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Charles’ and Aaron’s Stories:

The SRO Management Training Program

By Gilian Dusting

Charle's and Aaron“That course really changed my life,” says Charles Haynes, retired businessman and owner of Ross House, a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). He’s speaking of the SRO Management Training Program, a 10-week program funded by the Vancouver Agreement, for SRO building owners and managers in the DTES.

In 2006 Haynes bought the 24-room hotel with the intention of providing a home for addicts in recovery. He had come to the DTES to establish a memorial to his son who died of an overdose of heroin at the age of 19.

“We thought we knew what we were doing,” he says, in retrospect.“But we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” DTES property inspector Lynn Urekar set him straight and now Haynes counts Urekar as one of his best supporters.

As a property inspector in the DTES, Urekar’s role is complex. “Technically speaking we’re there under the standards of maintenance by-law,” she explains. “The reality is we’re dealing with a wide range of tenant and landlord issues.”

Urekar introduced Haynes to the SRO Management Training Program, which was specifically designed to help those who are working with the very hard to house. Historically, most SRO
managers had little support and no training.

The top three tenant issues for DTES hotel managers are mental health, addiction and violence. They also deal with suicide, crime, pest control, health problems and much more. As Urekar says, “It’s a tough job running these buildings. I wanted the training course to benefit the people both working and living there.”

For Haynes, the course helped open his eyes and his access to help. “The SRO Management Program plugged me into all the resources in the downtown eastside. It was a doorway to information and now I feel like I’m a member of the community.”

Aaron Boney, also a graduate of the SRO Management Training Program, is a long-time member of the community. A resident of the Gastown Hotel who has struggled with addiction in the past, Boney was working as a cleaner in the hotel when BC Housing took over its management. He was promoted to desk clerk and enrolled in the SRO Management Training Program. “The course was the first real introduction I had to the resources and the help out there,” he says. “It’s made a world of difference to what I’m able to accomplish for my tenants and myself.”

Now Boney is working for Atira Property Management, a social enterprise based in the DTES, and has embarked on a career path in property management.

Suzanne Jean, the project manager for the SRO Management Training Program, developed the course with Lynn Urekar. “The course gives the students such confidence,” she says. “They’re so proud to see that building services management is a legitimate thing.”

The curriculum is tailored to the unique needs and learning styles of the students, with an emphasis on practical information and experiential learning. The program covers a wide range of topics including city by-laws, life safety, employment and WorkSafeBC standards, addiction and mental health and de-escalating violence. It is taught by experts who work in the community and become ongoing resources for the students.

In recent years there has been a shift in perspective both for inspectors and for people who own and work in the SROs – the result is a collective desire to find better ways of doing things.

“Our work down there has really changed for the better,” explains Urekar. “As a result of our coordinated efforts we’re not so enforcement driven – it’s more dynamic because we’re addressing the people issues not just the physical aspects of a building.”

Boney has experienced the positive changes first-hand. “Because I live down there and I was part of the problems originally, I have more desire to make things work,” he says. “The changes directly impact me so it motivates me more. I also see it in the people who have been hired and went to this program – a sense of pride, accomplishment and belonging.”

photoAs of July 2009, the SRO Management Training Program has trained 113 people from 58 hotels.

Starting in 2004, the VA has provided funding for the development and delivery of the training program.

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