Tenants using mobility devices are stranded by an elevator failure in a downtown building

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Laura Smallwood has been told that if she wants access to her home this week she should call the fire department and ask them to carry her – and her 136kg wheelchair – up several flights of stairs to her flat.

Residents at 145 Clarence St. say both of the building’s elevators have not worked for a week, leaving more than a dozen people using mobility equipment stranded. The nonprofit that owns the building has warned they will likely have to wait another week before repairs are made.

“It makes me pretty homeless,” Smallwood said, waiting outside on the sidewalk while her mother went upstairs to get some food and other supplies.

The couple had just returned from vacation and Smallwood said while they were away her brother tried to find answers about how to get to the apartment when she returned.

That’s when firefighters were first proposed by Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), which manages the building, she said.

“[With] the likelihood that my wheelchair…or I will fall off the stairs is not a viable option,” Smallwood said.

CCOC said no staff were available for an interview on Friday and did not directly respond to questions emailed by CBC. The company has released its latest update to renters.

A notice warns tenants at 145 Clarence Street that both elevators in the building are not operating. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Building owner says failure of parts is ‘unusual’

This update notes a “component failure” affecting both elevators, noting that the cabins are “regularly serviced” and calling the failure “very unusual”.

It is added that the defective component can only be obtained from a specific supplier.

“Although we are pressuring the supplier very hard, the component probably won’t be here until next week,” it says, adding that the company that makes the part understands the urgency of the situation.

But Smallwood said the failure of two elevators was just the latest of many mishaps that have seen at least one of the elevators not work for hours.

She called the problem “highly preventable” and called for the problematic elevators to be replaced.

A man in a wheelchair sits in front of a bookshelf.
Gerry Ward said the elevator failure at 145 Clarence Street left him stuck at his flat and relying on a friend to bring him food. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Previous problems left the renter stuck for hours

While Smallwood is stuck outside the building, Gerry Ward is trapped inside.

“For me personally, it drives me insane,” he said.

Summer days are precious because he’s mostly stuck indoors during winter, he said.

“I just don’t want to see a snowflake if [the elevator] is working.”

With no way to get downstairs, Ward can’t explore the town and had to go to a friend who lives in another building to get him food.

He agrees with Smallwood that the elevators were “an accident waiting to happen,” and described situations where people residing at 145 Clarence who use wheelchairs were forced to sleep seated in the lobby.

“I’ve often been stuck downstairs for, I don’t know, hours,” Ward said.

“The last time the engine failed like that, it took eight months. So in the back of my mind I just don’t know if I can trust them.”

A man using a wheelchair looks out over downtown Ottawa from a balcony of an apartment.
Gerry Ward says he’s stuck in his apartment for most of the winter, making the summer months a crucial time to explore and enjoy the city. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

CCOC’s website states that it is a not-for-profit housing organization that works to create and maintain housing for people on low and middle incomes.

The update says it keeps a list of people who need help and that staff have reached out to them. CCOC also mentions a partnership with VHA Home HealthCare, which offers 24/7 support that it says assists “a significant number of renters with mobility issues.”

Smallwood said she will be staying in her mother’s apartment for a week, which will require removing the bedroom and bathroom doors to accommodate her wheelchair.

While grateful for a place to stay, there is no roll in shower.

“It really makes people a lot more vulnerable in a situation that they shouldn’t have, that’s in their homes,” she said.

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