Downtown Eastside residents such as Tom Gerlitz doesn’t have a cellular or landline phone.
“I’ve been meaning to get a cell phone, and now it looks like they’re coming into reason, a reasonable $20 or $30, a month,” he said.
The cheapest cell phone plan in Canada is from Wind Mobile, which charges about $17 per month after taxes. This adds up to about $200 per year.
Gerlitz says that about half of the residents in his building do not have a phone.
Mike Goepel lives in the Downtown Eastside on disability welfare of $1,000 a month. He can afford a cell phone, but says that he doesn’t want one because he prefers to use the public phone at the Carnegie Community Centre on Main and East Hastings Streets. He acknowledges the risks of not having a phone.
A year ago he used a pay phone at Columbia and Powell Streets when he injured his leg.
“I woke up at midnight, and I was in extreme pain,” he said. “I limped down, I used one of those phones and I phoned 911 for an emergency. But I was lucky that the phone was working. That phone out there isn’t always working.
“In a life-or-death medical emergency, all I can do is ring the fire alarm,” he continued. “That’s the only way to get an emergency vehicle.”
Downtown Eastside demographic snapshot*
– 82 per cent of residents live alone.
– $14,024: Average annual income of residents who live alone.
– $6,282: The average annual income, minus government subsidies.
– 60 per cent of residents not considered participants of the labour force.
*The Globe and Mail study of Downtown Eastside demographics (2006 figures)