Many of those who marched in a protest through downtown Hope Friday expressed a singular sentiment – supportive housing must be supported by the community and its politicians.
Many carried signs that read ‘support supportive housing’, ‘housing is a human right’, ‘housing first’ or simply ‘warm’, expressing their support for a form of housing that involves providing people a place to live with wrap around supports including meals, laundry and other basic needs as well as referrals to services in the community such as healthcare, counselling and life skills programs. A BC Housing proposal to allow the needed zoning changes was voted down by councillors in a 4-to-1 vote on Nov. 23.
Kicking off the protest outside district hall, organizer Scott Penner said the demand was nothing less than a 52-unit supportive housing building as BC Housing had originally planned to build. Hope’s council voted against rezoning the housing agency’s property at 650 Old Hope Princeton Way, effectively vetoing plans to build the supportive housing development.
“People have a lot of fear about it, but I think there’s a lot of good that can come,” said Beth, who declined to give her last name, as she was busy tying a sign that read ‘housing is a right’ to her vehicle. “I just don’t think the fears of the bad things are worth people not having housing. I don’t think we have the right to let our fears stand in the way of that happening.”
Jenna Siemens carried her son Rowan and a sign that read ‘no one left behind’ in the march. “Our homeless population…they’re one of the most vulnerable populations in Hope, but they hold every bit as much value as the rest of us,” she said. “We just can’t leave anyone behind, we can’t all thrive until we’re all thriving.”
Siemens said she was very excited about the supportive housing plans and now “so crushed to hear that it’s not a possibility.” Housing is very difficult for anyone in Hope to secure, she added, and that basic needs of “safety…a roof over your head and warmth and knowing that no one is going to barge in on you at night” are required in order to move forward and to heal.
Alan Mogielka, who has lived outside including at camps along local riverways, said having a place where one can relax and unwind “goes a long ways.” “I’ve lived outside a lot, to have a place, you just can’t explain it. It’s home,” he said. Without a place to call home, Mogielka said being down and depressed is a constant feeling, “you’re not having a shower, you’re struggling to eat.”
Valinda Inyallie, who walked in the protest, said she wants housing for her and her children, and their father, and it would play a part in getting her children back with her. She is currently couch surfing with family.
Walking with Inyallie was Isaac John, who said he is staying at the shelter as he has no other place to live. He would like to have his own apartment or own room. He has also lived outdoors for a couple of years.
One protester carried a sign that listed off, on one side, those who may be living in a supportive housing development including injured loggers, veterans, artists, retired truck drivers, part-time employees that can’t afford rent, construction workers and cancer survivors.
Others who would benefit would be folks with brain injuries, seniors, widows and widowers, 60s scoop survivors, children aging out of the system and people fleeing situations such as violence, gang life or human trafficking and many more the sign carrier stated.
Some challenged Hope’s decisionmakers to be “homeless” for a day, others expressed their disappointment with the council decision to not rezone the property. “Shame on you Hope! Should have voted Yes!” read a white sheet of paper displayed by a person participating in the protest from their vehicle.
Some carried signs asking “What’s plan B?,” a question which has not yet been addressed by either level of government.
The vote by council Nov. 23 means the future operation of the House of Hope emergency shelter is also in question. The rezoning would have made the shelter permanent under a special shelter and supportive housing zone – it was previously operating under a temporary agreement by council, Mayor Peter Robb said. As a stopgap measure, councillors voted Nov. 23 to permit the shelter to operate until April 1, 2021.
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