There are cockroaches and bedbugs, crack dealers and addicts, but for some at least, a rooming house provides a roof over their heads.
Michael, a childlike pensioner who favours oversized 1970s glasses, has something you don’t expect to see in one of the filthiest, most menacing rooming houses in Winnipeg.
Lined up meticulously on his TV table sit a dozen tiny plastic toys and cars — the kind children get inside the chocolate egg of a Kinder Surprise.
"I’ve got 20 to 30 stuffed animals in my room," says Michael, a veteran resident of a behemoth rooming house on Spence Street. And, he loves Elvis. A nicely-curated cluster of photos of the King are tacked up on his wall.
Michael is fastidious, almost militarily so. He lines his shoes up neatly on newspaper and even puts a placemat under the old ghetto blaster that sits on the floor.
But the years of grime and decay — the walls a cigarette-smoke jaundice, a sink with no taps, pockmarked flooring, the hazy third-floor heat — make his efforts almost pyrrhic.
Michael’s rooming house just south of Sargent Avenue in the Spence neighbourhood is ground zero for one of the city’s most intractable and often tragic social policy problems, one that’s shifting into a full-blown crisis thanks to Winnipeg’s real estate boom.
Michael lives on a block with 19 other rooming houses, the biggest concentration in the neighbourhood. Even the longtime home of legendary Free Press editor John Dafoe is among them.
And, Michael’s neighbourhood has the most rooming houses in Winnipeg at nearly 120.
His is one of the more troublesome ones, bedevilled by crack dealers and addicts, young prostitutes and the kind of dreary dilapidation that breeds conflict among residents. Cockroaches and bedbugs compete for insect domination. There is no real caretaker, and the landlords are so absentee that residents joke they must be in the Cayman Islands. The only way to contact them is to leave a note in the safe where rent cheques are dropped.
But, shuttering the Spence Street mansion would make at least 18 people homeless.
As bad as it is, the three-storey warren of rooms represent a proper roof for some of the city’s most vulnerable, hardest-to-house people — not lazy welfare bums, mostly, but folks who have obvious mental or cognitive problems, chronic addictions like the young Red Seal welder who works just enough to support his crack habit, or who have weathered hardships and violence that most suburbanites cannot fathom.
"Rooming houses are a last resort for a lot of people, the only option," said Mary Burton, the rental housing worker at the Spence Neighbourhood Association. "You can’t judge a person by where they live. You don’t know what their story is."
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
MKO's Chief Harper loses more support over spending scandal after FN pulls out
Woman identified in city's 18th homicide
A man is dead after a fight at a home in Norway House
Winnipeg's firefighters are backing Judy Wasylycia-Leis
Assiniboine zoo becomes one of five Canadian zoos to get prized accreditation
MTS Centre renovations have expanded restaurant and lounge areas
Time to vote for the all-time offensive line Bomber player
Police looking for missing 16-year-old girl last seen in the West End
Brian Sinclair's lawyers argue that his right to sue medical authorities did not die with him
Officer wins bid to move inquest to Winnipeg
WPS overstaffed and inefficient: Fraser Institute
Host of young Winnipeg actors nominated for the Joey Awards
Katz, Browaty announce $520K investment at Chornick Park
Upcoming exhibition game chance for new Jets prospects to shine
Democratic-independent ballot scramble panics GOP
Authors Stenson, Pick at news café
Winnipeg Jewish Theatre back in December with first of two-show playbill
Environmental progress is feasible
Questions remain after White House security breach
'Amazing Race Canada' winners speak out
Confusing WSD boundaries on candidates' meeting agenda
Weather warming up for first week of fall
Police continue probe of 'very horrific incident'
Wrong to count NDP out: experts
Unfinished galleries make for a disappointing opening for human rights museum
Feeling lukewarm over the summer that was
Fall TV preview: Four new shows hitting screens on Monday
Slick Nik Ehlers Jets' big story as pre-season begins tonight
Green protesters join thousands worldwide
Sextet gets its groove on
Maze Runner leaves A Walk in the dust
Minimum wage hike necessary as CPI climbs
ALS volunteer knows value of care
Drug policy seriously outdated
Chiarot all meat and potatoes
Downs crosses finish line with special day
Chrétien's speech a highlight of human rights gala
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, Sept. 22
Edge gets an edge on mountain homes