Last Tuesday afternoon, the front door to 16 O’Brien stood ajar, creaking on its hinges. In the McIntyre apartment building’s front yard sat an unused baby stroller, a few scraps of lumber and some trash.
Inside, the dirty drywall is littered with graffiti and holes, some almost large enough to crawl through.
Under the stairs in the basement is a crumpled pair of filthy underwear and what appear to be human feces. At the back of the building in a corner is what looks like the remnants of a crack pipe. Next to the rear door are streaks of what appears to be blood splattered on the wall. All three have gone untouched for at least the past three weeks.
Residents in the area say late-night partying, fights, and suspected drug activity are common.
Some of the apartment doors show recent signs of being forced open. Inside, the furnishings are bare, with more gaping holes in the drywall, broken cupboards and missing appliances like baseboard heaters.
The building is owned by the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and houses six of its citizens.
When asked to explain the state of the building, KDFN refused to grant the News an interview with any of its leadership or staff. Spokeswoman Lael Lund said she could only offer a written statement approved by the chief’s office.
The First Nation would not allow any of its staff to speak on the record about why the apartment building has reached such a state of filth and disrepair. The written statement only included comments about KDFN initiatives in general.
“KDFN has recently reorganized its janitorial services for the premises and now utilizes a contractor for the apartment building’s janitorial services,” the statement reads.
That “contractor” is a resident of the building.
It goes on to say that an exterior retrofit is planned for the building, which will include more robust doors and a security system.
According to a KDFN Community Services notice posted to tenants’ doors and dated July 2013, the renovations of two neighbouring apartment buildings – at 32 and 24 O’Brien – are well underway. Sixteen O’Brien is expected to be completed by the fall.
The work will include repairing all exterior walls and siding, adding insulation to the exterior walls, replacing all windows, adding exterior lighting to the building and patching holes and paint throughout the building, according to the notice.
The notice lists KDFN Community Services project manager Greg Newton as a contact for information, but when reached by the News, Newton said he couldn’t speak to reporters about work being done at the site. Nor could he speak about the government’s broader initiatives to tackle the thorny social issues evident at places like 16 O’Brien.
But those broader initiatives do exist, the First Nation insists. It its written statement, it lays out a number of programs that it says it is working on to address the situation.
It’s no secret that many First Nation residents continue to struggle with the painful legacy of residential schools, and that those traumas are often described as the source of ongoing substance abuse and other complicated social problems.
As a result, some of the First Nation’s most difficult and vulnerable citizens – many who struggle with addictions and mental health issues – find few housing options open to them, other than what’s offered by the First Nation.
“As a government, KDFN carries a responsibility to provide services and care for all its citizens. KDFN values doing things in a way that is culturally appropriate, inclusive and that cares for and respects the whole person in our dealings with citizens,” the statement says.
As bad as the apartments may be, the First Nation has decided those living there can’t simply be kicked out onto the street. Instead, the government says it is working on a case-management system to make sure troubled citizens get the help they need.
The statement also insists that the government works closely with the RCMP to monitor illegal activity in its community, and that citizens are encouraged to come forward with information. Two Mounties work out of a satellite office in the KDFN administration building.
“Many of these things are things that you can’t see at the surface, however will have a tremendous impact and positive shift to addressing some of the issues and conditions that are evident and visible within our First Nation,” the statement says.
Back inside 16 O’Brien, however, scrawled on a wall of the third-floor staircase, is a different message.
“If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, or hear it with your own ears, don’t create it with your small mind and share it with your big mouth.”
Contact Jesse Winter at