Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Social Housing Building on Station Street Strict about Critters

It will be a happier new year for a longterm resident of the Cobalt Hotel who just got into social housing after about 8 years on waiting lists. He got into the new building on Station Street by Pacific Central station.

The management told him that he won't be allowed to simply move his belongings from the Cobalt, which has bed bugs, cockroaches, and mice. They are going to quarantine any electronics. And they are going to wash any clothes he brings. They have washers and dryers there.

After ten years in the Cobalt, this guy will have the luxury of having his own bathroom.

Management at the new building required that he sign a paper saying they can enter his room at any time.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chaos at the Cobalt

When I saw pastor Barry Morris on the front page of the Province newspaper yesterday, I recognized him. Years back he was a pastor at First United on the Downtown Eastside, until he knocked up one of the church women.

Morris has been in the news this week, along with City Councillor Susan Anton [NPA], calling for an independent inquiry into the death of three men in an East Vancouver flophouse. They say the City had known about the unsafe conditions in that house for some time but wasn't enforcing bylaws. Councillor Andrea Reimer [Vision] has responded by pointing out that the fire is believed to have started from a faulty electrical cord, so it wasn't directly related to the condition of the house. [Update Jan. 15/11: A report by a City inspector prior to the fire has now been released, a report in which concerns were raised about the reliance on electrical cords in the house.]

All flexible cords or extension cords that are being used as a substitute for fixed wiring in the building shall be removed and outlets installed where required.

Based on what we hear from tenants at the Cobalt Hotel, I agree with Morris and Anton that there seems to be lax enforcement of bylaws.

The Cobalt, which has been a slum for years, has been allowed to further deteriorate in recent months. Tenants have often found themselves with no running water in their rooms, no heat (the radiators not working), no hot water for showers, the toilets plugged. One tenant said, "I had to take a cold shower."

The toilets being plugged is the tenants' doing. But the other problems are not. Management does make an effort though. "They try," said one tenant, "They're always working on it." Maybe the City should work out a plan with them and do follow up.

The provincial government sends a wad of money to the Cobalt every month, as many of the tenants are welfare clients. The rents are $425 or $450 if I remember correctly. Can't some of this money go toward serious repairs?

The Cobalt did spray for bed bugs. The City gave a contract to Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to spray. Tenants wondered about the wisdom of the City hiring people with drug problems to go into people's rooms when they weren't there.

Sometimes, the chaos at the Cobalt is almost funny. A painter was working in the hallway and at the end of his shift, he set a five gallon can of paint in a corner along with his equipment, well out of everybody's way. Somebody picked up the five gallon can and poured it all the way down the carpeted hallway. The next day, the painter was painting the pipes, surrounded by this huge mess of paint.

An Ethel Sighting on Boxing Day

After a year of sitting in her office rubber-stamping barrings of Downtown Eastsiders from Carnegie Centre, Ethel Whitty was spotted on Boxing Day. She was in the Carnegie theatre helping to serve turkey dinner to those still allowed through the door. The dinner was free but you had to have been given a ticket by staff.

It was a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Instead of the brussel sprouts they served for years, they made the switch to mixed vegetables this year and last, carrots and peas this year There was also apple juice. Fruit cake for dessert. And all the coffee you could drink for as long as you were allowed to sit in the theatre, which wasn't long because there were three sittings so there was a new crowd waiting to burst through the doors.

Rudy, a musician, was Santa. The real Santa Claus couldn't be expected to work on Boxing Day, having gone full tilt over Christmas. So Rudy who has a natural long white beard gave out the gifts.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

City Workers Force Low Income Man to Eat Cabbage Rolls Instead of Turkey Dinner on Christmas Day

A Downtown Eastsider who had not had a turkey dinner in several years, didn't want to miss out this year. He had been told by other Downtown Eastsiders that the Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army can be counted on to be good, and the volunteer servers are always eager to ensure people enjoy their dinner. So he headed over there today. But he got there too late; the security guard told him the dinner ended at 1:50 p.m.

Another Downtown Eastsider suggested he head over to the Evelyn Saller Centre cafeteria, "the 44". It's not free though, it's two dollars. He had three dollars and something in his pocket. His father had sent him money this Christmas but he was broke; his money got stolen. He has a mild head injury and seems to often get money stolen from his room, or he gets pick-pocketed, or "rolled" as they say. "I've been feeling jinxed", he said.

He headed over to the 44 where a female security guard in a blue "Security" jacket, young with blonde hair in a pony tail, was warmly greeting people with, "Merry Christmas", at the door. But the Christmas spirit ended at the door (except for Santa who was in the back of the Centre giving out gifts.)

