Marpole residents protest proposed modular housing project
A proposed modular housing project in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood is being met with opposition from local residents, even though it could help get homeless people off the streets.
On Thursday, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside City Hall for the third time this week, holding signs with messages such as a “kids’ safety first” and “right idea, wrong location.”
“We want them to really reconsider everything with all the consultation, with all the residents and with kids’ safety first,” one of the protesters said.
Modular housing consists of temporary structures that are prefabricated in sections and can usually be installed much faster than a traditional house or building.
“It takes a few months to get things up and running,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson. “We’re moving as fast as we can.”
Modular housing is the province’s near-term solution to homelessness while it works to find long-term fixes.
Those protesting the project, however, say they fear unwelcome changes to their neighborhoods.
Residents also delivered a petition opposing 78 units that would be there for five years.
A public meeting on Wednesday was cancelled when some demonstrators turned disruptive.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, however, said this and other modular housing projects will go ahead.
“We don’t want any impact on the neighbourhoods, but we have homeless people in Marpole that need to come in from the cold,” he said. “We have [homeless] people across the city, so we’ll be opening these across the city.”
Those living on the streets say that, with sky-high rent prices and shelters at capacity, they’re desperate for these projects to be completed.
“They’re trying to force everybody into shelters, but the shelters are all full,” said Ward Ferguson, who lives at the Sugar Mountain tent city.
As the Lower Mainland’s homelessness crisis worsens, tent cities have been popping up throughout the region.
These encampments, however, are often dismantled by authorities over safety concerns.
Vancouver Fire is currently facing damning allegations from poverty advocates and Sugar Mountain residents in the Downtown Eastside after officials raided the camp on Tuesday.
“The police came in and slashed tents, opened up tents without consent (and) barged in on people while they were sleeping,” said J.J. Riach of the Alliance Against Displacement.
“They said they were here to do an inspection,” said resident Joyce Jackson. “We weren’t given any notice or anything.”
Riach said authorities took away flammable materials and heat sources from the site, including propane tanks, heaters and barbecues.
“(They) left us with no means to feed ourselves,” Riach said, criticizing “the level of violence that they’re willing to engage in in order to contain and control people who don’t have anything.”
Officials, however, defended themselves against the accusations being levelled at them, telling CTV News the tents were too close together and could lead to a major tragedy in case of a fire.
According to deputy city manager Paul Mochrie, the fire department issued an order when the tent city was first established in June, informing residents about how the camp could be safely organized by following guidelines on tent spacing and the use of flammable materials.
“Not surprisingly given the time of year and the temperature, people were using propane and other flammable materials to keep (tents) warm,” Mochrie said. “That’s a significant life and safety concern for us. We’re really worried about the people on that site and their safety. That’s what prompted those actions.”
Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, those fears became a reality earlier this week when a homeless woman’s tent and belongings caught fire in Chilliwack, leaving her with life-threatening burns.
Mochrie said the Vancouver fire department has helped 10 Sugar Mountain residents to get into a shelter or other accommodation and will continue to assist others.
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Penny Daflos