Two days of public hearings wrapped up last Wednesday night, with over 25 residents speaking to BC Housing’s plans for supportive housing in Hope.
The two days of hearings were on two bylaw amendments which, if passed by council, would enable the building of 52 units of supportive housing at 650 Old Hope Princeton Way. Present at the hearings were Mayor Peter Robb and members of council, save for councillor Dusty Smith, as well as district administration, representatives from BC Housing, Fraser Health and the Hope and Area Transition Society.
In a meeting of council Monday prior to the hearings, Smith explained that his name had been written on a petition, containing over 130 names, opposing the bylaw amendments. “My name and signature and address was forged by a different party. I did not sign this petition,” Smith said, adding that due to conflict of interest he would not be partaking in the public hearings.
In addition to the speakers, over 80 submissions in favour and over 40 in opposition were received by the district, including petitions and form letters for and against the amendments.
Several who spoke in opposition feared that the building would be filled with people who were not from Hope, with several taking issue with the proposed number of units.
Others opposed the facility being low barrier housing, a housing model where as few barriers are possible are placed on those who want to live there and tenants aren’t expected to abstain from alcohol or other substances.
The first community members to speak were Jeff and Sherry Meloshinsky, business owners across from the proposed development, in strong opposition to the development. “Do we need to fence our entire property with razor wire? What is council going to do to support us? What are you going to do to keep us safe?” they wondered, adding that they had issues with people sleeping in their vehicles.
A letter from general manager of the Home Restaurant Lana Popp, a business directly across Old Hope Princeton Way from the proposed development, noted numerous incidents at the restaurant “ranging from minor to completely terrifying.” These included a man being tasered in the restaurant after resisting arrest, she wrote, as well as “aggressive panhandling” in the parking lot and issues with refuse around the area.
“I don’t think the argument should be about whether or not we need shelter. It’s more about the location of where it is,” said Lori Isbister, adding that the facility would be close to vulnerable populations in that area including seniors, people who attend the community living facility Tillicum, as well as residents of the subsidized townhomes at Joan Greenwood Place. “Their safety should be protected.”
Former longtime mayor Bud Gardner said putting the building in “one of the best commercial areas in our community” is wrong and “unbelievable that we’re even talking about this.” Business owner Ray Zervini said that the location was one of the main reasons for his opposition to the plans.
Several residents expressed fears that the community’s services, whether they be police, fire, ambulance or hospital, were not sufficient to handle the needs of residents in the proposed development.
Others in opposition expressed fears that the development would lead to an increase in crime. “Mental health issues, drugs, alcohol and violence have a negative impact on local businesses, local business owners, and local homeowners,” said Alan Remple.
Some residents questioned the Hope and Area Transition Society as the choice to run the supportive housing building. “The psychosocial needs of this group can be extreme and require highly skilled professionals in addictions treatment, mental health and trauma,” said Marianne Brueckert, questioning whether the existing staff had the requisites to deal with these complex needs.
Several speakers in support of the development cited research on the efficacy of the housing first model as well as as other research showing the benefits of housing to the community and to the individual.
Jeff Kuhn, speaking not as pastor for Grace Baptist Church but as a community member, asked council to “see beyond the rants on Facebook and look to the research instead of the reactions” when making their decision. Housing is the first step to addressing the many issues that those who are homeless face and research shows it also lowers community costs, he said.
“I deal face-to-face on a regular basis with many in our community who are homeless and struggling with addiction. Often the addiction is one way they cope with the suffering caused by having no fixed address,” Kuhn said. “Research on the housing first approach shows repeatedly that it’s more effective in helping people move out of addiction, than an approach which requires leaving addiction prior to housing being made available.”
“Asking people to get clean first is naive at best, and if you’ve ever dealt with someone in addiction, you know that to be the case.”
“The current pandemic is a reminder to all of us how tenuous employment can be,” said a speaker and longtime nurse. “Many members of our community are one paycheque away from homelessness.”
She added that her experience in nursing showed her the interlinkages between trauma, mental and physical health issues and becoming homeless and the benefits of housing first. “Expecting someone who is using drugs or alcohol to be clean or sober before they can get treatment or housing is as ridiculous as expecting the person that has cancer to free themselves of cancer cells before they can get chemotherapy,” she said. “In order to heal, people need a safe place. The cure for homelessness is homes.”
Crystal Wiebe, a housing consultant with Anhart Community Housing, said the need exists in the community for this development. There were 220 applicants for Anhart’s 40-unit affordable housing complex in Hope when it opened, Wiebe said. One third of applicants were in shelters, hotels, living on the street or in a vehicle. Another third were in shared accommodations that were not permanent, and the last third were looking for better housing options.
Several residents drew council’s attention to the possible benefits to the district. One resident said there would be less waste and danger that comes with temporary camps inhabited by people without a fixed address. Others spoke of how drug paraphernalia wouldn’t be as much of an issue outside if people had a safe place to consume these substances.
Another resident said the key to addressing homelessness and associated health issues for people who live rough face was having a clear plan from government. “I’m heartened we have a local organization spearheading a solution and council who is listening,” she said. “Will (the housing project) have problems? Yes. But they will be noted and addressed.”
Jacob Giles asked council to be brave in approving the development.
“Blocking this project would be a capitulation to fear and to self-interest, instead of looking to those in our community who are hurting and who are in need and how we might be able to help,” he said. “How can we be brave in this moment? How can we choose to be compassionate, be kind and to look beyond our immediate circumstances, look deeper and further in how we can try to heal our community.”
As the public hearings were held during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, speakers were asked COVID-19 screening questions at the door and were instructed to wear masks throughout their attendance at the Legion hall, including when speaking. Those listening to speakers were spaced apart.
To view the public hearing proceedings, visit the District of Hope’s Youtube channel.
To read the full written submissions visit hope.ca/document-library.
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