There is a lot of abandoned houses. We have to start looking at changing the system,” said Todos.
'Some steps' to fix problems
On Wednesday afternoon, Chief Hackl said the owner of the hotel said some progress had be made in addressing the issues raised by his deparment.
"There has been some steps by the current owner to remediate the fire safety issues. Some of the smoke alarms have now been made operable. Four fire inspectors is currently reassessing every suite at that property," Hackl said.
"Our decision will be made (Wednesday) that we will be putting in place at least a partial closure but the possibility still exists we will completely close the motel."
Many tenants without a home
Debbie Baptiste moved into City Centre Inn and Suites last week. She paid about $600 to stay until the end of the month. She now has to move out by Thursday at 3 p.m.
“I just gave the last of my money and we’re supposed to be out of here by tomorrow. I don’t know what to do. My trailer burnt down two years ago and Red Pheasant chief and council said they would provide me with a home and that hasn’t happened so now I am in Saskatoon looking for a place to live.”
Baptiste said she will reach out to the Saskatoon Tribal Council for help.
“I hope (the officials) do the right thing and put everybody in a safe place and if not then give us back our money.”
Owner says city and fire department targeting him
John Pontes, the owner of City Centre Inn and Suites, says the whole ordeal has left him sick, upset and confused. He said inspectors have been looking hard for any reason to shut down his business.
“I don’t think this is right. At my age, I’m 77-years-old, I don’t feel good about this at all. (The inspectors) have the power to do whatever they want, when they want, the time they want and if it’s sunny or rainy they choose what day,” said Pontes.
He says work is being done to make the building safer and get rid of the pest infestations. He has told inspectors numerous times he needs more time to meet the building requirements.
“I’m waiting for inspectors, I am waiting for contractors. My tenants have been taking the smoke detectors but we started to replace them and we have been going room by room. We will clean the rooms. We will fix the windows. Whatever needs to be repaired will get fixed but right now with the COVID-19, it’s hard and it’s hard to find good, quality labour.”
The owner also believes the city and the fire department are discriminating against him and the people he serves.
“I am worried about the people here. Where are you going to put them? On the street? This is very discriminatory. Indigenous people are always being discriminated against by everybody. The country I came from has never done such a thing. I will get a hold of a lawyer,” said Pontes.
--With files from Jonathan Charton