Homeless in Vancouver: Rats! There's vermin trouble downtown
Yesterday morning’s daily Province provided an evocative tableau on its cover: the banner headline “Infested” atop a larger-than-life rat snout.
“Umm, coffee, two eggs, and a side of Downtown Eastside for breakfast this morning?” I thought to myself.
Pretty much, but with a judicial twist; the story described how Vancouver’s provincial courthouse on Main Street, smack in the heart of the DTES, was having escalating problems with bedbugs, mice, and now rats.
The Crown Counsel Association that represents British Columbia’s prosecutors is just itching to have the problem solved.
Apparently bedbugs have been in the courtrooms and Crown counsel offices for years, heat and steam treatments notwithstanding.
In November mice made their presence known and toward Christmas—and I quote:
“…a rat was spotted in the offices that house nearly 75 prosecutors.”
This is no joking matter [wipes tears from eyes]. Management sprang into action, setting out traps and plugging suspected points of entry.
The report gives no indication of how many Crown prosecutors may have been trapped in the building over the holidays.
Certainly part of the problem—the mice and rat part—might stem from the age of the big 30-something building, but Steve Fudge, president of the B.C. Crown Counsel Association, had to say that the bedbugs may have been brought into the building by people from nearby neighbourhoods.
So he’s referring to nearby Yaletown and Strathcona? Phew! For a second there I thought someone might blame it on the marginalized residents of the Downtown Eastside, which is many things both good and bad, but it’s a stretch to call it a neighbourhood.
Though the Downtown Eastside certainly does have an abundance of bedbugs, mice, and rats. How could it not?
The area is home to some of the oldest buildings in Vancouver, very many of them quite rundown, including more than a few ratty flophouses, and it’s right on the waterfront. That would be enough by itself to ensure a large, healthy population of wharf rats—both land-loving and seaworthy—and plenty of bedbugs and fleas and lice. Oh my!
The large population of fixed and transient poor men and women is really just gilding on the lily as far as I’m concerned, though bedbugs are more than happy to use the people the way the people use transit.
Health officials insist bedbug infestations are neither linked to hygiene nor are bedbugs attracted to the very poor; the best hotels in Vancouver can certainly attest to the fact that bedbugs are not repelled by the very rich.
Back at the courthouse, Fudge points a finger at the budgetary constraints that see only four janitors providing cleaning services on a daily basis.
He’s been advised that it isn’t a health issue. “But,” he tells the Province, “it does not make it a very happy place to go to work. When you throw in the mice and the rat problems, it can be hard psychologically to go to work.”
It’s next to impossible to sleep in many of the hotel rooms on the Downtown Eastside thanks to evil little bloodsucking bedbugs. Next to them rats and mice are a picnic.
Over the years I’ve seen many homeless people take the path off the street that leads to a single-room occupancy on the Downtown Eastside. I then saw some of them covered in little red bites and almost catatonic from days and days of forced sleeplessness.
And I watched quite a few chose to come back out on the streets of the Kitsilano, Fairview, and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods, where it’s comparatively much cleaner than the SROs where they were staying in the Downtown Eastside.
In my experience you don’t get bedbugs outside, but you can get a good night’s sleep.
Maybe you can even get some work done. When the weather warms up a bit, the prosecutors should try taking their work outside.