It is apparent to me through anecdotal evidence that the Township of Langley is experiencing a serious homelessness issue. The Willowbrook area between 200th Street and the Willowbrook Connector is where I find myself quite often day to day. I have regular meetings at Starbucks/Indigo & Creekside Coffee Factory, my kids dance in the area, I’m a fixture at the local Brown’s Socialhouse, I pick up supplies at Staples & Home Depot, groceries at Save on Foods, and, of course, go to the gym and Council meetings at the Township of Langley Civic Facility. This is my home. In recent years I have witnessed a significant increase in homelessness or near-homelessness in the area. I see piles upon piles of “collected” items (yes, I’ve even seen my stolen backpack which had my laptop & marketing materials). I see desperation. I see mental illness. I see hopelessness.
What I don’t see is equally important. I don’t see a lot of violent crime. I don’t see a lot of preventative (or even much responsive) police coverage. I don’t see integrated community assistance. We need to, and can, do better. Unfortunately, NIMBYism (literally, Not-In-My-Backyard-ism) stirred by personal discomfort and fear can deter what is really needed for both those who have fallen on hard times and for our greater community. On top of the social cost, homelessness and the type of crime that comes along with it inflicts unnecessary monetary cost and stress on our police force, local businesses and local homeowners.
Reading through the 640 page report to council, most of the opposition I have read about by those in my community is based on the location: either a generalized fear or the fact that it is too close to nearby homes and schools. I would assume that the primary concern would be the proximity to Langley Meadows Community School, RC Garnett Demonstration School & Fraser Valley Elementary. I am not downplaying the controversy. I simply believe a different perspective is needed.
As a resident of the immediate area & a parent of 4 young children, I understand and appreciate the concerns of my neighbours. However, I personally believe that the proposed location for the BC Housing supportive housing facility at 64th and 200th Street (the former Quality Inn hotel), which has natural boundaries (significant old growth trees), a commercial setting (just south of the Home Depot parking lot) and surrounding major roads (200th Street, 64th Avenue) will be one of the best locations for this much needed project.
The homeless that will be housed here are already in our community. Most are already practically sleeping in and often literally wandering around our backyards. They have tents setup in the parks and greenspace your children should feel safe in. They are on the side of the road behind commercial buildings. They are not in this situation by choice and their non-violent crimes are often those of desperation and opportunity. The establishment of this facility in the area where there are the most homeless in the Township of Langley is extremely unlikely to make the situation worse: the purpose is to help these people come out of their current situations, rehabilitate them, and encourage a safer, healthier community.
We need to think of supportive housing as a way to attract those already here, spread out around our community, pulling them away from the places they shouldn’t be. This is NOT a needle exchange facility or something similar that could possibly have detrimental affects to the overall community. Once these individuals find shelter here, the very realistic, and proven, hope is that these unfortunate members of our community can receive the mental health treatment they require and/or develop skills to be a positive and productive member of society. If the placement of this facility was put out of reach of where the homeless already are, as some people are alluding should happen, then our problems will remain.
I sincerely hope that those who are concerned with the location of the facility will take a step back and understand how it operates. I hope that by viewing it through compassionate, understanding eyes, and by not ignoring the fact that the homeless are already here, without shelter or hope, that we will see that this facility is a benefit for the overall community. Right now they are receiving very little social services. This facility, in my opinion, will help reverse the trend of homelessness in Willoughby and assist in reducing crime through preventative means. It is the right facility in the right location.
I want to thank Mayor Jack Froese, and Councillors Blair Whitmarsh, Margaret Kunst, Eric Woodward, Kim Richter, Steve Ferguson and Petrina Arnason for responding to my email request for statements on the proposal. Each member of Council who returned my email conveyed a commitment to an open mind and sincere desire to listen to what the public has to day. Here are some selected quotes:
“Supportive housing is a vital step that can provide the resources and services, along with a safe and clean place to live, to help those who find themselves homeless an opportunity to stabilize their situation and move on to a more permanent type of housing.” -Mayor Jack Froese
“I think as citizens we have a responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable in our community. Supportive Housing is a way to offer shelter and hope to those struggling, often with a variety of issues. I think most people are compassionate regarding homelessness but I recognize that they may not agree with the location. I look forward to hearing from the public on this issue.” -Councillor Margaret Kunst
“I believe we should be taking significant steps to help the most vulnerable members of our community. I am very interested to see what the public has to say at the public hearing for this particular proposal.” -Councillor Blair Whitmarsh
“I believe that Council needs to show political leadership in the matter.” -Councillor Petrina Arnason
My sincere hope is that our community comes out to the Public Hearing on December 5, 2018 and speaks up to support a positive solution to a real problem.
Please also sign this petition: