Supportive housing proponents share ways to dispel fearmongering

Credit to Author: Nick Eagland| Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2019 01:11:49 +0000

When a new supportive housing project is announced in a B.C. community, often it is met with fearmongering about the homeless people who seek its shelter.

Such was the case with temporary modular buildings in Vancouver, Richmond, Kelowna and, more recently, Maple Ridge.

On Saturday, about 50 people concerned by campaigns to shut out supportive housing met at a community centre in Vancouver to discuss how they can work with communities toward inclusion. Stephanie Allen, an associate vice-president at B.C. Housing, presented at the event.

“We want to build a groundswell of support for this type of housing,” said Allen, also a board member of the Hogan’s Alley Society, which does work to revitalize Vancouver’s black community through housing and other means.

“What we’re seeing across the province is that folks who oppose this housing are mobilized and they’re having a major influence on the decisions for where this housing goes or whether it happens at all.”

An important way to help foster inclusion is to give people the facts, Allen said. During her talk, she displayed slides dispelling various myths.

For example, four out of five supportive housing units in B.C. saw a decline in police calls in the six months after they opened, compared to the six months before, according to a 2018 B.C. Housing report. More than 450 people saw a 61 per cent decrease in interactions with the justice system.

A case study of 18 sites in 2018-2019 found that property values surrounding 14 sites mirrored or surpassed municipal trends, while those around the other four were similar to those trends.

“A lot of the myths are carrying fears forward and putting barriers in place,” Allen said.

Duncan Higgon and Tanya Fader of PHS Community Services Society said the organization’s two temporary modular housing buildings near False Creek were contentious. Ahead of their occupation, people expressed concerns about discarded needles and trash.

But engaging the community helped improve the situation. PHS hosted 1,100 people at open house events at one of the buildings. Many neighbours came to understand that the homeless people who would live in the buildings already slept in those neighbourhoods, and would fare much better with housing, Higgon said.

It is important that proponents of supportive housing welcome tough conversations, he added.

“You’re going to hear the same thing over and over again — the same pushback and the same concerns — but allowing that to be aired, actually talking to it, actually engaging it, is what gets the buy-in,” he said. “It’s exhausting. It has to be done.”

Janice Abbot, CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society and Atira Property Management, said she “bristles” when people say all supportive housing residents struggle with mental illness.

It is true that some are hungry and suffering illnesses from drug use, or trauma from rape and assault, but housing only helps them heal, she said.

“Once they have a roof over their head, they have a social network, they have a support network,” Abbot said. “Those things start to disappear.”

People who push back against supportive housing would benefit greatly by meeting the residents and looking at the data, rather than listening to local opposition groups which spread misinformation, said Raman Khaira, a tenant support worker who works with non-profits across Metro Vancouver.

Some say about the homeless that “they need to be housed but not in our neighbourhood,” he said. But the people who are housed are already working with service providers and have case plans.

“They’re the ones who they feel can be managed in housing,” Khaira said. “They’re not your extreme cases.”

Jennifer Reddy, a Vancouver school trustee, said supportive housing is all about “building justice.” She said the event Saturday gave her some perspective.

Before, she had wondered why so much consultation was necessary for supportive housing — a human right, she said. But she learned that “airing some of those fears” and addressing them can create a more welcoming community.

“Demystifying what supportive housing is and recognizing that some of the tough conversations and assumptions about supportive housing need to be had, in order to make the community-building part of supportive housing easier for people — that part I wasn’t thinking about,” she said.

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