Vancouver mental-health advocates question rules for SRO tenants

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      Tracey Morrison and Samona Marsh went before city council today (September 17) to speak about the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health.

      Both residents of single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) in the Downtown Eastside, they told the Straight they wanted to share their experiences living in these buildings that have come to house so many of the city’s mentally ill and addicted.

      “People are starting to create mental illness inside themselves with anxieties and going crazy because these people are telling them what to do,” Morrison said.

      Marsh interjected: “It’s a glorified jail cell.”

      As the city acts to improve the physical well-being of tenants in some of Vancouver’s shabbiest hotels, housing advocates are calling attention to mental-health needs.

      Ann Livingston, a cofunder and former executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, told the Straight that residents of SROs complain about repressive rules such as restrictions on guests and burdensome identification requirements. She questioned the impacts those rules have on people struggling with addiction and mental-health challenges.

      “They implement the design of housing in such a way that people don’t want to live in it,” Livingston said. “They can’t have a guest over. And if you’ve been homeless for a couple of years, what’s the first thing you want?”

      On September 16, city council passed a bylaw amendment aimed at cleaning up problems at SROs like pests, plumbing issues, and worn walls and floors. Today, councillors received the first report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions. That document states that there are an estimated 2,000 “severely ill” SRO tenants not receiving the care they require for mental-health and addiction challenges.

      The report acknowledges a strategy called Housing First, which the Mental Health Commission of Canada has identified as significantly reducing mentally ill homeless people’s interactions with police and hospital services.

      In a telephone interview, D J Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, expressed support for Housing First but stressed that it has to be implemented in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily burden its beneficiaries.

      According to Larkin, it’s unlikely that SRO rules like ID requirements for guests would stand if challenged before the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). But Larkin noted that buildings funded by B.C. Housing and categorized as “supportive housing” bypass the RTB.

      “Some tenants have expressed that it’s like being in jail,” she said. “Being limited in having friends and community around is really devastating for some people.”

      B.C. Housing declined to make a representative available for an interview and referred questions to its nonprofit partners.

      Ted Bruce is interim executive director for the Portland Hotel Society, which operates 16 SROs in the Downtown Eastside. He told the Straight that PHS staff ask for guests’ identification but do not hold ID cards during visits (a common gripe).

      “I don’t think that our rules are too strict,” he said. “When we have received a complaint, we’ll meet with the tenant and sit down with them and explain the reason for a rule, and they are generally very accepting of that.”

      Chasing a crisis
      Through September 2014 the Straight ran a series of articles exploring how Vancouver cares for the severely mentally ill.
      Part one: Vancouver police still seeking help to prevent a mental-health crisis
      Part two: Amid a mental-health crisis, Vancouver care providers revisit the debate on institutionalization
      Part three: Vancouver service providers fail to get ahead of a mental-health crisis
      Part four: B.C. prisons lock mentally-ill offenders in isolation

      Comments

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      15 Comments

      God's Bodkin, Man!

      Sep 17, 2014 at 8:00pm

      "Ted Bruce is interim executive director for the Portland Hotel Society, which operates 16 SROs in the Downtown Eastside. He told the Straight that PHS staff ask for guests’ identification but do not hold ID cards during visits (a common gripe)."

      Asks for ID??? WTF! Nobody has to have ID in British Columbia, so I have no idea how presenting it can be made a condition of visiting someone. It's bad enough that they ask for it to get into the legislative diner, but this is pretty bad, too.

      Even if rules like this exist, it takes scumsucking pukes to enforce them? I know a guy who works as a minder in one of these houses---he refuses to enforce rules that he says are obviously contrary to civil rights. I'd like to know what sort of scumsucking "social justice" worker in one of these SROs gets off on IDing people like a skeevy police officer.

      RUK

      Sep 18, 2014 at 11:01am

      If the housing is being provided gratis, would it not make sense that the provider is entitled to make rules of use? Not unreasonable or illegal rules of course.

      I'd assume that the idea is not to facilitate prostitution or drug sales for reasons of health and to discourage the creep-hanging-around factor. If that's what it is, why not just say so and get input from the people who live there about how to keep the place reasonably safe while allowing friends to hang out.

      FMB

      Sep 18, 2014 at 3:13pm

      It's unfortunate that there are some points missing in this article and other points, while mentioned, are not given the weight that they deserve.

      First of all, residents are not disallowed to have guests, they are simply asked that they register their guests for their own safety, the safety of other residents and the safety of staff.

      Secondly, SRO hotels are designated as hotels (http://www.bchousing.org/Initiatives/Access/SRO). A hotel does have the right to restrict guests and ask for the ID of individuals entering the building. (They do not, however, have the legal right to hold onto that ID.) By and large this has been put in place to protect the people who are living in the building. It is often the residents themselves that ask for restrictions to be imposed on specific individuals so that they can live in peace and safety. Sometimes the VPD will put a no contact order on an individual who may present a danger to a resident, or residents, in the building. Without looking at ID to confirm the identity of people coming into the building these orders cannot be enforced. Most of the dangerous interactions that take place in these hotels are perpetrated by individuals who have been barred.

