Mice-Infested Hotels for a Few Homeless

Vancouver's homeless find little comfort in mice-infested hotels

Monday, December 8, 2008, CBC News

Homeless people who have been moved by the city into hotels in the Downtown Eastside say the accommodations are no better than living on the street.

"I've got so many mice that my sink is full of bread because it's the only safe place to put my food," said Valerie Nicholson, who lives in the Gastown Hotel.

The bed is covered with mouse droppings, Nicholson said, and it's a struggle to keep anything clean.

"I can't stay here. I can't. I have nowhere to put anything. Nothing's mine. Well, it's mine but it's not because the mouse owns it," Nicholson said. "Everything was clean and washed [and now] I've got to wash everything every time I go to wear it."

Things aren't much better in the washrooms where, residents say, women and men must share a shower.

"I live on the sixth floor and we don't even have a women's washroom up there, so I do have to walk past the men's urinal and I mean, it's embarrassing not only for them, but more for me and it's disgusting," Nicholson said.
'It's like living in a jail'

A few floors down, Albert Ouimette lives in a space similar to Nicholson's — a tiny room crawling with mice.

Like Nicholson, Ouimette used to sleep at an outdoor squat. Today he's indoors, courtesy of BC Housing, the provincial Crown agency that manages subsidized housing.

"The only difference between here and a jail cell [is] jail is way cleaner but you can't go out. Here, at least you can go out the door," Ouimette said

It's an analogy Nicholson uses as well.

"I'm very grateful for this, but BC Housing can't be allowed to get away with this. It's like living in a jail," she said. "They've taken away my dignity, my self worth … [it] makes me feel like I'm not worth having my own kitchen."

Housing advocates say hotels as homes are fine for the short term, but the city needs a long-term plan for more social housing.

"There's a lot of frustrations living in a small place where you share a bathroom with people that have got serious health conditions … your walls are paper thin, you've got just a little sink," said Wendy Pederson with the Carnegie Community Action Project.

"I think there's a recipe for failure with people in these places even though they're desperate."