On May 31, a public discussion was convened by the Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) and the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities (MLPD). The community dialogue — a step in the right direction to raise awareness — focused on the new changes to Manitoba Housing, still in the pilot phase.
Mel Graham, Chair of the MLPD Housing Committee, said he knew a gentleman and his wife who used a wheelchair and oxygen, and who also smoked. She lit a cigarette and somehow it fell into her oxygen and the man not only lost his home but his wife as well. Could this have been prevented if the housing unit was designated non-smoking?
Graham also told the story of two roommates he knows, both visually impaired, one a smoker, the other a non-smoker who was sensitive to smoke. The one who smoked had mental health disabilities and was a survivor of abuse. Is it right to take away a resource (i.e., cigarettes) that he uses to cope in order to accommodate his roommate’s smoke allergy.
It’s a tricky balance between people with allergies and those who use cigarettes to cope with difficulties, especially if the ventilation system is not working. The problem is compounded further by how difficult it is to quit smoking.
Marlaine Myk, a Policy Analyst from Manitoba Housing & Community Development presented at this event along with Helen Ramsay, a Senior Policy Analyst from the same department.
Myk explained, “The MLPD Housing Committee felt that having a forum about Manitoba Housing’s Non-Smoking policy and pilot would create a platform for members of the disability community and disability organizations to provide feedback on the policy and pilot from a disability perspective. The Committee also felt it would be a good opportunity for community members to share their ideas and personal experiences on how second-hand smoke can have an impact on one’s well-being.”
Myk conducted research for Manitoba Housing which began exploring healthier options for tenants after seeing an experiment in Waterloo, Ontario, started in 2011, where entire non-smoking public housing buildings were created. Manitoba Housing surveyed tenants to see their preferences and the majority requested there be non-smoking units.
“Manitoba Housing’s new policy is not about tolerance, segregation, taking sides or losing rights,” Myk said. “It is committed to the health and well-being of tenants, staff and visitors and to promoting healthy living and working options for tenants, staff and visitors.”
Manitoba Housing selected eleven of their buildings in and outside Winnipeg to be a part of this pilot project. “This test phase will go one year.” said Myk. Some buildings that have made renovations have already started.
According to Will Cooke, Tobacco Reduction Coordinator with the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance (MANTRA), six weeks of quit smoking replacement therapies will be offered to tenants who smoke.
People who have lived in the units prior to the new policy will be grandfathered, so they will still be allowed to smoke. New tenants who smoke are not prohibited from living in buildings that follow the non-smoking policy, but will only be able to smoke in the designated outdoor smoking area.
On buildings being renovated, Myk continued, “These buildings do not have any tenants living in them while the renovations are being completed. Tenants are informed at the time of re-tenanting that the building is now a non-smoking building and they can choose to decline a suite and wait for a smoking unit if they wish.”
The MLPD Housing Committee recognizes that the non-smoking policy and pilot is focused on providing people choices as to where they want to live. They hope that the policy and pilot continue to move forward. On the application, tenants will have the option to apply for a transfer to a new unit – that goes for both smokers and non-smokers.
Tenants of Manitoba Housing who are in supported living units already cannot smoke in their suite. They must go outside to the designated area to smoke.
Helen Ramsay, a Senior Policy Analyst, explained, “Eviction is only a last resourt but be warned if you are caught smoking and given three warnings, you may have to find a new place. That also goes if your guests smoke in your suite. Tenants who are bothered by smoke can take their concerns to the landlord.”
According to Ramsay, it costs around $600 to renovate a suite that was occupied by a tenant who smoked, in order to clean it before a new tenant moves in.
Policies such as non-smoking policies are closely monitored and follow the guidelines of the Residential Tenancies branch.
According to Manitoba Housing research, decades of non-smoking campaigning has contributed to the average smoking rate going down over the past 15 years.
A big thank you from community residents goes to Mel Graham and the MLPD Housing Committee for all their hard work. Residents sincerely thank the ILRC for their generousity and hospitality in hosting this public forum.
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