FRANKLY SPEAKING: Homeless given life-changing gift

In this month’s column, retired editor Frank Bucholtz lauds efforts to house those without shelter.

Langley Township council has given a gift to at least 49 homeless people in Langley – the promise of supportive housing in the new year.

The gift came on Dec. 10, when council gave unanimous third reading to a proposal by BC Housing to turn the former Quality Inn in the 6400 block of 200th Street into individual supportive living units.

In addition, the refurbished former hotel will house the Intensive Case Management Team unit made up of workers from several agencies, including Fraser Health, several community services societies, and the Gateway of Hope.

Residents of the new facility will pay rent and there will always be staff on site.

These types of housing projects have been highly controversial in other communities – notably Maple Ridge and Surrey.

In September, BC Housing dropped plans for supportive housing in Cloverdale, after severe community backlash.

However, the process used in Langley Township could serve as a model for how to win acceptance and approval.

BC Housing held a number of meetings with members of the community, including a lengthy open house and question-and-answer session at the Langley Events Centre in May.

In addition, early on in the process, it selected Stepping Stone Community Service Society to operate the Langley facility. The organization has a long and successful track record in Langley of providing assistance to people with mental illness, and was an important player in the joint community effort by Langley City, Langley Township, BC Housing, numerous service groups and churches, and the Salvation Army to raise funds and build the Gateway of Hope shelter on the Langley Bypass.

The lengthy consultation was an important reason this project came to fruition.

Mayor Jack Froese admits he initially had doubts about the idea, and visited homeless camps and a similar facility in Abbotsford to get more first-hand information. Other members of council also had lots of questions.

A number of residents in the area, particularly those in Langley Meadows (on the west side of 200 Street), have continued to oppose the project and a number of them spoke at council’s Dec. 5 public hearing.

Many of their concerns centred around drug use. One of the promises made by Stepping Stone at that hearing was to set up a community advisory committee to hear from neighbours, businesses, community organizations, the Township, BC Housing and the RCMP.

Stepping Stone executive director Janet Burden told council that residents with concerns will be represented on that committee, and she already had taken contact information from one of the residents in opposition.

This type of ongoing dialogue is crucial.

BC Housing has pictured this facility as an opportunity for homeless people to start to get their lives together, by having a roof over their heads, a daily hot meal, and access to services.

It is a crucial step in doing so, but like all good ideas, unforeseen challenges will undoubtedly arise.

Langley, like other Lower Mainland communities, does have a homeless problem.

No thinking person wants to see this situation worsen, yet the soaring costs of housing and lack of treatment of mental illness is causing a spike in homeless numbers.

Langley has already shown a lot of willingness to make a difference, by mounting a community effort to build and operate a shelter. And more recently, a small homeless shelter for youth opened on Township property on 203rd Street.

This is another step in the right direction. The unanimous vote by council – a very rare event – shows strong willingness to take this step. The project needs to proceed in a careful and considerate fashion. Neighbours across 200th Street, and neighbouring businesses, need to be kept in the loop.

Taking a step of this magnitude is a significant milestone for both the Township and the entire Langley community.

At present, there is a lot of goodwill towards this project, and a desire to help those caught in the trap of homelessness. Let’s build on this goodwill to ensure that this project becomes a model of how to help people leave homelessness behind.

– Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor and blogger. His thoughts on matters related to the South Fraser region can be found on his Frankly Speaking blog at frankbucholtz.blogspot.com.

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