There’s been a changing of the guard at the Barracks.
Whitehorse resident and contractor Scott Howell took over as manager at the Range Road building at the end of February.
The offer surprised Howell. When one of the building’s Vancouver-based owners asked him if he wanted a job, he thought they wanted him to do some maintenance. He’d installed ceilings at the building before.
“I had no idea he meant, ‘Do you want to manage the building?’” said Howell.
So far, a big part of managing the Barracks has been bringing new ideas to the place.
The building dates to the end of the Second World War. All the units are in “various states of disrepair,” he said. He installed new windows and flooring, and even turned some unused storage units into rental rooms.
One of his first tasks was installing working locks on the outside doors. Before, “it was easier to take your key out and pick the lock on the front door than it was to just use your key and open it,” said Howell.
What sometimes happened inside the building was just as rough as the exterior.
There were a lot of “comings-and-goings that really weren’t nice,” said Howell. People slept in the halls. Historically, some “nefarious characters” have lived in the building, he said.
“There is a rough crowd here, and some people really buy into the lore of the Barracks,” said Howell.
He’s working to change that.
The Barracks offers bachelor apartments, one-bedroom apartments or single rooms. The 24 single rooms are all in the basement, known as the Trench. Each room has a bar fridge and microwave. A common room has multiple stoves and fridges, a TV and couches. There’s shared bathrooms. When Howell first took over, both men and women lived downstairs.
Now only men can.
It just wasn’t safe for women, said Howell. Two were renting single rooms when he arrived. One was leaving. He moved the other to an apartment elsewhere in the building.
“I was actually fearful for the women down there,” he said.
Once, a woman who appeared to be drunk went missing during a fire alarm, he said. She was found in a room where a group of men were trying to serve her more alcohol. Her vomit and urine were all over the room, he said.
“It was almost like a men’s halfway house here,” he said.
Many come to the Barracks after spending time in jail. Often, Howell rents to people who receive social assistance. This means he often speaks with government workers – not the tenants – before he rents out the units. That can make it difficult to get a good read on people, he said.
Howell studied social sciences in university. But theory couldn’t prepare him for this. “You do all the theory in the world, and you come here, and start dealing with it on the frontline.” He’s had people serve house arrest in the Barracks, he said. But it’s not his job to be a jailer.
“The thing about people with addictions, most of them know they have addictions, they just don’t deal with them very well. So when you throw them into a situation where they’re recovering and the guy next door isn’t, well, it’s a bad spiral,” he said.
He’s talked with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous about holding meetings in the building. He’s planning to start a chip truck business with a tenant who needs a sponsor.
Not everyone wants support. He had to evict one tenant for trying to deal him drugs, he said. Others have had to leave for constant disturbances. A sign on the front door warns tenants about possible inspections.
But he’s confident some people can change.
“A little bit of support is a good thing,” said Howell.
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