The Weeklies

In the Denver suburbs, as in much of the U.S., the Great Recession turned formerly stable families into the new homeless—and left many living in budget hotels.

At any given time, roughly 20 to 40 guests are staying long term. Since they pay by the week, they call themselves “weeklies.” To score the cheap rates, $210 for individuals and slightly more for families, they must pay in advance. Residents sign a form that lists the activities that could get them kicked out (mostly involving drugs) and warns that they won’t get reimbursed if they leave early, no exceptions. Some families stay only for a few weeks, some for months, giving the hotel the feeling of a dormitory. A rotating cast of front-desk clerks sells candy and rations towels and washcloths. Though some of the clerks are kind and helpful, the guests think of them as enforcers, and the clerks tend to treat the weeklies less as customers than as undergraduates stealing toilet paper and sneaking in hot plates.

With its 121 rooms, cleaning service, and keycards, the place is not a fleabag. But it is also not the kind of hotel where the coffee pots and hair dryers reliably work or the comforters match the drapes. A traveler stopping here to avoid bad weather might notice the difference: a clerk who takes a little too long to offer grudging help, an absence of name tags for the staff, an empty spot on the placard that is supposed to provide the manager’s name, a stained lobby carpet, a guest or two with a slightly illicit aura.

Hotels have always served people who need an off-the-record place to live—sex workers, drug dealers—and the Ramada has its share of people who are hiding out. (Bounty hunters come to the hotel so often that the weeklies know their names and say hi.) But in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the Ramada’s clientele shifted away from such regulars to include suburban families who had been used to staying in hotels only on vacations. Many of the families still had incomes. Some had long been struggling members of the working class, fighting to stay better than broke; others had fallen suddenly out of the middle class.

Across the country, suburban poverty rose by more than half in the first decade of the new century. Families now find themselves navigating landscapes that were built around wealth: single-family houses that are sold, not rented; too few apartment buildings; and government agencies hidden at the far edge of the suburban ring, more responsive to trash-pickup complaints than rising hunger rates.

I think this article actually made me experience and emotion and cry.  Read the entire story and it will break your heart.

A better way to say goodbye

I was 12 when I first attended my first funeral.  We had a friend at a nursing home and Mr. Crawford lived next door.  We would go and visit our family friend and see him each time where he was quite nice to all of us, often giving me some money for candy and to get a coffee for my mom.

When he died, we went to the funeral chapel where his family went on at length about how horrible of human being he was and what a bad father he had been.  We just listened but I was shocked when the minister started his eulogy with, “He was a very bad man”.  

When I became a pastor, I did a lot of funerals.  Some of them were celebrations of life, others were horrible to perform and yes, I buried some really bad men over the years.  Each time I tried my best to respect the person and life that I was burying while keeping some sense of reality of the life they lived.

In the work I do now, our clients die very young.  The drugs, violence, lifestyle and alcohol takes it toll on your body.  Toss in HIV/Aids/Hep-C or cancer from the smoking and you have a really low life expectancy.  I have helped more than one mother clean out a locker in a shelter where the only thing she has left of her son was a pair of jeans, a jacket, and really nothing else.  I have always found myself hoping that there be something of value in there, a watch or a something of value for the parent to hold on to but there never is.  Many tears have been shed by family members during those times. 

In most situations I find myself boxing stuff up and realizing that for the most part, no one was going to come get it.  Months later my janitor asks me what I want him to do with the sealed box.  No one has come to get it.

Every couple of months I hear that a client that I had worked with has died.  In each and every case I fire up my computer and Google their name.  I search The StarPhoenix’s obituary website and I scour the internet to find out if it is true.  I rarely find anything.  Over the next couple of days I generally run into a member of the Saskatoon Health Region or the Saskatoon City Police and ask them. In every case I get the same reply that they have died.

They often die alone.  There is no media coverage, no obituary, no will, no assets, and to be honest, almost no one cared.  Many colleagues just block it out like it doesn’t exist.  The file is closed and they are done. Death has never bothered me, neither does the grieving process but in these cases I find myself not sure what to do.  The idea that someone has lived their entire life and there is no trace of it left seems wrong to me.

I guess as a blogger and a writer, I find myself in a situation where I write to process.  After a sleepless night last night thinking of a couple of people that I had known well that had died, I came in early to work to write something, anything about their lives as I saw them.  Of course I never know what do next.  I tweeted this morning that I was struggling with his and it resonated with people but I don’t know what to do next.  

Is the best way to mark one’s life to have a service provider eulogize them?  My first encounter with one gentleman was when he assaulted Wendy with a bottle of Listerine she wouldn’t sell him in about 1998.  Of course the other part of that story is that he would beat her at cribbage all of the time when she helped out at a drop-in centre.  Do you tell the stories of abuse, residential schools, the people that they hurt.

One of the people that recently deceased was a women that I wrote about two years ago in The StarPhoenix.  She had AIDS at the time, was pimped out by her boyfriend and was high for every single interaction that I had with her over seven years.  At the same time I appreciated every single strung out conversation we ever had and I was saddened and sickened when I would see her beaten and bruised.  It’s weird but I miss her.

They had a legacy with me and we have a bunch of stories that shaped me that are too bizarre to write here (somethings are only funny if you know the person)

The world doesn’t stop for death.  When you die, people come together, tell some stories, each some sandwiches, sing some hymns, and drink some coffee.  I am not asking the world to stop, I just think they should have some form of legacy.

In Toronto, they have a homeless memorial.  In Saskatoon we have a walk to remember those lost in the sex trade but at the end of the day they were individuals that lived and died in our city, it would be great if they are remembered as such.  The question for me to figure out, what is the best way to do that.

Tech entrepreneur is converting retired city buses into showers for the San Francisco homeless

I don’t know if I find this encouraging or depressing.

San Francisco is teeming with tech entrepreneurs who want to save the world but who’ll pass by the homeless person on the street without a second glance.

Doniece Sandoval, a Bay Area tech entrepreneur, is not one of them. Her latest trick? Turning retired city buses into mobile showers for the homeless. The initiative, known as Lava Mae, is a response to a desperate need in the city. According to the most recent count, more than 6,500 homeless people sleep on the street or in shelters in San Francisco, and there are only eight shower facilities specifically available to the homeless, and most of these have just one or two stalls and aren’t open every day.

I love the idea but I find the homeless number of 6,500 people more than a little depressing.  The idea of showers and facilities for the homeless has also been done quite well in Seattle at Urban Rest Stops.

The Urban Rest Stop (URS) is a hygiene center providing free restrooms, showers and laundry facilities to homeless men, women and children within a clean, safe and dignified environment. The URS has five private shower rooms, 9 washer and 14 dryer units, and large men’s and women’s restrooms. Patrons receive free toiletries including toothbrushes, toothpaste, disposable razors, shaving cream, shampoo and soap. Patrons may borrow overalls while they wash their clothes. 

Homeless Edmontonians speak about impact of residential schools

This video is heartbreaking.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada paid a visit to the Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton on Saturday.

As Nicole Weisberg reports, the commission has been gathering stories about the impact of residential schools on Aboriginal Peoples across Canada — but this is the first time it has visited Edmonton’s inner city.