Patti Bacchus: Marpole housing opponents need schooling

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Marpole residents opposing the installation of temporary modular housing at West 57th Avenue and Heather Street could learn a thing or two from the schools they’re claiming will be endangered by the housing’s residents.

      The Marpole project comes in the midst of a housing crisis and includes the first 78 of 600 modular units that will be built on vacant or underutilized sites across the city in a partnership between the new B.C. NDP government and the city of Vancouver.

      The Onni Group development company is loaning the Marpole site for two temporary buildings that will house 78 residents who currently live in the area but do not have homes or are at risk of losing their homes in the near future. Priority will be given to the people already living in the Marpole area who are over 45, homeless, and those with disabilities, including some who use wheelchairs.

      A team from B.C. Housing, the city, and the housing operator will select residents, who will get access to health and support services.  

      The site will be managed by the professional nonprofit Community Builders Group, which has 15 years of experience in providing support to people with a variety of needs. They will manage the modular buildings 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

      The modular units are a quick and effective way to provide desperately needed, self-contained housing units for homeless and low-income Vancouver residents while long-term social housing is being planned and built. How could this be anything but good news?

      Here we finally have a provincial government that’s ready to work with the city to address homelessness, a developer willing to chip in, and a plan that can get some of the most vulnerable members of our communities into safe, clean, and warm self-contained homes by January. Sounds like a win to me.

      Petition and demonstration organized

      Unfortunately, there’s a group fighting the plan and running a twitter account called ProtectMarpoleKids. There’s a petition circulating, several people rallied against the project on Monday morning, and several people held protest signs and attended a series of public-information meetings earlier this week.

      I heard about the opposition and signed up to attend a public meeting Monday night at the Langara Golf Club—one of three community information sessions for the project—so I could find out more.

      Monday was a chilly night, and not just because of the frigid weather.

      I wandered around the open-house portion to look at the display boards about the project and listen to what some of the folks there had to say. I was greeted at the building entrance by a bunch of people holding signs opposing the project. Inside there were intense and angry discussions taking place.

      Opponents: “Right idea, wrong place”

      Several people at the meeting said it was the right idea in the wrong place. When asked where they thought housing should go, a group at the open house told me homeless people should be sent to live somewhere farther away from “family neighbourhoods”.

      One man who spoke during the question-and-answer session said he was “concerned about the quality of people who will be moving in”.

      Since when do we have the right to assess the “quality” of our neighbours and determine if they have the right to live near us? I’ve had lots of neighbours over the years, and no one ever gave me the chance to interview or assess them first. Why should it be any different for people who have the misfortune to be disabled, ill, low income, homeless, or a combination of those?

      Another man said he already has to walk through clouds of “opiate smoke” when he walks his dog every day, so homeless people shouldn’t be housed nearby. And on it went.

      The mood inside that meeting felt just as cold and frigid as it was outside Monday night, despite the heated comments. As I drove home to my cozy bed in my warm, dry home—as, I suspect, most, if not all, of the housing opponents did—I felt just sick about what I’d heard at the meeting.

      There were all kinds of comments about mentally ill people being a danger to the community and schoolchildren. Clearly, some of those folks aren’t familiar with statistics that show as many as 20 percent of high-school students suffer from mental illness—not to mention the horrible impact of the stigma that goes with it, the stigma these folks were perpetuating. There were also ugly comments about homeless people being drug-addicted rapists, and pedophiles would be moving in to prey on their children.

      The fellow sitting next to me looked as uncomfortable as I was with what we were hearing and told me he lived across the street from a school but no one ever demanded he needed to go through a criminal-record check, like some at the meeting demanded for the modular-housing residents. No, I guess that’s just for poor people.

      Several of the upset folks I spoke to said their kids went to Laurier or Churchill secondary schools and that they were fearful for them.

      School codes of conduct call for open minds, kindness, bravery, and support for human rights

      Laurier’s code of conduct says “We encourage all students to S.O.A.R. with success (Supportive, Open-Minded, Awesome, Respectful).

      It says: “Supportive means we welcome everyone, we include others, we are helpful, and we are kind.”

      It says “Open-minded means we are flexible, we try new things, we make new friends and we are brave.”

      Churchill’s code of conduct says it “promotes the values expressed in the B.C. Human Rights Code respecting the rights of all individuals in accordance with the law—prohibiting discrimination based on race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, gender or sexual orientation.”

      Imagine if the protesters chose to follow the schools’ codes of conduct and plan a warm welcome for their new neighbours. I won’t be surprised if the students do—they learn about and practice social responsibility at the schools that those angry and fearful adults claim they are protecting.

      One of the things I love about public schools is that they embrace diversity and give students a chance to work and play with students from different backgrounds in a respectful and safe environment. I’ve always believed that this helps students become better citizens and the kind of people I want as neighbours. It’s why I sent my kids to public school and why I’m a public-education advocate.

      That may be part of what I find so heartbreaking about protestors—who claim to care so much about schools—behaving so hatefully toward others who are less fortunate than they are. That’s the opposite to what Vancouver schools are teaching students.

      About a decade ago, some neighbours in my Point Grey community circulated a petition from a group that called itself NIABY (Not in Anyone’s Back Yard). It expressed fears about a proposal to put in supported, publicly funded housing at West 16th Avenue and Dunbar Street. They were worried about what the residents might do to the kids who attended the nearby Lord Byng secondary.

      My kids were just starting at Byng. I refused to sign and told NIABY they should think twice about spreading harmful stigma about mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. The reality is there are people living on every block of this city who struggle with mental illness and addiction. Heck, some of them are probably living across the street from schools.

      That Dunbar project went ahead and no schoolchildren have been harmed by its residents since. Some predicted that property values would plummet, but we all know how that turned out. No, it’s just people living their lives in warm and secure homes.

      From what I heard on Monday night, the folks out protesting the Marpole housing could use some schooling of their own. 

      Patti Bacchus is the Georgia Straight K-12 education columnist. She was chair of the Vancouver school board from 2008 to 2014.