Protesters delaying construction of Marpole homeless housing
Construction on a controversial homeless housing project in Vancouver's Marpole neighbourhood has stalled because protesters are blocking access to the site.
For two days, concerned parents and community members have been picketing at the entrance to the Heather Street property, and they told CTV News they have no intention of backing down.
Their main issue is how close the temporary modular housing is to Sir Wilfred Laurier Elementary School and two high schools.
"It's so close to vulnerable children. Kids were out during recess and they came up to the fence," said Anamica Mehta. "It's only 10 steps away."
The Marpole housing project was only approved this week, but some in the community have been fighting against it since it was first announced by the city. The most common concern is for children in the neighbourhood, though some have expressed fear for seniors living at a nearby care facility as well.
“We’re not against modular homes for the homeless people, that is not the issue. It’s just that the location is very, very wrong,” Seema Dutta said.
Despite those fears, Vancouver police told CTV News there is "no indication" the project will increase crime in the neighbourhood, a point agreed upon by both poverty advocates and officials from the city's homelessness services.
And Luke Harrison, CEO of the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency, said it's crucial that construction begins quickly on the Marpole project if the city is going to get residents housed over the winter as temperatures plummet.
"We're doing everything we can to have these people be off the streets," he said.
The city is considering a court injunction to force protesters to move, but they would prefer a less heavy-handed approach.
"We're exploring all options and we'd like to make sure we do this in the most respectful and peaceful manner for the neighbourhood," Harrison said.
"We also very cognizant of the fact that we're trying to have homes delivered and be occupied this winter, and we're at risk of that [not happening] now when we can't start that development or construction."
Vancouver held weeks of consultations before approving the 78-unit housing project this week, and said that it took the community's concerns to heart. Officials have promised there will be a Community Advisory Committee on the project made of up parents and representatives from the project's operator, the schools, Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Housing.
Not everyone is worried about what impact the modular homes will have on the neighbourhood. Some parents, as well as students and church members, welcome the homeless housing.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber