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Sandra (real name withheld at request) got onto full disability two years ago for a health condition. “I have a lot of pain. I can barely walk. When your health goes…it’s difficult to work.” Sandra couldn’t afford a place on her own, and got a SRO room at Hotel Winters, in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Sandra notes that, “the building was essentially owned by a slumlord, near Gastown. It was dirty, and there were cockroaches.” Sandra kept asking the manager to fix the problem, and he kept putting her off. Finally, she got annoyed and called the city inspector.
Sandra left town to visit her brother in Winnipeg, who was in serious condition and close to death. Before she left, she made arrangements to pay part of her rent when she returned. She had made similar arrangements in the past, and it had never been a problem until the inspector came. When Sandra came back from Manitoba, she found that she was evicted and barred from the hotel, and had a no contact order with a man she had helped when he was sick. The police tried to coerce Sandra into helping them lay charges against the man. Sandra tried to visit her friend, but “the manager came to the top of the stairs yelling – you’re barred from here! He had no real reason to bar me, but that’s what they do when they know you’re a threat to them. “When anyone complained, they got a threat of an eviction notice. They would look for an excuse to evict.” The manager of Hotel Winters didn’t respond to phone calls asking for comment on evictions from the hotel and hotel policies.
"I've seen this kind of harassment: it's something that happens to women in this area," said Beatrice Starr from Power of Women. "They should be respected and protected. They're somebody's mom or somebody's aunt or somebody's sister."
Sandra went to Powell Place shelter, run by St. James Society, and then to Bridge Women’s Emergency Shelter, run by Atira Women’s Resource Society. “The last straw was when I ended up at Bridge Hotel. Because of my health, I was not able to look for a place. On Saturday, I asked the main person there about extending my stay since my thirty days were up. I didn’t know where to go.”
Atira Women’s Resource Society And Atira Property Management Inc. received approximately
$7.7 million from BC Housing in the 2010 fiscal year through 36 contracts.
According to Janice Abbott, Executive Director of the Atira Women’s Resource Society and CEO of Atira Property Management Inc., “There are a number of beds (at Bridge shelter) where we can extend the stay indefinitely. There are no specific criteria, it’s done on a case-by-case basis. Clearly all our beds can’t be long tem stay as we are a 12-bed shelter.” As well, Abbott noted that “staff assist residents with finding shelter, make resource referrals, and work with other DTES agencies to try to find housing.”
Sandra, however, had a different experience. She was initially told that stays were not extended past 30 days, and quickly realized that every woman who had been given extensions had an entire support team behind them. The manager then called the police to escort her out of the building. “I talked to them that it was really bad on them. It was supposed to be a supportive shelter. I had nowhere to go. They wouldn’t let me back in to pick up my stuff. They said they’d bring these down to me. The two white women treated my like a criminal.”
Sandra sees this as lateral violence. “These people are working in these positions – it’s just a pay cheque for them. Treating a native woman with that level of disrespect is inhumane.” Sandra is speaking out because “I have a granddaughter, and I don’t want to see her go through this. And I see this happen to so many women. This violence against women has got to stop.”