I decided to attend a community meeting last week to get more information on the City’s plan to put Modular Homes on vacant lots throughout the city to house the homeless. The particular one in question was near the Nanaimo Skytrain station. The meeting was organized by NEIGHBOURS AROUND THE NANAIMO STATION (NANS) and attended by Councillor Jean Swanson. Members of the community were pleased to have a member of City Council attend and listen to their concerns, even though she did not see eye to eye with them.
With one exception, the attendees who spoke all expressed opposition to the plan, fearing that it would bring crime into the area. Councillor Swanson used anecdotal stories of two men, one in hospital after an operation who was not able to leave because he had no permanent home. The other was a man supposedly suffering from pneumonia in a wet sleeping bag in Oppenheimer Park. This struck me as a blatant appeal to emotion rather than a coherent argument. SRO hotel rooms with warm, dry beds were made available to the Park campers this summer, many just did not like that option, choosing to hold out for something better, or perhaps they like camping. One speaker said that homeless people need more serious intervention, such as life training skill programs. Another sitting near the front turned to the attendees and pointed his finger shouting SHAME, SHAME!
Despite one speaker citing statistics of high numbers of police calls in other modular projects, Councillor Swanson insisted that most of those calls were not actual police incidents, but I don’t know what she meant by that. Councillor Swanson seemed intent on painting a picture of the homeless simply as harmless people in dire need, with no regard to risk assessment. It appeared Councillor Swanson’s goal was to shame people into supporting the plan, which I found condescending.
Councillor Swanson also quoted some figures, between 2500 and 4000 homeless people currently in the city, and a cost of $150,000 per unit for the modular homes. Doing some quick math, if the building has 50 units, which is typical, that means it will cost the taxpayers $7.5 million to erect one of these. Then there’s the ongoing cost of utilities, providing meals, and counselling, which would not be cheap. Let’s put the cost conservatively at $10 million, for one modular project, for 50 clients, with ¼ of that a yearly repeating cost. But there are at least 2500 homeless, so multiply that $10 million times 50, that’s $500 million to house 2500 homeless people.
And what do we get for a half a billion dollars? The residents have no more life skills and no fewer personal problems than they had before, they’re just more comfortable. What incentive do they have to improve themselves with the City taking such good care of them? Is this a good use of taxpayer’s money?
What about the ordinary people working every day paying $1700 a month for studio suites not much better than modular houses, making their own meals and paying all their other bills? Is this fair to them?
What is the message to people across Canada down on their luck? Come to Vancouver, pitch a tent in a park, stir up some trouble and you get a nice suite and two meals a day, what a deal!
And I don’t buy the glib dismissal of the safety issue. I have been watching the news lately about Oppenheimer Park. The problems there are stretching police resources to the limit, violent assaults, robberies, and recently, shootings. Those are the same people they want to bring into neighbourhoods.
I’m sorry Councillor Swanson but your rosy picture of the homeless population does not ring true.
I came to this meeting with an open mind, but I can’t support this whole idea. I think it is poorly thought out and a potential danger to communities.