The tenant community at the SRO in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is ‘a family-type thing,’ says manager William McElroy

I wanted to work in a rooming house all my life. I didn’t expect it would be a 70-room hotel, but that was a dream of mine for a lot of years. The tenants were saying to me these are the problems that we’re having, why don’t you take over as manager. As things progressed I was approached by Gordon Keith and at first I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, I’m not that type of person, but then afterwards I thought, yeah sure I’ll do it. Here I am. 

Watch a video of William’s story here.

The tenants, it’s more like a big family-type thing. We have tenant leaders that do all the work in the hotel. It is in the Downtown Eastside so some tenants have addiction problems, emotional problems, health problems. But they all stick together. One tenant needs help from another tenant, not a problem, they do it. We have the odd one that acts up, but in the general sense, it’s a great hotel. It’s a great place to live. 

One of the reasons I guess why the tenants wanted me to be the manager of the place is because I know how they are, because I was there. I had addiction problems for a lot of years. What happened was, one day I was sitting there looking out the window, and the Dodson’s in the Downtown Eastside, a lot of addiction problems, shooting drugs on the street and whatever, and I was just looking out the window one day and I thought to myself, I got to stop. So I did. I lined up the detox and my treatment centre simultaneously with my birthday, of all things. And I went into detox on August 26, 2018 and then went to the treatment centre after that and ever since then I haven’t been using. 

Every time I come to this hotel, in the morning, first thing I do is I sit down and have a coffee with Jim, one of the tenants. He’s an older guy, more set back in his ways, he tells me about his day, what happened in the hotel, the tenants come over and say how are you doing. I’ll go out and have a cigarette outside, he’ll come out and join me for a smoke and coffee. Like I said, it’s a big family. 

When I come in I’ll have coffee with them, and if I go out to have a cigarette three or four of them will come out and tell me their day, and the night before, what happened in the hotel. As soon as I open that door it’s continuous. They’ll just come in and sit down and talk. You know Glen, he comes in and I might be on the computer doing a shift report, and he’ll just sit down and do his crossword. I’ll say what’s happening with you? And he’ll say not much, not much. But it’s just the thing of being there. 

Every time I go out that door to go home, ‘are you coming back later or what?’ a tenant will tell me things like that. It gives me a great feeling. It’s very satisfying.