      Thirdly, SROs in the DTES are indeed housing people with concurrent issues of addiction and mental health. They aren't brought into these buildings to perpetuate their problems, they are brought in so that they have much (MUCH) better access to doctors, nurses, psychiatric care, harm reduction, counselling and other supports....sometimes that can come in the form of just having the shoulder of a staff person to lean on in times of crisis. This is not something that is provided by general housing. Most of the people who work on the DTES are dedicated and empathic people who deal with all kinds of stressors to ensure that the folks living in these buildings have the resources that they need. Will some folks gripe and complain? Of course they will! But you will find that the majority of people benefiting from these services and buildings on the DTES are very grateful for the help they are receiving.

      Who is reviewing these comments?

      Sep 18, 2014 at 3:35pm

      And what is the process for approval? I know of multiple people with ties to the neighborhood who have posted concise and well reasoned responses free of expletives that were not approved for this article. What is your game here Georgia Straight? Of all the responses that were acceptable, the only 2 approved are from two people who neither work, nor live in the DTES. The first full of juvenile name calling and highschool, NWA listening logic, the other, well meaning but full of speculation. This article came out today right? Do your web guys not work on print day or something?

      NJV

      Sep 18, 2014 at 3:45pm

      The sad reality is that if you don't have these rules and fairly large 'doorman' working in these hotels the hotels would soon become as dangerous for the residents as the back alleys they are escaping from.

      Martin Dunphy

      Sep 18, 2014 at 3:56pm

      Who is reviewing:

      You mean you know multiple people WHO CLAIM to have posted. Or maybe it was really just you.
      Regardless, only a few comments that directed readers off-site to lengthy videos or that were off-topic or legally actionable ended up getting deleted.

      Douglas Bjorkman

      Sep 18, 2014 at 3:58pm

      In response to FMB I would just like to point out that the initiatives of BC Housing do not have the force of law and do not supersede or in any way replace tenants or guests civil rights. B C may want them to, may pretend they do, but they don't. There may well be situations where a person is unable to care for themselves or requires assistance to do so and accordingly requires protection. But in our society our values are that the interference with liberty should be as minimal as possible and certainly not be a blanket policy applied to all and sundry. Being poor is not a crime nor is a sign of incapacity. Treating people as less than full citizen is not the sort of support and empathy that is needed. Respect is.

      RJG

      Sep 18, 2014 at 4:22pm

      The Arbitrators at the Residential Tenancy have repeatedly ruled that such restrictions are a violation of BC law. Go online to their website www.rto.gov.bc.ca and search past arbitration decisions under the keywords 'guest restriction'. Maybe this housing provider should look too. BC landlords have gotten way too comfortable thinking they have way more authority than they legally do. Why? Toothless legislation. And super low vacancy rate...Thanks Rich!

      Travis Lupick

      Sep 18, 2014 at 4:28pm

      @FMB, you make some valid points. As do a number of comments here.

      This article originally appeared in print, which means that it was written with a short word count due to space constraints.

      These are topics that I plan on returning to and exploring in greater depth in the near future.

      Until then, you might be interested in a three-part series on mental-health care in Vancouver that ran through the first half of September. Part one: http://bit.ly/1xc5sml .

      RE: Douglas Bjorkman

      Sep 18, 2014 at 6:27pm

      "In response to FMB I would just like to point out that the initiatives of BC Housing do not have the force of law and do not supersede or in any way replace tenants or guests civil rights. B C may want them to, may pretend they do, but they don't. There may well be situations where a person is unable to care for themselves or requires assistance to do so and accordingly requires protection. But in our society our values are that the interference with liberty should be as minimal as possible and certainly not be a blanket policy applied to all and sundry. Being poor is not a crime nor is a sign of incapacity. Treating people as less than full citizen is not the sort of support and empathy that is needed. Respect is. "

      No one is trying to disrespect anyone, but lets say you have a building with 90 tenants, of those, maybe 10 are illicit drinkers with the accompanying health issues, 10 are working girls who bring in complete strangers at all hours of the day, of those 8, at least 3 are known to do "runners" on their dates - in which they request money for the date - or drugs the date wants - up front and never return. Another 10 or so are bike/car thieves who either store other boosters product or coordinate their own syndicate, 4 or 5 are addict drug dealers, in that they support their own habit buy selling drugs to their neighbors. At LEAST 1 or 2 of those people are mess-ups and occasionally rip off their supplier and have people demanding to come in, banging on random doors, looking for that person. That leaves another 60 people, in some varying stage of those three, or merely unfortunate and mentally ill that have to contend with the nonstop traffic the 33% bring in. When they themselves aren't bringing in random, Johns, boosters, debt collectors, pushers etc. You could just let everyone in, in an effort to not offend anyone but what do you think would happen? You don't even have to speculate, because their are plenty of roach motels that will show you exactly what. These rules aren't for staffs benefit, and this information doesn't get shared with the RCMP, or CSIS (unless someone has been assaulted or killed) it's merely to keep track of and keep accountable the LEGIONS of people who come in and out of these buildings on a day to day basis. Besides, these non-profits are not clubs are bars, if someone wants to walk up and not give ID, they can, and do.