Worsening conditions on the Downtown Eastside threatening First Nations hotel
A hotel on the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that uses its revenue to pay for social housing says rising homelessness is putting its business model in trouble.
The manager of the Skwachays Lodge on Pender Street says tourists are complaining about rising street disorder, trash and drug use near the award-winning hotel and sometimes refuse to stay there.
“They are appalled by the conditions of the neighbourhood, the use of drugs on the street. For them it’s quite an emotive experience. And some people feel so unsafe they refuse to stay here,” Maggie Edwards told CTV News.
She said the hotel’s revenue has declined for the first time since it opened in 2014, putting stress on the 24 homes for First Nations artist that it supports through the Vancouver Native Housing Society.
“We’re part of the solution. We’re trying to create revenue for the artists in our building and if this continues we won’t have the funds to provide for that housing,” she said.
The hotel has been called one of the world’s greatest places by Time Magazine. Hotel guests never leave a bad review for the hotel – just the surroundings, said Vancouver Native Housing Society’s David Eddy.
“I’ve worked here in 35 years. I’ve never seen it as bad as this,” Eddy said. “It’s fallen apart in the last six to eight months. It’s gone to hell in a handbag.”
The timeline matches the rise of the homeless camp in Oppenheimer Park, which is the last stop for many homeless people with nowhere else to go.
One camper told CTV News he felt the camp was becoming more populated because of the rising cost of living in Vancouver, despite the deaths in the ongoing health emergency from the poisoned street drug supply.
“Despite the number of us killed off with fentanyl, our numbers are growing. So where are these extras coming from? They’re coming from the middle class, the working class, which are finding they just can’t cut it anymore,” he said.
The camp was one reason the Patricia Hotel complained to Vancouver’s Police Board in July that he has had to deal with “interactions and altercations” on a scale that hasn’t been this bad in the hotel’s 100-year history.
Two weeks later, Vancouver police tasered and fired bean bag rounds into an aggressive man in front of the same hotel.
The Skwachays Lodge hasn’t seen violence to that degree. Behind the hotel, used needles could be found beside an overflowing dumpster.
That’s where tourists park – but over the weekend someone stripping wire for sale at the nearby street market left it blocking the entrance.
“The alley was covered in all of this steel cable that can rupture tires,” said Eddy, adding that he felt the police response, and response from city crews to complaints, has been slower in the past several months.
A spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department said there had been no change in street patrols.
“Targeting street disorder in the DTES remains a priority for the Vancouver Police. I am not aware of a change in direction for patrols that work towards deterring street disorder in the Downtown Eastside,” Sgt. Jason Robillard said.
Vancouver’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart, said today’s multi-million dollar housing announcement from the federal government could provide some relief, as some of it includes money for a 52-unit modular housing building.
“Our number one priority is to get them housing and we’re working to do that,” he said. “It’s not a great solution and it’s completely gotten worse because of the opioid crisis in the city.”
That solution may help 52 people when it is completed, but that does leave troubling questions for the hotel now, said Edwards.
“I feel abandoned. For a business that’s been thriving in the Downtown Eastside and seen the arc of improvement in the neighbourhood, to see this decline has been heartbreaking,” she said.