A public information meeting on the conversion of the former Quality Inn hotel at 6465 201 St. into supportive housing for the homeless ended abruptly on Monday night, as audience members began leaving in the middle of speeches, half an hour after the meeting was scheduled to be over.
During the event, held at the Langley Events Centre, about 40 questions and statements were given from members of the public to a panelist from BC Housing, Fraser Health, Stepping Stone Community Services Society and Langley Community Services Society, with many residents speaking two or three times.
This information meeting followed a number of 30-person consultation sessions held earlier this month.
As the variety of comments indicated, the community is still very divided on the project, which will see the 50-room hotel converted to 49 units of supporting housing with 24/7 on-site care.
Stepping Stone will operate the housing and have at least two staff members on duty at all times. The housing will also include an office for the new Integrated Care Management (ICM) team funded through Fraser Health. The team includes a nurse practitioner, psychologist and psych nurse.
Those who spoke against the proposal cited concerns with the building’s location, fear that it will lead to increases in crime and drug deals in the area, and general safety for those who live, work and shop near the facility.
One woman, who did not provide her name, said she does not support the location, specifically, as it is “in the heart” of a densely populated community, surrounded by schools, family homes and daycares that are within walking distance.
“Based on the information provided by the September 2017 homeless count in Metro Vancouver final report, 53 per cent of the homeless population are addicted to substances … and 38 per cent suffer from mental illness. So my question today is, how are you going to manage the risks it will bring to the surrounding community?” she asked.
A speaker who identified herself as an emergency room nurse, said the panelist were downplaying the problem of drug use in the homeless community.
“Have you ever worked in emerg with someone who has used and has gotten something bad and seen their violence?” she asked. “Because what they signed two weeks ago makes no difference at that time, and the violence is severe. And not to have security in that home I think would put every single person in that home at risk if you’re allowing drugs in.”
Many others were more upset about the notification for the meeting, with several people stating they did not receive a notice in their mail about the public consultations, or received notice late, after the sessions already began.
One man,who did not provide his name, stated that the “room was empty” because no one knew about the meeting.
A representative of BC Housing said that notices were mailed out through Canada Post, and that any mailbox with a red dot (indicating no flyers are wanted) would not have received one.
But there were many others in attendance who said they support the project.
A lady who identified herself only as Kathy broke down into tears while sharing her personal struggle with homelessness and addiction over the last 12 years.
Kathy said she has lived in the Township of Langley for 35 years, and owned a house for 15 of those years. She said the way people were speaking about the homeless made her feel like “a piece of crap on the side of the road.”
“We’re not all bad people, and if you come and have one-on-one talks with us — I’ll even buy the coffee. I’ll sit and talk to you, I can address your questions. Please, just have a look at the face of what homeless is now,” she said.
“I don’t want to leave Langley, because I love Langley. Langley’s my home, it’s my community. Why should I go to Hope, Kelowna, or anywhere else, just so you don’t have to go? Why should I be made to feel that I’m not welcome in the community? I would never hurt you.”
Another speaker, who did not give his name, said he has two brothers-in-law who are schizophrenic and ended up on the streets. One received support and is now living the “best life he can,” while the other has no access to housing services and continues to struggle.
“These kinds of places where you can have a managed environment where all the assessments can happen for mental illness, for addiction, trauma — these things work. I’ve seen it in my own experience,” he said. “And the more we can set up these kinds of environments for the people that are needy that cannot help themselves — they need help. We have to have the compassion to help these people or they will die.”
It is now up to the Township of Langley to decide if the supportive housing project will proceed. BC Housing submitted a rezoning application, and through that process, residents will get one last chance to share their comments during the Township’s public hearing. The date for that has not been determined.