The operators of a police-call-plagued social-housing complex near the Olympic village have introduced changes to combat the problems that erupted when too many people moved in without enough support staff.
Guests are now restricted for residents of the Marguerite Ford Apartments on West Second Avenue, in response to the complaints of neighbours in nearby buildings, and a camera has been installed in a nearby alley.
RainCity Housing and Support Society representative Bill Briscall acknowledged the operation ran into trouble when it moved 137 residents off the street and into housing over a two-month period last spring.
“Too many people, too quickly, for that many staff – it’s the biggest building we operate,” he says. Another RainCity complex, the Lux on Hastings Street, moved in only 92 residents in three months.
The Ford building ended up generating significantly higher volumes of calls to police, as well as neighbourhood complaints.
As of Sept. 30, there had been 162 police calls since the building opened last March. There have been on average 46 calls per month since July, more than one call per day.
One of the neighbours calling police was Susan Hollingshead, who expressed concern over needles in the alley, trespassers around her building, people fighting outside, and excessive noise.
While the calls were indications of some serious problems that needed to be addressed, they were also a sign of neighbours’ discomfort with a new kind of housing in the neighbourhood.
“These issues are fairly common – there is a settling process [around] the process of transition from moving people off the streets to indoors – and forming a new community when new projects move in,” says RainCity acting executive director Greg Richmond.
“We’re five months in, it’s taking a little longer, [but] it’s going to be a good place once we’re all settled in.”
Marguerite Ford is part of 14 supportive housing projects in Vancouver on city land leased out to non-profit operators for the next 60 years.
The projects were initiated in 2007 as joint projects of the city and the province. There was a deliberate effort to place them outside the Downtown Eastside.
That can be a hard sell in communities that aren’t used to housing for lower-income groups and it takes more of a conve
rsation with residents not used to that, RainCity’s Briscall said.
“We have to do a better job communicating with [residents] and reminding them that they are part of a community.”
Although RainCity staff acknowledged the tensions among neighbours regarding this type of housing in their backyards, they have made changes to address legitimate concerns.
The building now only has one entry point and a new policy requires residents to meet their guests at that entrance, which staff members monitor. The society installed cameras in the alley behind. Both of these changes were implemented in late August.
“It has made a positive change,” says Briscall. But not everyone is completely satisfied.
“It seems to have settled down [in the last month], but I still don’t think its being effectively managed – I want someone to be held accountable for what’s going on,” says Hollingshead.
Hollingshead would like to see more social services in place.
“If done correctly, [this is] a great way to show how people can live together.”
There are already some support groups and social services that work in Marguerite Ford, including Covenant House and Vancouver Coastal Health.