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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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The caretaker's perspective

Albert Carty ain’t a guy you want to mess with. His greying hair and Barry White baritone gives him a faded elegance, but his shear bulk and gift for profanity makes him menacing.

He’s a caretaker for several West Broadway rooming houses, including a mammoth one with 27 units. There may be no job in Winnipeg less coveted.

He’s been bear-maced, hit in the head with a brick, and set upon by seven gang members. He even has to deal, he says, with a pedophile tenant who hoards and has lost control of his bowels.

While cruising by on his bike, he stopped to speak to the Free Press, while occasionally taking calls on his flip-phone from people wondering whether he has a room for rent. He does, because he just evicted a young woman drug addict from a house on Furby Street.

Here is an except from a brief but colourful conversation.

Q: If you had to say, of all your tenants, what percentage are decent, quiet, no problems with them, straight-up people?

A: What percentage? Ninety per cent — the ten per cent makes them all bad. And I find that women are the worst problem.

Q: Really! Why?

A: Ah, man. You figure you’ve got a 20 year-old girl who moves into a building with 90-per-cent men, and she likes to drink or do drugs. Well. Of course every man in the building is going to want to have a piece of her. So they go and buy her whatever she wants, and she’ll take what they have and then go out and find some guy off the street and then everyone’s pissed off and fighting over her.

I won’t rent to women anymore. Once I get rid of these three women out of here. They are just a pain in the behind. Most of the women end up being prostitutes or drug addicts. So they bring guys in and do what they have to do.

Q: What would make rooming houses better in your mind? What policy idea or program might help?

A: Take care of the people that are sick. Find out what the problem is and try to fix it. Don’t just prescribe drugs to them. You pill them out so they can’t do anything, and then the drug trade starts. Then the B-Boys or the Warriors move in and then the whole building is shot.

Q: How come a lot of the tenants don’t get into Manitoba Housing?

A: You know what it is? They can get into it, but then they get thrown out... Or CFS is letting these people go at 17, 18 years old and they’re too young. All they want to do is party when they’re 17 years old. And they ruin it for everybody. At the other house I have, I only have people over 30. That’s not fair to the younger people.

Q: How many people in your rooms would have either addictions or mental health issues?

A: How many? Jeez. F---. Eighty per cent at least. That I know of. Maybe closer to 90 per cent. But they go to housing. I’ve had people go to housing and come back two years later because nobody will put up with the nonsense.

(Interview has been edited for space and clarity).

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