The man waited for his turkey dinner in a long line-up stretching outside the cafeteria, and when he got inside, two City workers were shoving plates of turkey dinner onto the glass counter over the steam trays. People in the line-up would grab a plate as they passed, pushing their tray along. The counter is above eye level unless a person is tall, so some people have to crane their necks to see what's on the plate. Anyway, this guy saw the person in front of him take a plate of turkey so he took the next plate. "All I saw was the brussel sprouts", he said. As soon as he picked up the plate, he realized it wasn't even close to being a turkey dinner. It was cabbage rolls, two of them with tomato sauce, and three or four brussel sprouts on the side. So he went to set it back down on the counter and take a turkey dinner. "Too late," said one of the City servers, "You touched it, you have to eat it."

These servers would have known that the guy they were stickin' with cabbage rolls on Christmas didn't have a second $2 for Christmas dinner. They know their clientele. It's not uncommon for diners to have no money and have a welfare account there; the government prefers to finance meals when possible, rather than hand out cash to people who may have difficulty handling money. This guy doesn't have a welfare account, but he does eat there occasionally and he certainly looks poor. Compare the clientele to the servers who are at roughly the same educational level but make, according to a regular diner who chats with one of the staff, $22 an hour. Double that for Christmas. And their contract allows them to close an hour early on Christmas, 5 p.m., to eat with their families.

So the low income guy with the head injury ate the cabbage rolls. "They were awful," he said. He left quickly, forgetting to pick up his gift from Santa. He was edgy with his friends afterwards.

There were two witnesses to the CUPE members' cabbage-rolling this guy on Christmas. One of them was mistreated by the same two surly servers. She asked if she could have dark meat. One of the servers, an Asian woman, possibly Filipina, reportedly said, "No, we give half and half", but then proceeded to put mostly white meat on the plate, as if to be spiteful. Her co-server, an even more surly older white woman, snarled, "We don't do special orders." The woman told her that she wasn't expecting a special order, that half and half would have been fine, and that they were being pretty mean considering it was Christmas."

Then came a bit of a miracle. The guy who got cabbage-rolled on Christmas walked over to the Dug Out Drop-in centre where they were serving free coffee and pastries, and spotted a guy outside with a big plate of turkey dinner. He asked him where he got it and was told the Chinese Christians were giving them out at Potters Mission over at Hastings at Carroll St. So this guy went over there with a couple of friends and they were each served a heaping plate: turkey and gravy, lots of green salad with chopped red peppers, mashed potatoes, and in the centre of the plate, pieces of oranges, and chopped apples and banana. And a gigantic piece of pumpkin pie.

The Potter workers were able to actually communicate with Downtown Eastsiders. Like when they got questions about whether people could have an extra empty plate to cover their heaping plate of food so that they could take it out, or whether they could have a bag or a container, a female server would explain that they really preferred that people eat their meal there rather than take out. They had lots of chairs to sit in and a live band to listen to.

But the Potter's Mission dinner was not the last served to the cabbage-rolled man. He was told that if he returned to the Dug Out at 7 p.m., they would be serving a Christmas dinner. There was a long line-up along the back of the building, but it was worth it. They served him a heaping plate of food and put tin foil over the plate for anyone who wanted to take it out, as it's a small place and couldn't seat everybody. The volunteer server at the meat tray was asking, "What's you're preference, white meat or dark?" And even after one of the men helping out said they'd now served 100 people, each server continued greeting each person in the line with a warm, "Merry Christmas!"

Two cabbage rolls, and two Christmas dinners. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jenny Kwan Helps Man Unjustly Barred from Carnegie

A Chinese man who has been going to Carnegie for 20 years, says Carnegie Security boss Skip Everall told him, "You have a big mouth." The Chinese man who speaks broken English, responded, "A lot of people around here don't like you." Everall barred him.

The barred man's last name is Kwan, like the MLA, Jenny Kwan.

When Kwan was barred, he recalls, "I was really angry." He called Everall a "bully" and an "asshole" Chinese. He said it in both Mandarin and Cantonese, which got the attention of the Chinese people who sit around in Carnegie.

After being barred for 4 months, it was time to have a Kwan to Kwan talk.

Kwan spoke to Jenny Kwan and told her about the unjust barring. He believes she had a staffer call Carnegie. He went back to Carnegie and was allowed in. He tried to talk to Everall who told him, "I don't want to talk to you."

Barring is going full tilt at Carnegie. Kwan says they have now barred a short, middle-aged, Jewish woman, from a middle-class background. The barred woman had been going to Carnegie for years for the arts programs. A woman who sometimes comes to our blogger meetings knows her, and says she's quite assertive which is probably what got her barred. Kwan says the barred woman doesn't want to go back to Carnegie now that she's been barred. It's common for people who are barred to never go back.

"They bar all the good people," says Kwan.

The names of the hundreds of people who are barred each year remain on the membership list though, as they have paid their $1 membership fee and been issued a membership card. They are included in the stats Carnegie gives to the government to justify funding.