News / Vancouver

Marpole students speak up in support of housing for homeless

Teens counter fears that the housing plan puts children at risk.

Students from Churchill Secondary started a Facebook page to voice their support for a modular housing building for homeless people near their school. (Left to right) Patrick Lee, 17, Holly Morrison, 17, Kaylin Xu, 16 and Zaiyou Chen, 17.

Jennifer Gauthier / Vancouver Freelance

Students from Churchill Secondary started a Facebook page to voice their support for a modular housing building for homeless people near their school. (Left to right) Patrick Lee, 17, Holly Morrison, 17, Kaylin Xu, 16 and Zaiyou Chen, 17.

A group of Churchill Secondary students is pushing back against the assumption that housing for homeless people planned across the street from their school will put kids in danger.

“I was excited when I heard about the modular housing,” said Kaylin Xu, a Grade 12 student who lives in Marpole. “Around my home there’s a lot of homeless people. I see them freezing during the night and I feel really bad for them.”

Xu and classmates Patrick Lee, Holly Morrison, Zaiyou Chen and Ishmam Bulyan started a Facebook page called Marpole Students For Modular Housing. It bears a certain resemblance to an earlier page, Marpole Students Against Modular Housing.

“It really didn’t represent the views of the students themselves,” said Lee of the “against” page, which has 22 followers compared to their page’s 216.

“They were more using the students as pawns in their argument, which we thought was really unfair to the students. So we started the page in response.”

Metro reached out to the "against" page for comment, but did not receive a reply.

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of Marpole residents have come out to protest the housing planned at 59th Avenue and Heather Street, with many saying they fear the housing will pose a danger to children who attend nearby schools.

A spray painted message,

Jen St. Denis

A spray painted message, "Junkies Out," on a sign near the site of the modular housing.

Modular housing is a quicker and less expensive way of building, and is usually used to build work camps for industries like oil and gas. But it’s now being seen as a temporary solution to rising homelessness. With a new provincial funding commitment, the city plans to build 600 units of temporary modular housing across the city.

Despite several information sessions, those opposing the project have said they don’t have enough information about security or who might be moving in, and they’re worried that the new residents may be violent, mentally ill, or use drugs.

One protestor said Stanley Park would be a better place for homeless people, while another suggested industrial land near the Fraser River.

But the students are applying what they’ve learned in their high school geography class, and to them, the fears just don’t add up.

“We looked at case studies in geography, other social housing projects in other parts of the world where they try to segregate, almost, a marginalized group in social housing projects,” Chen said. “It would be really weird for us to take a step backward and do things that have been proven not to work.”

Kaylin Chen, a Churchill Secondary strudent, hugs Kimberly Dean, a Marpole parent. Dean thanked the students for supporting the modular housing planned for a site across the street from their school.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Kaylin Chen, a Churchill Secondary strudent, hugs Kimberly Dean, a Marpole parent. Dean thanked the students for supporting the modular housing planned for a site across the street from their school.

Metro’s interview with the students across the street from their school was interrupted by Kimberly Dean, who was walking home with her daughter. Dean, a former heroin addict who now works with women at a recovery centre, thanked the teens for supporting the housing. Her daughters attend Wilfrid Laurier Elementary, across the street from the modular housing site.

“In this neighbourhood, they will thrive. I’ve been off of heroin for 14 years," Dean said.

"These people are good people. They’re working hard at changing their life.”

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