Security present at meeting on homeless housing
March 13 update: The Kaslo Street development was approved.
A meeting on a new modular housing development slated for a residential area of East Vancouver drew both concerned residents and extra security.
Guards were brought in for a public information session Wednesday night on a housing solution that has become a hotly debated issue in the city.
Vancouver’s director of affordable housing said the guards were there for everyone's safety.
"We want to make sure we can hear from people in a respectful way, that it doesn't get too crowded," Abi Bond explained.
But an East Van resident who was at the meeting said it seemed like the majority of people in attendance seemed to be working for the city.
"There's three-to-one (ratio of) PR to actual members of the community," he told CTV News.
"I don't know why you need that many people to actually explain what you're doing if what you're doing is simple."
City staffers were trying to sell residents of Vancouver's Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood on a temporary housing complex for the homeless.
A modular housing development is planned for a lot at 4410 Kaslo St., a property located near Renfrew Ravine and Slocan parks and the 29th Avenue SkyTrain Station.
It's currently the location of the Still Creek Community Garden, which the park board is now considering moving. The three-storey complex proposal is for contain 50 microsuites around 320 square feet earmarked for those living on the street or at risk of becoming homeless.
Priority placement will be given to the homeless already living in the area, the city said.
"We've learned a lot from projects that we've opened elsewhere in the city in the last five years. We'll be tenanting this with care and in line with good practice," Bond said.
Temporary modular housing is meant to provide much-needed space within six months of the start of construction. The housing projects are made of easily-built modules that can be relocated and configured to fit a range of sites for five-year durations, with the option to extend by another five years.
The city's plan is to erect the buildings on sites that are vacant while waiting to be developed.
While many who have attended previous protests say they aren't opposed to the idea, the locations the city has selected have proved controversial.
The city approved a site in Vancouver's Marpole neighbourhood last month, but the decision was so contested that the province's Supreme Court had to order protesters to leave the construction site.
Those who took part in the protests said they felt the city hadn't consulted with residents of the neighbourhood first, and were concerned that the site is located near three schools.
Prior to the court order, the city held public information sessions similar to the one held in Collingwood. One of the meetings had to be cancelled after concerned residents grew enraged that the city was going ahead despite opposition, yelling at city staff and banging on windows.
Some people at Wednesday's meeting said they aren't against the proposal for Kaslo Street, which will include round-the-clock staffing.
But others said they had serious concerns about the project, especially because residents with addictions will be encouraged but not required to enter drug treatment.
"It would make me feel more comfortable if it were people that were trying to get better," one person in attendance said.
Another said they'd be more supportive if residents selected to live in the complex had shown signs of wanting to improve their lives.
"We'll help them. We'll bring them food out of our gardens. We'll bring them homemade bread. We have no problem with that," said a man who identified himself as Gerard.
He said he and his neighbours object to the city being unwilling to commit to barring people with drug and mental health issues and criminals who are likely to reoffend.
"If they can commit to (bringing) in people who want to change, who are not recidivist, we'd be happy to help them."
Gerard said he moved to Canada from South Africa to get away from crime, and that while he knows the city's intentions are good, he worries the project will "wind up breaking our neighbourhood."
Another man at the meeting, named Joseph, said he didn't feel threatened by the project but that he felt like the plan was short-sighted.
"People need real, permanent places to live… People in temporary modular housing will need a place to move to," he said.
While staff are taking feedback from the public, the project is expected to go forward with or without residents' support.
Bond said the city will be moving into the development permit process next, and that the public's opinion will be taken into consideration during that phase.
If the director of planning approves the permit, he may attach conditions including amendments to management plans or specific groups he wants those behind the modular housing plan to work with.
The city is also considering modular housing at 501 Powell St. and on a lot on Franklin Street at Glen Drive.
A development permit has been approved for the project at 650 West 57th Ave., and the modular housing complex at 220 Terminal Ave. was built earlier this year.