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A house of last resort

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

This Spence Street building is rooming house has 18 suites.

There are cockroaches and bedbugs, crack dealers and addicts, but for some at least, a rooming house provides a roof over their heads.

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Michael’s Spence Street rooming house is part seniors home, part flophouse for young prostitutes, part crack den and part dorm.

It’s home to characters such as Big Ted, who lives quite happily in the spacious back porch, a young Filipino kid who keeps to himself and Darlene, who occasionally cleans the bathrooms.

Inside, its hallways are dim and narrow and smell like filthy carpet that won’t dry and stale cigarette smoke. The rooms are sweltering on a breeze-less day, especially on the top floor. The kitchen is spartan, with a dirty stove that residents barely use. One of the three bathrooms has a toilet seat and bowl crusty with watery poop and encircled by mould. The rest of the fixtures aren’t much better.

There are three bathrooms for 18 people, and no real system for cleaning them.

"Sometimes it gets to be a hell of a mess, and I do it myself," said Michael of his third-floor bathroom.

On cheque day recently, a hot one, many doors are open on each floor as tenants mill about visiting from room to room with cigarettes burning and beers cans sloshing. The blasts of hollering are generally friendly, but with an undercurrent of menace thanks to the slightly surly young men sitting on the small stoop.

"There are cockroaches all over the f**king place," said one young man, who wouldn’t give his name. "That’s why we’re sitting outside."

A short, colourful discussion ensues over which is worse — cockroaches or bedbugs. There is agreement that you either get one or the other because cockroaches eat bedbugs.

"You know in the cartoons when a bunch of ants at a picnic carry away the pie?" said Jerry, a handsome 20-something crack addict during a brief chat earlier in the day. "That’s what it’s like."

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