Remember Glenn and Shaun, the two homeless guys I wrote about on February 24—who did not get to move into the new temporary modular housing at West 59th Avenue and Heather Street in the Marpole neighbourhood?
Neither of them still has anywhere else to call home except south Granville Street.
Thus, four days after Glenn was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital on March 16 and diagnosed with a possible tumour in his lower intestines, he was back to panhandling and sleeping on the sidewalk of one of Vancouver’s most exclusive shopping strips.
I spoke to Glenn briefly on March 22, just after he returned from VGH. He told me that the possibility of a tumor was a surprise—something over and above his known, chronic health issues.
He is scheduled to go in for a colonoscopy and possibly surgery on the 23rd.
Obviously I’m crossing my fingers that everything goes ahead as scheduled and if surgery is required that it is a complete success. I’m also hoping that the medical system will be humane and allow Glenn a decent amount of post-operative healing time in a hospital bed before kicking him back out on the street.
How Glenn and Shaun missed the bus to Marpole
It’s a shame that Glenn and Shaun did not get into the Marpole temporary modular housing (TMH)—more properly referred to now as the Reiderman Residence.
Through most of February they had been so certain they were accepted as tenants. Now it seems that this was based on misunderstanding and wishful thinking on their part, encouraged, perhaps, by some over-promising on the part of outreach volunteers.
Glenn and Shaun were assisted in applying for tenancy in the Marpole TMH by outreach volunteers from the Westside Anglicans Neighbourhood Ministry (WANM). This group would not discuss specific client details with me but was willing to acknowledge that filling out and submitting social housing applications was one of its outreach services.
Glenn and Shaun say that they received such assurances from outreach volunteers—including dates when they would apparently receive keys—that left them with little doubt that they had been accepted for the Marpole TMH.
However, I was been told by someone who looked into the situation that yes—WANM volunteers did complete housing applications for Glenn and Shaun—but that the pair missed at least one critical meeting with provincial housing officials.
It’s hard to imagine that not showing up for this one meeting was enough to derail their chances but, for whatever reason, it appears that they were never considered for units in the Reiderman Residence.
This seems to have been made clear in the minutes of a March 14 meeting at the Marpole Community Centre, between neighbourhood residents and Community Builders, the operator of the Reiderman Residence, when the facilitator fielded a question about a news article stating that “two people” were turned away:
“They were never interviewed for this project. There is a lot of outreach being conducted and there are many different lists people can be placed on.”
When I emailed B.C. Housing and asked directly whether or not Glenn and Shaun had been considered for the Marpole TMH and if they were otherwise in line for housing, spokesperson Rajvir Rao replied in general but unmistakable terms:
“B.C. Housing cannot comment on the status of any individual’s application for supportive housing, however we can tell you that no one who was promised housing at the Marpole development has lost their housing.”
B.C. Housing and the City of Vancouver are looking to provide over 600 units of temporary modular housing across the city this year and I have been repeatedly told that Glenn and Shaun should certainly be on the list for two of these upcoming units.
Some of the Reiderman Residence’s new residents
At least a few homeless people I know did get units in the Reiderman Residence.
There is “Chuckles”, who pushed a shopping cart around Fairview for perhaps a decade, before going into social housing some time around 2014. I mentioned him in a 2017 post as someone who had evicted himself back into homelessness when housing authorities wanted to move him to a building in the Downtown Eastside.
Housing authorities have repeatedly given assurances that some priority would be given to housing Marpole area homeless in the Marpole TMH.
When the facilitator at the March 14 meeting at the Marpole Community Centre was asked how many of the TMH tenants were from Marpole, the answer was vague and qualified:
“A lot. The number has changed from the last meeting since outreach has continue working hard to find potential tenants. Many of the new residents are from the community, have past connections to the community or have identified it as a neighbourhood in which they feel safe.”
Chuckles’ first social housing in 2014 was in the Dunbar area but it was from social housing in Marpole that he evicted himself in November of 2016. So he probably qualifies as a tenant with past connections to the community.
Two other tenants I know in the Marpole TMH are “Beetlejuice” (someone else who left social housing and returned to being homeless) and his homeless friend Rick—both from the Fairview/Mount Pleasant area.
And there’s Jerzy Smolinski, who was featured in a CBC News piece on March 6.
I’ve known Jerzy as “Jerry” for about 11 years. Most other homeless people just called him “Suitcases”—due to the fact that he always pushed a shopping cart heavily loaded and stacked high with suitcases.
Thank goodness that he’s finally got somewhere to properly unpack all those suitcases!
Like Chuckles, Beetlejuice, and Rick, Jerry is well over 50, easygoing and unfailingly soft-spoken and polite. I know that some of these guys drink but I would be perfectly comfortable having any or all of them as a neighbour. I wouldn’t expect them to cause any trouble for their new neighbours.
I’m frankly more concerned about their new neighbours causing them trouble.
The smoking gun of Marpole residents’ opposition to TMH
Groups of Marpole residents like the Caring Citizens of Vancouver Society, which reportedly claims to represent 6,000 local residents, have been steadfastly protesting the siting of temporary modular housing in their neighbourhood every step of the way. The legitimate concern of these groups has been housing authorities’ stated goal to include as tenants in the Marpole TMH up to 20 percent (or about 15) Service Level 3 individuals.
These are individuals who are classed as requiring the most supervision due to their potential for antisocial behaviours, including everything from poor hygiene to hoarding, aggression, vandalism, and crime.
It was the City of Vancouver’s Temporary Modular Housing Contract Approval report of September 25, 2017, that first indicated that up to 20 percent of Service Level 3 Individuals would be included in the tenant mix of the Marpole TMH.
On February 26, B.C. Housing’s Rajvir Rao, in an email reply to me, reiterated that the goal of tenanting had not changed since September 2017:
“We are working towards having approximately 20 per cent of residents at the Marpole modular homes categorized as support level 3, which means these individuals have more complex needs and require a high level of support to maintain housing. We look to place individuals in the types of supportive housing developments that match their specific needs. Where those needs don’t match, we look for alternative options. With a total of 600 units planned throughout Vancouver, the Marpole development will not be the only option for people.”
Four days later, however, on March 2, Ethel Whitty, director of homelessness services for the City of Vancouver would not tell the Vancouver Sun how many tenants were Service Level 3—saying, in essence, that there was no requirement to include people according to their service level:
“We don’t think of people as Service Level 3—we think of them as people. People have many different needs and we want to be sure that the operator can meet all kinds of needs, and so that’s the kind of mix we have.”
All the Marpole protesters whom I have corresponded with lead with this same service level scare issue. But if you take that issue away altogether, as Whitty has tried to do, it likely wouldn’t make the hostility go away.
I believe that if you could peel away the layers of opposition to the modular housing of homeless people in Marpole—argument by argument—you would find no end to what the protestors object to.
One of them—who uses the social media handle of MayChai (or May Chai)—goes so far as to publicly rail against the unacceptable risks of modular housing tenants simply smoking cigarettes in her neighbourhood, and I have reason to believe that she is not alone among her protesting peers in this unreasonable regard.
Jerry told me on March 9 that other residents in the neighbourhood have actually complained to his face when they’ve seen him light up outside. Fortunately, he said, tenants of the Reiderman Residence are allowed to smoke in their units.