Conference

Dustin Lupick of the Homlessness Services Association of B.C., left, and Jill Atkey of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association led workshops on supportive and affordable housing at a conference on Monday.

Fear is part of the human condition.

That’s why, when a supportive housing complex for formerly homeless people with drug addictions and mental health problems is proposed for a neighbourhood, residents flip out.

“Of course, they fear for the safety of their children, they fear loss of community,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, during a stop in Kelowna on Monday.

“What these people need to know is that when our most vulnerable are safely and adequately housed, the community is better off. The community is cleaner, there are fewer police calls and we combat severe poverty.”

Be that as it may, neighbourhood outrage resulted in 14,000 signatures on a petition opposing B.C. Housing’s proposed 46-unit ‘wet’ supportive housing complex at Rutland and McCurdy roads, where formerly homeless people could live and continue using drugs and/or alcohol while they sought, or didn’t seek, treatment.

The hostility led B.C. Housing to backtrack on the McCurdy plan, making it a ‘dry’ facility where residents cannot use drugs or alcohol. The facility will also have extra staff, including a nurse and security on site for the first six months of operation.

There are 10 other supportive housing buildings in Kelowna with 130 suites where residents can continue to use drugs and-or alcohol while seeking, or not seeking, treatment.

The B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association and Homelessness Services Association of B.C. held a conference in Kelowna on Monday at the Coast Capri Hotel to discuss housing policy, affordable and supportive housing.

The conference attracted 150 decision makers and stakeholders who attended sessions, including on on building community acceptance for supportive and affordable housing.

“Discussion with the neighbourhood where supportive and affordable housing is proposed needs to happen as early as possible, well before the public hearing where ardent opposition based in fear is dominated by a small vocal minority,” said Atkey.

“We also need to make sure people who endorse supportive housing come out to public hearings as well and tell their stories of how supportive housing is helping and improving our communities by helping people who need it.”

The education may have to go back even farther than that.

“Many now accept homelessness as part of the community and oppose the solution of supportive housing,” said Atkey.

“They need to become interested in solving homelessness.”

The City of Kelowna’s Journey Home initiative to end homelessness is all for supportive housing and is the only municipality in B.C. to make supportive housing a permissible use in all residential zones.

While that may be hailed as progressive by some, others hold onto the NIMBY (not in my backyard) sentiment.

For instance, some residents are all for supportive housing in commercial districts, along busy Highway 97 or in someone else’s neighbourhood, but they oppose it on their street.

“It’s a struggle for most communities to fully accept supportive housing,” said Homelessness Services Association of B.C. policy analyst Dustin Lupick.

“It’s really about education. Supportive housing is just that. Supports are put in place, sometimes as 24-7 staffing, to help residents fight drug and alcohol addiction, get treatment for mental health problems and access resources for them to gain life and work skills and find a job and become contributing members of the community.”

Supportive housing is the most controversial.

However, B.C. Housing also works to provide affordable housing for Aboriginals, the elderly, low-and-middle-income individuals and families.