Tessa, SP intern in Vancouver, reflects on the miraculous ways that God has freed and transformed Jack’s life, resulting in a breakthrough of justice for the most vulnerable residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The Regent Hotel offers long-term tenancy and houses some of the Downtown Eastside’s most vulnerable residents: individuals who suffer from significant mental illness, residents with mental and physical disabilities, and seniors on fixed incomes. The building owners have neglected it for forty years, resulting in deplorable conditions in violation of the residents’ rights. Ceilings cave in due to water leaks, mould covers the walls and ceilings, rooms lack working doors and water, and mice and rat infestations are so extreme that tenants woke up being bit by them in their sleep.
Jack is one of these residents. Three years ago, Jack was a hardcore drug user for fifty years and described himself as being full of anger and hate for others. But one night as he sat in his room in the Regent Hotel, God met him, freed him from his addictions, and softened his heart. God filled him with a deep love and care for all people. Since then, he has been the main advocate for his building, longing to see God bring justice for the people so that they may be cared for and treated as they should.
I have joined Jack and Wendy in organizing the tenants of this hotel and advocating that the owners, the notorious Sahota family, repair the building and that the city intervene by enforcing its standards of maintenance bylaws to ensure that the most vulnerable residents of the city are protected.
A few weeks ago, cheers resounded as tenants received word that they would receive compensation for the suffering they endured while residing in the Regent Hotel. The city decided to shut the doors of this building and find alternate housing for all the tenants. This huge success resulted in the relocation of residents into newly renovated housing, supportive living situations, and other clean and safe conditions.
At the final meeting we had with the tenants before they moved into new housing, nearly all of the tenants expressed much joy and gratefulness for their new housing situations. As the meeting closed, Jack stood up at the front and declared boldly in front of all the people that the events that took place were evidence that God really did care about the people in the building. I felt honoured to witness his statement of faith and to hear the tenants erupt in cheers, thanking both God and the advocates for working on their behalf. It really was a beautiful moment.
Jack was totally right; God’s hand moved mountains to care for the people in this place. God was at work first in freeing Jack from addiction, giving him the vision and courage to advocate, and clearing the path toward a victory for the building’s residents. Jack continues to advocate not only for the tenants of the Regent Hotel, but also for all the people who live in the Downtown Eastside through a class action lawsuit against the Sahota family and the city. Such a case would set a new precedent in the neighbourhood, holding landlords accountable to upkeep their properties and holding the city accountable for ensuring the safety and well-being of all of the city’s residents.
As I have worked alongside Jack, I have found myself marveling at the work that God has done in his life and how God continues to be using him today. People come forward expressing a hope they find in seeing Jack’s transformed life. In Tim Hortons, on the street, or at the Community Centre, neighbors proclaim, “You give me hope that I can change, too, Jack!” I am humbled as I walk beside him, remembering that God uses the lowly to confound the wise; I can see how that rings so true for Jack. With his boldness, deep faith, and willing heart, God is using Jack to challenge the status quo, to change systems of oppression, and to share His love with the people, bringing a greater glimpse of God’s kingdom into the neighbourhood!