CBC News Hi-lights Accessibility Barriers to Housing for People With MCS/ES

Severe sensitivity to household chemicals leaves GTA man
homeless for the holidays

Environmental sensitivities have forced Oliver Zhang to move 70 times in 3 years

I hope that someone can offer or help create a safe place for Oliver Zhang to live.

I also hope that something is done soon to ensure safe, affordable, accessible,  non-toxic, mold-free, housing is available for all  the other people who have  MCS/ES (a condition, not disorder) who need safe and accessible housing.

Since finding a safe place to rest one’s head and body is so challenging, even in the best of current circumstances, Oliver Zhang should not be forced to leave the shelter where he is currently residing if it is physically safe enough for him to be there.  He is in crisis.

Forcing people onto the streets creates preventable trauma and mental health problems in addition to the serious challenges that already exist when trying to survive with MCS/ES in a society full of systemic accessibility barriers.

I know of many people who have had to move numerous (even countless) times  in their quest to find housing that doesn’t hurt and disable them. I hear from too many who are in crisis,  seeking accessible housing. I know people who no longer have the energy to keep looking for a needle in a haystack, because each toxic haystack leaves them more and more incapacitated. I know people with MCS/ES who are sleeping in cars and tents, and I have also known more than a few people who weren’t able to find safe housing and are no longer with us.

This is a preventable crisis.

Oliver Zhang and all the other people who are homeless due to the lack of accessible housing for people with MCS/ES, have been put into this position due to systemic neglect (if not deliberate discrimination) and bad policies, not through any fault of their own.

The City of Toronto has known about the critical need for accessible housing for people with MCS/ES since at least 2007, and most likely long before.

In 2008:

“The City of Toronto has launched a consultation process on the development of the City’s ten-year affordable housing plan, known as Housing Opportunities Toronto (“HOT”); and

The City is interested in receiving public input including input from vulnerable populations who experience housing challenges and who are often under-represented in public consultations including the Aboriginal community, immigrants, women, victims of domestic violence, persons with disabilities, youth, seniors, people with mental health issues and homeless individuals; ”

With great difficulty, I prepared and submitted a proposal on MCS and Housing. So did at least 3 other people that I am aware of. That was 10 1/2  years ago now.

Our papers and a presentation also mentioned the lack of accessible emergency shelters, and what would be needed to make shelters and housing accessible.

What has changed since then?

Aside from CERA creating phamplets and guides, which remind people of the law as well as solutions, not much has changed. People who have more than mild to moderate MCS/ES are still unable to find safe, accessible housing in Toronto, or  elsewhere in this province.

The wonderful community (not colony) that is planned in Quebec is still far from being built, and years ago already had a wait list that was over three times greater than the amount of units being built.

To go there, people would also have to give up proximity to friends and family, which leaves them without the regular social supports everyone else takes for granted. Who else is asked to do this in order to live somewhere they can survive? Refugees? Yes. We are environmental refugees in our own countries.

Granted, having a place to live where it doesn’t feel like you are being assaulted on a daily basis is a precious thing, but so is being able to see friends and family (if you still have them) without someone having to drive for hours to do so.

Environmental sensitivities are recognized as a disability by both the Ontario and Canadian Human Rights Codes. Yet we face systemic accessibility barriers everywhere in society, and safe, accessible  housing is critical in maintaining some quality of life,  most especially as a place to escape the assaults, and to recover from the damage that exposures cause. It’s  basic health care!

The word ‘sensitivities’ has trivialized the  disabling and possibly life threatening effects caused by exposures, which are also unpredictable in duration or severity.

Safer, less-toxic housing that is further from immediate neighbours (who do not live a non-toxic lifestyle), but that could, with some work, provide an environment that reduces harm, is currently expensive, and not only that, portable subsidies aren’t available here to make less toxic pre-existing housing  more affordable, even though accessible housing is our primary medical need.

It’s totally possible to create non-toxic  housing and policies that protect people with MCS/ES and allow us to thrive, but it’s not being done.

Building more than one unit at a time reduces costs significantly, and developers get far bigger discounts on materials than any single person building a home would.


The problem is that the political will does not exist.


Housing as a Medical Necessity
The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA)


“These people need safe housing. It is medically necessary. However, there are very few affordable homes in Canada that have been designed specifically for people with environmental sensitivities.

Safe Housing Ottawa has been struggling for a number of years to build an environmentally safe housing development, but they’re not there yet.

And I don’t know of any public funds that will assist these folks to make or retrofit a home so that they can live healthy, full lives.

Governments at all levels need to recognize this glaring failure of housing, social and health policy – and fix it!”


That was written by in 2010. We’re still waiting.

The Safe Housing Ottawa project failed to get approved, and was also not suitable for people with more than mild or medium chemical sensitivities.

We  have no control over what neighbours do or use, indoors or outdoors, and in tightly spaced neighbourhoods or multi-unit housing, this can have severely disabling and life altering consequences.

While many symptoms are immediate (or close to it), sometimes it’s not evident until we’ve been somewhere for a few hours, or even overnight, that there’s something  that we can’t live with.

Things like wind changes and time of day can create different conditions inside. Delayed physical and cognitive reactions are common for people with MCS/ES. And it’s almost unheard of to be allowed to spend a night in a place before renting or buying it, yet this is what is needed to ensure a place is livable.

Recovery, or even the ability to properly care for ourselves (since recovery is not inevitable),  is not possible without access to safe, non-toxic housing and other supports that most people take for granted.

