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Health study of Vancouver’s SRO tenants reveals rampant drug use, disease

For three thousand low-income people living in SROs, many of which offer substandard conditions, the cheap hotel housing is their only alternative to homelessness. The University of British Columbia

A new University of British Columbia Study has revealed several alarming health and addiction concerns facing thousands of tenants of single-room occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

For three thousand low-income people living in SROs, many of which offer substandard conditions, the cheap hotel housing is their only alternative to homelessness.

According to the study, two-thirds of SRO tenants surveyed were previously homeless and suffered from an average of three illnesses at the same time.

The 293 tenants who participated in the study received blood tests, psychiatric assessments, neurological evaluations and MRIs over a period of two years.

Ninety-five per cent of those studied had substance dependence, most notably to crack cocaine and meth, and almost two-thirds were involved in injection drug use.

Nearly 50 per cent suffered from psychosis and a neurological disorder. Eighteen per cent were HIV positive and 50 per cent had Hepatitis C.

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Dr. William Honer, senior author of the study, said that while SROs do not necessarily cause the health problems, the conditions of the housing can contribute to poor health, disease and drug addiction.

“All SROs are not marginal housing, some of them are well maintained and some of them are not and the conditions are not acceptable,” Honer said, adding that some of the city’s SROs have pest and rodent infestations, fire safety issues and plumbing deficiencies.

“Even with the great progress that has been made in decreasing overdose deaths through the establishment of InSite, the supervised injection site, the death rate in our participants was still nearly five times greater than in the general population,” Honer said.

The researchers involved with the study hope to work closely with health officials and the City of Vancouver to work towards a long-term solution to the complex problem.

Around 25 per cent of the study participants were women, 93 per cent were born in Canada, and 13 per cent were from Vancouver. First Nations participants made up 28 per cent of study sample. 

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