The community is distressed and saddened by the responses of many Marpole property owners

We are distressed and saddened by the responses of many local property owners to the proposed modular housing complex slated for installation at 57th and Cambie. Despite the courageous and compassionate indications of support for the initiative from some who attended the public meetings, the majority of speakers seemed more interested in indulging their own prejudices than in supporting the city’s efforts to begin to address the combined problems of homelessness and affordable housing. We believe such opposition is misguided, for several reasons.

First, the modular housing projects proposed for 57th and Cambie and for several other sites across the city are not homeless shelters, but are in fact rental housing for poor people. Despite (or perhaps informed by) the motto “Right idea, wrong location,” residents of the prosperous West Side opposing the initiative are in effect saying we don’t want poor people in our neighbourhood. At a time when rising real estate values are consistently identified as a contributor to homelessness, this response is uncharitable at best. Moreover, the modular housing proposal aims to serve people already living in the local neighbourhood who lack adequate shelter. Studies of housing programs and policy across Canada repeatedly call for mixed housing that combines in the same or proximate locations housing for the prosperous and the poverty stricken, as an important step toward building social cohesion and community safety. Indeed, stable housing is widely agreed to be the surest path toward recovery and stability for the homeless and poverty-stricken members of our community. We should applaud every effort to protect the human right to housing for the needy among us.

Second, stated concerns about safety of children are unfounded. There is little if any evidence to suggest that the homeless are any more likely to commit crimes against children or violence against neighbours than the general population — indeed, the homeless are much more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators. Moreover, in an increasingly complex world where poverty and inequality are increasing, it is critically important that our young people be educated and experienced in the struggles of people facing poverty and homelessness. Indeed, school children have been important contributors to our Neighbourhood Ministry homelessness program and are keen to do more to ease the pains of the homeless and needy on our streets. We should be educating our children, not secluding them.

Additionally, the suggestion that residents in modular housing will be using drugs and alcohol denigrates the poor and homeless for behaviour that is widespread across Vancouver — even in the West Side. To claim that those in poverty seeking stable housing should be subject to a standard of conduct different from the rest of the community is to impose a hypocritical double standard on our most vulnerable neighbours. We should not be swayed by selective attacks on social behaviours that are already widespread across our society.

Finally, at a time when studies such as that from the Vancouver Foundation challenge us to overcome the multiples ills of social alienation and loneliness, the modular housing initiative exemplifies an approach to building community through efforts to support the needy among us. Tragically, the protesters at 57th and Cambie seem to have fallen victim to the evils of unfounded fear and suspicion against the homeless and the poor. Let us recall that our neighbours on the street are people, with moms and dads, brothers and sisters, hopes and dreams. But also people for whom the blessings of our modern society have mostly been absent — absent (or abusive) parents, absent (sometimes deceased siblings), lost hopes and dreams. Our legacy as a society is reflected in how we deal with the most needy and vulnerable among us. A first step is to overcome fear with love. At a time when some would prefer to build walls around their homes and communities, let us have the courage to reach out to the needy, embracing the opportunity to build inclusive communities. At a time when some would seek to isolate the homeless into ghettos of despair, let us have compassion to welcome the most needy of our neighbours into clean and safe housing in communities across the city where they already live. The proposed modular housing initiative should be supported by everyone.

The Rev. Dr. Pitman B. Potter is clergy leader and Vicki Potter is operations coordinator with the Westside Anglicans Neighbourhood Ministry.

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