Even if someone becomes one of the lucky ones who does experience significant recovery, which is rare for people with severe MCS/ES, lifelong avoidance of many exposures (which often occur without advance warning) will still be prudent in order to prevent another collapse. Each collapse can cause more damage and be harder to recover from, especially without access to things like filtered air and water, organic foods, non-toxic clothing and furnishings, and certain kinds of targeted, alternative (for now) treatments.


Safe housing is essential for people with MCS/ES.


Isn’t it time for something to be done?



Severe sensitivity to household chemicals leaves GTA man
homeless for the holidays

Link to full story:




When safe and accessible housing is available, and the earlier the better, people with MCS/ES can remain (or return to being) productive members of society, even if in somewhat more creative ways (since many other accessibility barriers still remain).

Until that happens, who is up to financing and developing affordable, accessible housing for people with MCS/ES?

The need is significant and growing.

Since safe housing is a medical need (that taking drugs does not address, because the  meds are made of many of the same things we need to avoid, and avoidance is the best remedy),  the funding should rightfully be considered as health care funding, much like it is for cancer and other medical treatments.

Accessible housing is also a human rights issue.



The Code protects people from discrimination and harassment because of past, present and perceived disabilities. “Disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions, some visible and some not visible. A disability may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time.
There are physical, mental and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities, epilepsy, mental health disabilities and addictions, environmental sensitivities, and other conditions.

Relevant policies:

Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability (2016)

“inconvenience, morale, and preferences are not valid considerations in assessing whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship”.

Policy on environmental sensitivities
(Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2014)



There were over a million Canadians with doctor diagnosed MCS (according to StatsCan’s CCHS in 2016), and many more around the world.


Four old (early 90s) research studies from the  CMHC:
(I’m not sure if any of these are still available online anywhere)


A Survey of Problem Homes of the Environmentally Hypersensitive

Housing for the Environmentally Hypersensitive: A Survey and Examples of Clean-air Housing in Canada

Survey of the Medical Impact on Environmentally Hypersensitive People of a Change in Habitat

Housing Needs of the Environmentally Hypersensitive Socio-economic / Health Factors

Another report, this one on a failed attempt to create a safe unit in a regular apartment building in Vancouver BC:

Assessment of the Indoor Air Quality of a Suite for an Environmentally Hypersensitive Occupant


There are other educational resources on this site as well as links to off-site resources in the side-bar. There are no links for safe housing now.


Please show your support
for the development of safe, non-toxic housing and communities for people with MCS/ES.

Call and write you elected members of government demanding that they pass policies that require all housing to have accessible units, as well as creating safe spaces (where no polluters will be allowed in the vicinity) for  communities for those whose ‘sensitivities’ are too severe to live near any sources of exposures.

Thank you!

4 responses to “CBC News Hi-lights Accessibility Barriers to Housing for People With MCS/ES

  1. ‘I can’t go anywhere’: Chemical sensitivities complicate Alliston woman’s search for housing

    Marla Flear living between apartment and van to manage symptoms

    by Brad Pritchard Alliston Herald

    There have been many nights when Marla Flear has been forced to flee her apartment and sleep in her van, even when it’s -30 C outside.

    The 63-year-old Alliston resident doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Either she toughs it out in her vehicle, or she gets severely ill and makes another trip to the emergency room.

    For the past 25 years she has lived with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a condition that affects about three per cent of Canadians or about one million people across the country.

    Things like air fresheners, laundry soap, perfumes/colognes and essential oils make her extremely sick, causing her to vomit, have breathing problems and shake.

    While she got the apartment at an affordable housing building in August, she couldn’t move in right away due to the odours from the new floor and fresh paint.

    While those scents have gotten somewhat better, she’s never been able to stay inside the apartment for more than three hours at a time due to other odours in the building, like air fresheners used by other tenants.

    Flear runs fans constantly to circulate fresh air into her unit, and she also uses expensive air filters, but they have limited effect.

    The superintendent has done some work inside her unit to try to block the scents, like putting foam in the electrical boxes and around the pipes underneath the sink, but it hasn’t helped much.

    The county has also placed signs in the building asking residents not to use scents in the hallways, but there is nothing that can be done to prevent her neighbours from using them in their units.

    “Living in the van is now starting to affect my health in other ways,” she said. “I’m now getting swollen legs, I got eczema and I’ve never had that before. It’s really awful and depressing. Some days I find it really difficult to deal with because there’s no hope.”


  2. Update:

    “Toronto man is so sensitive to his surroundings he has trouble living indoors

    He was allowed to stay on an emergency basis, but last week he was told he had to leave by noon on April 15.

    This province’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care launched a task force on environmental health in 2016. Its job is to find new ways to treat people with MCS/ES.

    The ministry wouldn’t speak with CBC Toronto, but in an emailed statement in December, ministry spokesperson David Jensen said that report is due some time this year.”

    (the Ministry has had the report since December but they have not released it)


    • Environmental Sensitivities (which MCS falls under) are a disability recognized by the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Codes, yet people with MCS/ES face systemic accessibility barriers in every area of life.

      The ignorance, stigma and abusive treatments people with MCS/ES are subjected to run rampant (just read some of the comments here for evidence), and the disregard for human lives when there’s so much clear evidence that non-toxic environments are good for everyone, makes one wonder why there is no accessible housing anywhere for people with MCS/ES (unless you are wealthy and can afford to buy land and build something yourself).

      The CMHC had numerous studies on how to build safe housing in the 90s, and there has been more progress in safe materials availability since then, but there is no funding or mandates for accessibility anywhere. People with MCS/ES are simply discarded by society now.

      Why? Is being disabled by everyday toxic chemicals (and sometimes wireless too) too inconvenient to accept and changes to safer products and materials too much to ask?

  3. Pingback: Homeless Canaries Need Access to Fragrance-Free Showers | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

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