Much of the feedback around BC Housing’s plan to build 140 units of supportive housing at 8th and Arbutus has pointed to how utterly out of scale the physical building itself is in relation to the rest of the community.
The number of people to be housed on the site and the lack of services available to them is equally out of scale.
BC Housing, and other advocates for the homeless, stress the importance of empathy and seeing those facing homelessness as vulnerable individuals, each with a unique set of circumstances that lead them to the street or into precarious housing.
The Institute of Global Homelessness points out that “homelessness sits at the nexus of stigma, isolation, and vulnerability: though homelessness can be highly visible, passersby often ignore individuals or subject them to stares, reinforcing their ‘outsider’ status either by making them invisible or making them visible only through negative attention.”
If this proposed housing is truly to be ‘supportive’, the City, the Province and BC Housing can’t justify concentrating 140 vulnerable individuals together while offering them none of the counselling services, addictions treatment, mental health care, or life and skills training to help them change their circumstances.
The ‘Housing First’ model that BC Housing embraces posits that no one can make a positive change in their life until the gnawing anxiety of where they might safely sleep that night is taken care of.
Housing is a critical first step. Absolutely. But it’s not enough, and BC Housing knows that.
Through any number of homeless counts, research studies, health care data, and our own eyes, we know that most street homeless are suffering from mental health and/or substance abuse challenges.
Does it demonstrate real empathy to group together 140 high-risk, vulnerable individuals and offer them nothing other than a place to lay their heads? This is simply warehousing people, effectively walling them off from the rest of the community. It won’t work.
Each of these potential new residents is an individual, each with a different upbringing, each with a singular jumble of experiences and baggage and trauma which will need something different from whoever may live next door if they are to thrive.
They each deserve better.