A Sault Ste. Marie man says he now fears for his life every time he enters or leaves his downtown apartment due to squatters taking over the building.
Steve Masters lives in a rental unit inside 138 Gore Street, a building that at one time housed the now-defunct Neighbourhood Resource Centre.
He says that people have been squatting in two of the apartments and the basement, and a small encampment has been established underneath the staircase behind the building within the past few days.
“Literally, they’ve infested the building. There were six of them in the hallway as I was trying to get to the door today,” said Masters, speaking with SooToday Wednesday. “They’re setting up camp again — tarps are stretched out under the stairs.”
Masters says that after obtaining police escorts in and out of his apartment on Monday and Tuesday of this week, one of the squatters threatened to throw him down a flight of stairs Wednesday “and kick my ass if I came back.”
“I walked out my door the other night, and the hallway was soaking wet with urine and vomit,” said Masters, adding that he’s also found human feces in the building’s front entrance.
There have been two instances within the past month where the building was without running water due to copper piping being stripped from it.
Masters went without running water for four days at one point a couple of weeks ago before the property owners resolved the issue. He says his water stopped working again this past Monday.
“I’m hauling five-gallon jugs of water up so I can fill my toilet, so I can at least flush it and clean myself,” Masters said, adding that he hasn’t been able to do dishes or laundry in the days the building has been without water. “The only running water I have right now is the water running through the leaking roof, which I am really not expecting them to address anytime soon.”
Masters says people living at the former encampment at the corner of Gore Street and Albert Street East were driven elsewhere after it was torn down by Sault Ste. Marie Police Service July 28 — in conjunction with social services, community outreach workers, paramedics and the city’s public works department — amid growing concerns around health and public safety.
Bylaw enforcement reached out to Masters yesterday about 138 Gore Street, but he would like to see the matter resolved quickly due to concerns for his own safety.
“I feel like I’m under siege, and seeing the tarps being set up again when I left for work this morning, that just makes me sick to my stomach,” said Masters. “Why, after going through all the effort of breaking down the camp, are they letting it happen again?
“There was no follow through after they tore the camp down. I swear, their concerns for public safety and health left when those vehicles left the parking lot,” he continued. “Police have been fantastic, but they can only do so much.”
RWC Management is the residential property management company that began managing 138 Gore Street this past September.
In an email to SooToday Wednesday, RWC employee IB Fabian said the “building was invaded by drug addicts and trespasser[s]” over the summer, resulting in a plumber and a tenant being attacked in addition to other staff members.
“We have gotten the police involved several times and they clear them out, we board up the place and they come right back,” Fabian said.
RWC Management says it is “currently working with the police to be present this Friday to clear out these drug addicts, board up the place and get a plumber in there again.”
The property management company also says that it is now offering Masters unspecified compensation and a possible relocation to another property.
On Thursday, members of Sault Ste. Marie Police Service were seen speaking with individuals at the makeshift shelter under the staircase behind 138 Gore Street. SooToday has reached out to police for details.
Masters told SooToday Wednesday that he’s now at a “breaking point.”
“Perhaps when more people are aware of the situation, the city will step up and take a more active role and see the situation to its end rather than just wash their hands and walk away. I don’t know if that’s possible,” he said.
Freddie Pozzebon, chief building official for the City of Sault Ste. Marie, says the municipality is currently in the process of issuing an order to remedy violation to the property management company under the city's property standards bylaw.
"At this time, we cannot speak to the matter due to confidentially," Pozzebon informed SooToday via email Thursday. "We are pursuing the matter of no water service and other issues with the building."