Marpole 'a food desert' warn members of Vancouver neighbourhood
New tenants settling into controversial Marpole temporary modular housing have limited access to food
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
Tenants settling into the 78 temporary modular homes in Marpole are facing what some local community members call a “food desert" in the area, they told Metro.
For the area's newest residents, finding affordable single-serving dishes or fresh produce is practically impossible near the project near 59th Avenue and Heather Street, said 17-year-old Sir Winston Churchill Secondary student Ishmam Bhuiyal.
“It’s a problem in Marpole that needs to be addressed,” he told Metro in an interview. “If anyone wanted to get food, they’d have to walk at least 25 minutes from here.”
The temporary facility has faced months of controversy and protests by some residents concerned about putting social housing so close to schools in the residential neighbourhood. But Bhuiyal co-founded a group in favour of the project, Marpole Students for Modular Housing.
He's also president of Kitchen On A Mission, a non-profit organization run by student volunteers that partners with local bakeries, supermarkets and hotels to feed the homeless in Vancouver, Winnipeg and San Francisco.
“For the modular housing, we are doing three donations a week,” he explained, offering bagels and produce. “What I hope to see is the city taking action and having plans to support these units by themselves.”
Long-term solutions are desperately needed, he added. An outpouring of emotion and pushback followed the city’s announcement it would put temporary modular housing in Marpole, with opponents citing its proximity to elementary schools.
Leading the opposition was a group of residents, Caring Citizens of Vancouver Society. Its spokesperson Derek Palaschuk told Metro his group isn't against helping homeless people. But with the project's tenants categorized as having either mental health problems or addictions and some with extensive criminal histories remains a serious concern for the critics.
The group is appealing a B.C. Supreme Court decision on the issue, and would like to see all tenants be “low-risk" instead. Palaschuk alleged some new tenants also feel concerned about living next to “high-risk people,” although Metro could not independently verify the statement.
But as Bhuiyal pointed out, there is similar opposition to another modular home site in Richmond — even though it is not near a school. At a recent meeting there, an attendee kicked a city librarian before fleeing the scene. Police later said the attack was unrelated to the open house meeting.
“The message we can extract is that people are going to have reasons for opposition and look to discriminate based on social status,” Bhuiyal said.
He is not alone. On Tuesday, a “brown-bag” meeting saw residents and community leaders chat about how to create better access to food.
Long-time Marpole resident and president of the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C., Gudrun Langolf, attended and told Metro they want to create a sustainable way of having food for people who “just don’t have the dough."
“There are people that live here because of lower rents that already can use better services,” she added, highlighting the high prices at supermarkets within 20-minute walking distance. “None of them sell things in a way that is suitable generally for seniors or people who have little money.”
Though each home is equipped with a kitchen, Langolf said buying in bulk is cheaper but not feasible - there is no storage. And public transit does not run east-west in Marpole making getting to grocery stores even more difficult, Langolf said.
Options discussed at the meeting were; finding storage (potentially in the community centre) for produce and bulk goods to be sold at a discounted rate, creating more meal programs or funding an affordable grocery.
“I am heartbroken that people put up signs as these folks were trying to move in,” she said. “But I am optimistic this will work out well, there is so much good will.”
Metro reached out to the Community Builders and BC Housing, who operate and run the site, but they did not respond in time for comment.
There aren’t places near the modular site for residents to get food, acknowledged Abi Bond, city director of affordable housing. However, Bond said the Community Builders are actively working to get food delivered once a week with the help of volunteers, retailers and the community.
“It’s great to hear that people are putting their minds to practical things to help residents be successful in their new homes,” she said, noting the city is amenable to further conversations.
Bond said just over half the tenants have moved in and expectations are the second-building will be full soon. She anticipates a report on how tenants have settled at the upcoming Community Advisory Committee next week.
“We’ve seen on this site quite divergent views,” she said. “However, as tenants start to move in there’s a new consensus emerging at a community level. People are figuring out practical ways they can help.”
The provincial government committed $66 million to construct and operate modular housing, with 600 units earmarked for Vancouver. The newest site approved by the city is at 525 Powell St. with 39 units for women is expected to open in May.
CORRECTION: We added clarification to say police confirmed the attack in Richmond was unrelated to the open house meeting about temporary modular housing.