More than 80 people spoke for and against a planned supportive housing project for the homeless at a Langley Township council meeting Wednesday night.
The meeting, which stretched from 6 p.m. to almost midnight, saw a number of local residents raise fears about crime and drugs, while other residents, social service providers, and the homeless themselves said the project would be a beacon of hope.
The project aims to transform the former Quality Inn into a 49-unit supportive housing complex with full-time staff on the premises. But controversy has mostly centered on the fact that residents will not be required to be drug free before moving in, though the project aims to provide help for people with addictions and mental health issues.
Sheryl Murphy was homeless two and a half years due to mental health issues, she told the council.
She is now a resident of a supportive housing project in Vancouver.
“I’m building a foundation for my life, so I can move forward,” she said. “Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure, and housing is a part of that.”
John MacLellan, currently homeless, said opposition to the project was sad.
“I don’t know one person that’s been accepted to this housing that wants to screw it up,” he said. After five years in the rain and snow, no one wants to jeopardize their chance of getting a roof over their head again, he said.
Longtime Langley homelessness outreach worker Fraser Holland spoke about the project offering a path away from damaged pasts for its residents.
“The Quality Inn, more importantly, represents hope, for the people who have next to nothing,” Holland said.
It is to be a site of warmth, security, and and sanctuary.
“It offers the opportunity to start again,” Holland said.
Opponents mostly came from the Langley Meadows neighbourhood on the west side of 200th Street, opposite the former Quality Inn site in the 6400 block of 201st Street.
“I strongly feel the location of the project is inadequate,” said Lily Wang, one of the neighbours who opposed the project, calling it a “dangerous time bomb.”
“Please consider how many kids [are] in the area, how many seniors centres [are] in the area, how many family homes [are] in the area,” Wang said.
Multiple people raised issues of drugs and the safety of families and children. Speakers cited fears about discarded needles, about drug dealers coming into the neighbourhood to sell to the residents, and worried about the proximity of the site to a liquor store off 64th Avenue.
Some mentioned issues that have arisen at other supportive housing projects in Vancouver, while proponents argued that studies showed crime declines when supportive housing is put in place.
Margaret Dyck of Langley Meadows said her 33-year-old son is a homeless drug addict, and opposed the project. She said it would only enable drug addicts.
“I believe the answer is forced rehabilitation,” she said.
A handful of local residents from the neighbourhood offered their support, and others were torn.
Peter Theilade was one of those, who wanted to see something done but felt the neighbours had valid concerns.
He noted that demands to move the site somewhere not near homes and schools weren’t realistic.
“Well, where isn’t there a school?” Theilade said.
Some opponents said they would be okay with the site becoming some other kind of housing – a high-barrier site for only people clean of drugs, for example, or for seniors or women fleeing abusive relationships.
If approved, the site will house people who don’t use drugs, it will house seniors, and it will house battered women, said Brenda Prosken, regional director of operations for BC Housing.
All of those people are homeless in Langley, she said.
“We need to get to the people who are most vulnerable,” she said.
BC Housing no longer uses terms such as “low barrier” or “high barrier,” she said. Instead they focus on the level of support people need, and this project is a “high support” site.
There will be a minimum of two staffers on site at all times, and residents will be required to allow access to their rooms. The Intensive Case Management Team, which works with homeless and at risk drug users, is to be based in the building.
Some residents will live there long-term if they continue to need support, Prosken said. Others will move through the system, stabilize their lives, find jobs or education, and move out to live independently, opening a space for someone else.
She did not sugarcoat the nature of the residents, noting that while the site will absolutely not be bringing in anyone considered violent or dangerous, some residents will have criminal records, likely for petty theft and other property crimes.
But if approved, the site will house a mix of people chosen by local homeless outreach workers who have known the residents, in many cases for years.
More than half of the homeless people on Langley’s streets have lived here for more than a decade, some for much of their lives and long before they became homeless, advocates for the project noted.
More than 45 people spoke in favour, while more than 30 were opposed to the project, and a small handful were on the fence.
Langley Township council will consider the rezoning at its Monday meeting, on Dec. 10.