A 49-room supportive housing project for Langley’s homeless will go ahead, after Township council voted unanimously in favour Monday evening.
“I truly believe everybody here wants to help the homeless,” Mayor Jack Froese said just before the vote.
But he and other councillors acknowledged those in the audience who were firmly opposed to the project being located in the Langley Meadows neighbourhood.
At last Wednesday’s public hearing, more than 80 people spoke, with a little under half the speakers in opposition, citing concerns about drug dealers and needles, crime, and the site’s proximity to schools and a liquor store.
Although councillors said they took those concerns seriously, they were outweighed by the need to house some of the more than 200 people living on the streets in Langley.
Froese said he began as a skeptic on the project, but came around after meeting service providers, visiting homeless camps, and touring a similar, existing facility in Abbotsford.
“It’s hard to treat somebody when they don’t have a roof over their heads, and you can’t find them,” said Coun. David Davis.
Many councillors echoed similar arguments, saying that getting homeless people into housing was the first step towards stabilizing their lives, getting them into drug treatment or mental health treatment, and putting them on the road towards independence.
“I believe we need this to keep your kids safer,” said Coun. Margaret Kunst. “I believe this will help our community to be a safer place.”
“It’s not in our face as much as it is in some other communities, but they are here,” said Coun. Eric Woodward. “They are in culverts, they are in our parks, they are in private property.”
“We are going to help the homeless, we are going to reduce crime, by getting 50 of them off the street,” he added.
Councillors also unanimously passed a resolution from Coun. Kim Richter to ask that residents of the area – specifically those with concerns – be included on a planned neighbourhood committee that will manage any issues that arise at the site.
The facility, to be built in the former Quality Inn in the 6400 block of 200th Street, will be managed by the local Stepping Stone Community Services Society.
“That was very moving, to have a unanimous vote,” said Stepping Stone executive director Janet Burden. “Mayor and council have obviously listened.”
Local homelessness outreach workers will work with Stepping Stone to select the people who will move into the project, likely in the spring after renovations are complete.
“For some of them, it’s going to be like winning the lottery,” she said.
Burden said the neighbourhood committee will include local residents with concerns.
“That is the plan, absolutely,” she said. She already got the card of one local resident at Monday’s meeting, Burden said.
While the project is expected to make a sizable dent in the number of people living on the streets of Langley, it won’t solve the problem.
“This isn’t the end, it’s the beginning,” Burden said.
Coun. Petrina Arnason brought the issue up during the evening debate, noting that the council still had an obligation to provide more affordable housing options, for those who stabilize and leave the Quality Inn site in the future.