News / Vancouver

Homeless housing in Marpole sparks protest, "vicious comments"

Mayor condemned equating homelessness with drug use and crime.

Graffiti reads: &quotJunkies out," near the site of a temporary modular housing site at 59th Ave. and Heather St. in Vancouver's Marpole neighbourhood.

Jen St. Denis / Metro Order this photo

Graffiti reads: "Junkies out," near the site of a temporary modular housing site at 59th Ave. and Heather St. in Vancouver's Marpole neighbourhood.

Mike Burdick says his neighbours are “inflamed” about 78 units of temporary housing for homeless people being put beside two schools in Marpole.

What are they worried about? “Needles, mental health, crime, drug deals.”

Amanda Karaca, a 12-year resident of Marpole, is also worried.

“We have a not-small homeless popoulation in Marpole,” she told Metro. “You can’t help people without shelter.” She added that a few years ago, a local homeless man named Rick Hofs died of exposure in the middle of winter.

“The attitude I’ve heard in Marpole is, ‘It’s great, we need homeless shelters — how about downtown?’ Or ‘This is the last affordable neighbourhood — without drug addicts.’”

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Jen St. Denis/Metro

A sign warning about homelessness and drug use has been tossed on the ground near the future site of temporary modular housing.

Between 200 and 300 people rallied the Monday morning at the proposed site of the housing, on one corner of the sprawling Pearson Dogwood site at 59th Avenue and Heather Street. They carried signs calling for children to be protected, and say there has not been enough consultation with the community about the temporary modular housing.

Countering them were a very small number of residents who support the housing for the mostly single-family home neighbourhood. Hours after the protest, signs warning of rampant drug use could be seen ripped into small pieces on the ground.

“I’m very, very concerned about the vicious comments, the stigma that’s being put on people that are homeless or having a tough time with housing,” said Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, about the heated rhetoric at the early morning protest.

Despite the protests, the housing will go ahead, the mayor confirmed. The housing is expected to be completed by January.

In October, council enacted a new bylaw that allows for modular housing — a relatively quick and inexpensive way of building — to be constructed on any land that is not zoned for single family housing. The bylaw allows for the temporary housing to be built without having to go through the lengthy public hearing process.

The provincial government has committed $291 million to construct and operate modular housing across the province, with 600 units earmarked for Vancouver.

The housing will be run by Community Builders, a non-profit housing operator. Julie Roberts, president of Community Builders, said tenants of the modular housing will sign a good neighbour housing agreement, be willing to live in a community setting, and will be moved to another Community Builders-operated building if there are problems.

Roberts said another Community Builders building, at 3475 E. Hastings St., is near an elementary school and there was the same kind of concerns when it was planned. But the non-profit worked with a community advisory group and the school board and there have been no problems, she said.

Mike Burdick, a Marpole resident who has organized others in his community against the modular housing, proposed this industrial site far from any other residences as a more appropriate site for the housing.

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Mike Burdick, a Marpole resident who has organized others in his community against the modular housing, proposed this industrial site far from any other residences as a more appropriate site for the housing.

The community concerns are familiar as well to Andrew Halladay, an Anglican priest at St. Augustine’s Church in Marpole. Several years ago the church expanded its services to local homeless people. There were “fears that there would be crime, that there would be drug paraphernalia around, that there would be dangerous and violent people,” he said.

“What we found in the three or four years we’ve been doing it is that those fears were completely unfounded. In fact the warm welcome and the respect has been returned to us.”

But Burdick and the neighbourhood group he represents want the housing to be put elsewhere. One idea is Heather and Kent, land owned by the city in industrial land near the Fraser River. There are no houses or other residential buildings there.

“We are not NIMBYs,” he insisted. “Our tagline is, ‘Great idea, wrong location.’”

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