January 29: I have been living in BC Rooms, a Single Room Occupancy hotel (SRO) on Jackson Avenue in the Downtown Eastside. It’s an 11′ by 11′ room with no working fridge, TV, internet, microwave, bathroom or proper bed.
The building I live in has no common place either inside or outside for the tenants to get to know each other. Once you enter the building you are greeted with a narrow flight of stairs that goes straight to the rooms. The only time you leave your room is to either go to the bathroom or leave the building.
Last night, like most nights, I awoke to strange sounds and smells coming from the hallway around 3:00 a.m. I got up to open the window, only to hear the shrieking sounds of a police car rushing by. Some nights it seems as if there’s a police car screaming by every 15 minutes. These are the sounds people living here have to contend with every night.
I enjoy cooking my own meals, but that gets difficult to do when you don’t have a proper cooking facility. Not having a working fridge gets frustrating as food goes bad and I find myself buying smaller quantities which ends up being more expensive. It is a waste of money – especially when you have no money you can afford to waste. Throughout the challenge, I have ended up spending way more money than I would have if I could buy in bigger quantities.
Going to the bathroom here in the SRO is a well-rehearsed act. You must be fully prepared to take everything you’ll need with you. I learned the hard way that if you leave the bathroom even for a second, the next person will come along and take your spot. The bathroom is so dirty that in my view, if I drop anything it is gone.
Sharing a bathroom in any situation is an easy way to transmit viruses and bugs. In our SRO, sharing a bathroom with 11 others offers its own health challenges. I’ve often thought about all the people I’ve met with who are living in poverty and suffering health issues. How do individuals with immune-compromised illnesses protect themselves while living in poverty? The answer is easy: they don’t have that choice. Something as simple as a clean bathroom is a luxury not afforded in an SRO.
I met a man from another SRO who showed me his building which has seven floors. There was only one shower for approximately 120 people – It’s simply unimaginable.
I am told that there are 5,000 people living in SRO’s inVancouver. A majority of them have no cooking facilities. As a result, these individuals have to line up for free food, sometimes for two to three meals a day, spending over four hours in line ups.
Life in an SRO can be quick to break your spirit and your body. It becomes very hard to focus on finding your way when each day is an uphill battle to survive.
**On a personal note I did two hours of volunteer work in the kitchen at Carnegie in exchange for a free breakfast. For my lunch I volunteered with Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen serving food to the homeless and those living in poverty. This is what people do to get free food; line up for long periods of time and/or volunteer.