Few things are as fun as collaborating with a brilliant photographer on a story. A few months ago, Beth Nakamura asked me to work on a story about The Joyce Hotel with her. The motel is an old single-room occupancy hostel that has, for decades, housed some of the city's poorest. The block around it has gentrified, though, and the owner was shutting the motel down.
Beth and I spent a few months there, getting to know the workers and tenants. The resulting project came out this weekend. Check out Oregonlive to see Beth's photos and hear two of the residents tell their stories:
The beds sagged. The windows rattled, and the walls stayed sticky. But for 90 people, the Joyce Hotel was home.
Most had spent years at the Southwest 11th Avenue motel, forking over $40 a night to claim their little slice of downtown.
Then, last weekend, the Internet and cable television both went dark. A clerk collected keys.
After decades of housing some of the city's poorest, the Old Joyce had closed down.
The building's owner, who turned down multiple offers to save one of downtown's last remaining single-room occupancy hotels, was coy about its uncertain fate. He evicted the tenants in the middle of a citywide housing emergency.
"I already miss it," said Arnold Drake World, a 54-year-old artist who lived at the Joyce for three years. "Just the thought of leaving is terrible."
Poor people have been staying at the Joyce since at least 1965, when the owners began advertising furnished rooms for $32 a month. (In 2016, that would be just $242.) The 104-year-old building was another cheap lodge, the Hotel Treves, before that.
Occasionally, travelers booked a night at the Joyce. Men newly released from prison stopped by on their way to freedom. But mostly the hotel attracted longtime transients too picky to stay in shelters or on the streets.
"Most of us that do have any pride left, we're not trying to go to a Mission Gospel or anything like that," World said. "Because let's talk about lice, ticks, fleas and everything else that comes with those free scenarios."
The other guests, most of them men, shared that sense of dignity. They liked their bathrooms clean, their hallways free of drama.
Sometimes a drunk upset the balance, tumbling down the stairs or picking a fight with a lifer. And several people died inside, either from overdrinking, overdosing or once, in 2010, strangulation. A man fell to his death in 1991 while trying to rappel from a hotel window using a standard-issue bedsheet. That same year, one guest stabbed another in the heart.
But most learned to co-exist. They took turns using two washing machines and one microwave. They showered in shifts and shared beers when life turned dark.
The rooms were spare, but residents often personalized the cinder block walls. One resident left behind a Fleetwood Mac poster. Others stashed hot plates on the radiators and turned chests of drawers into food prep stations.