In Marpole, protesters dig in at site of housing for homeless
Site preparation work began this week for the 78-unit building at 59th and Heather
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A group of Marpole residents say they will be protesting the site of a building to house the homeless every day until they get a public hearing to voice their concerns.
Site preparation work began this week for the 78-unit building, which will be built on the Pearson Dogwood site at 59th and Heather in the south Vancouver neighbourhood and is expected to be completed by February.
City council recently passed a bylaw to allow modular housing to house the homeless to be constructed quickly and without going to public hearing on land not zoned for single-family or industrial.
The city gave conditional approval to the Marpole project Monday.
But the protestors say they don’t have enough information about who will be moving in, and are especially concerned because 20 per cent of the tenants will be “high needs” and the building will be across from an elementary school and a high school.
According to an operating agreement between the city, BC Housing and the housing provider, that could include people with extensive criminal histories and a high risk to re-offend; people who have hoarding behaviours; who can be aggressive or intimidating; have demanding, manipulative or intrusive behaviours; or a history of property damage.
“What kind of criminal history? What are we talking about?” said Ann Mukai, a parent whose children go to Wilfrid Laurier Elementary. “They talk about people with disruptive behaviours, aggressive, so I don’t think we need to be putting adult problems in front of the school yard.”
Ethel Whitty, the city’s director of homeless services, said the descriptions of people with low, medium and high needs is part of the tenanting process for buildings like this, and the descriptions are broad.
“They’re not describing a person,” Whitty said. “What we want to be sure of is that any housing operator has the capacity to provide for 20 per cent of tenants who may have more complex needs.”
Whitty said that people who have been homeless for a long time are often traumatized from the experience of being homeless, and may have higher needs in terms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. “It can get really intense,” she said.
While Seema Dutta, a parent who was protesting on Wednesday, told Metro she was concerned sexual offenders would live in the building, Whitty said no sexual offenders would be housed in the building.
“We do extensive interviews with tenants pre-tenanting to decide who’s appropriate for the building, if there was any indication that that was an issue we would not be housing them in that building,” Whitty said. “We’ve said that on many occasions and I hope the community can trust us that that’s true.”
Mukai said she was concerned the schoolchildren — who have been transfixed by the protests — would be traumatized if they see an altercation or other incident at the modular housing. Whitty countered that in any neighbourhood, children could witness police or ambulance responding to incidents.
As to residents wanting more information on exactly who will be living in the building, “We’re limited in what we can say about their personal characteristics in the same way that you’re never going to know the health, either physical or mental health, concerns of your neighbour,” Whitty said.
Mukai insisted the protestors are compassionate people who would welcome homeless people to their neighbourhood — if they knew more about them. She said she had visited a nearby Anglican church that works with some local homeless people, and would be happy to welcome those particular people to the modular housing.
Many of the protestors did not want to speak to Metro or show their faces. A young man who did not appear to be part of the protest group held a sign saying, “We want homeless people to freeze to death,” but he walked off when Metro attempted to speak to him. Mukai said other members of the group don't know him and had told him that his message didn’t reflect their concerns.