WARNING: Some of the images and descriptions in this story are disturbing. Discretion is advised.
Residents of the Sakura So Residence in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside told Global News Thursday that crews in hazmat gear were at work inside the building.
This comes one day after Global News reported on the living conditions inside the SRO, which one inhabitant described as “atrocious.”
Joshua Coyne said most of the bathrooms were not usable and were unsanitary.
This includes feces on the ground and the walls, overflowing toilets, garbage everywhere and infestations of bugs.
The single-room-occupancy hotel, or SRO, is owned and operated by the Lookout Housing Society.
In a statement to Global News, the organization said the “recent news coverage of the Sakuro So reflects badly on (its) legacy and gives an inaccurate account of who we are and what we do.”
It said the washrooms Coyne showed to Global News were out of order, locked and labelled as awaiting major repairs.
It described the building as in “general good condition” with four “fully functioning” clean washrooms for residents to access.”
Coyne, who lives in the building with his partner, said he was not surprised to see cleaners in the building on Thursday due to the media attention on the situation.
“Today every manager was there, there were many staff there, all frantically running around, angrily glaring at me and giving me attitude, which I’m frankly not concerned about,” he said.
Coyne said he still believes the City of Vancouver or the provincial government should take over the management of the building.
In 2014, the City of Vancouver approved a grant of $190,000 to Lookout for renovation and material improvements to the Sakura So.
A spokesperson for the city confirmed that grant was the only one for the SRO hotel.
The city said staff proactively inspect SRO housing at least once a year to ensure compliance with city bylaws.
“This process involves a room-to-room inspection of the property, this also includes common areas such as hallways and shared bathrooms,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Through the annual inspection, inspectors identify life safety and non-life safety issues for follow-up.”
The city confirmed an annual inspection was undertaken at the Sakura So in July 2022.
“At that time there were issues with both building maintenance and cleanliness. The building operator has addressed all but one of these, unrelated to cleanliness, and there is a scheduled follow-up inspection set for Jan. 18,” the city confirmed.
Staff encourages all residents to report building and cleanliness concerns by calling 311 or through the Van311 app.
In its statement, Lookout said that despite its limited funding, its top priority is to ensure the safety and livability of its sites and residents.
Coyne said he has repeatedly asked management of the Sakura So to fix the problems in the building and he has been ignored.
He added that calling a washroom clean requires more than a toilet that flushes.
“They’re unlivable,” he said. “They’re filthy. Like it’s not sanitary. If COVID is a concern like this, it’s, I don’t know, it’s much worse. I think, honestly, like there’s a lot of health concerns that could come from that. There’s no soap in the dispensers. Like it’s just — it’s not clean.”
Lookout said it provides housing for more than 1,700 people in shelters and supportive housing every night.
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