Written by: Amal Javed Abdullah, Staff Writer

At the end of last year, the City of Vancouver faced backlash and protests when one of the locations for its temporary homeless housing project was claimed to be too close to an elementary school. The location in question was 650 West 57th Ave. in Marpole, making it close to Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Elementary School. Distraught parents were protesting with signs that had slogans such as “right idea, wrong location.”

According to CBC News, this spring, a few homeless people have had to decline the offer of a spot at this temporary housing location due to community resistance. At least five people who have lived on the streets for a while have turned down housing units due to public backlash in the area. They were afraid for their safety (as if living on the streets was that much more safer) and the protests that would likely spring up if they were to move in.

It’s no wonder that Vancouver is one of the cities with the most homeless people in the country (a record-breaking 2,181 in 2018), since our residents would rather they stay in the streets of the Downtown Eastside rather than have a roof over their heads. With the current housing crisis and the rising costs of living accomodation, why does homelessness still sit as a nasty disease in the minds of Vancouverites? Why are our city’s most vulnerable still seen as less than human?

This viewpoint holds a number of harmful assumptions that need to be challenged. The parents who went berserk act as if homeless or recently homeless people, by virtue of that homelessness, are dangerous to their children, or that them being in close proximity will cause their plight to spread like an infectious disease.

The negative preconceived notions that people have about the homeless are, more often than not, based on uninformed opinions rather than facts. A count shows that more than half of Vancouver’s homeless have been without a home for less than a year, meaning that the streets are not a permanent home for the majority of the homeless, nor do they want it to be. Most of them end up on the streets as a product of circumstance, rather than malicious intent, laziness, or thoughtlessness. It’s usually because they’ve been laid off or have trouble paying their rent, not because they’ve squandered their savings.

The ignorant parents who want to shelter their kids from the homeless are overlooking the fact that, no matter what, their kids will come across the homeless sooner or later. If they don’t teach them now when they’re open to learning new ideas and accepting different kinds of people, then the kids won’t know how to deal with the reality of their existence later in life.

With the upbringing they’re getting, they’ll more likely be part of the problem than the solution. The attitudes that these parents are displaying are setting them up to hate homeless people, a cycle of hate based on unfounded prejudice.

And if, by chance, they end up homeless themselves — though we do wish the best for them — then they’ll be stuck with the same hatred that they had learned as children, but this time, it’ll be directed at themselves.

If the people in these housing units were actually dangerous in any way, shape, or form, then one could consider that perhaps having homeless housing close to two schools is not a good idea. But that’s not true — I’d trust that if they’ve gone
through enough background checks to receive the housing, then they should be pretty clean. There should be absolutely no reason for anyone to have a problem with this.

Dismissing the homeless as incapable of being close to small children without bringing them harm is a dangerous assumption to make. And by qualifying them by this one feature, the fact that they’re homeless and nothing more, disregards everything else about them that makes them human. It ignores all the many facets that make up the story that led them to the streets in the first place.

What these parents and other discriminatory people need to do is to empathize with them and realize that they’re just trying to get through each day like we are.  If they did, they might have a very different viewpoint on the issue, instead of painting them with such broad strokes, and they might even begin to empathize with their journeys. A roof over a homeless person’s head can be the starting point for them to turn their life around.