For those of you who may not like long articles, lets get the facts out of the way right from the start. Those who oppose supportive housing projects are just as compassionate as those who support them. We all want to help the most vulnerable members of our community family and provide them with the compassion, services, connections, supports and shelter which will allow them to gain a solid foundation towards becoming happy, healthy and productive members of the community. The only difference between those who support this project and those who are opposed, is that those who are opposed seem to have some concerns about it’s location.
This article hopes to help dispel some, or all, of those concerns with the presentation of facts and evidence. Studies done across Canada and the United States – even some in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island – have shown that in neighborhoods with (well-managed) supported housing initiatives; property values remained the same or increased; crime stayed the same or decreased; there were little or no increased demands on infrastructure; policing and health-care costs often decreased; and concerns over possible changes in the character of the neighborhood or how the residents of the facility may behave, are based almost entirely on fear, emotions, personal experiences/opinions and stereotypical views of the homeless or those struggling with addiction, and not facts or evidence.
Therefore, if you are truly interested in facts and evidence. If you are truly concerned about what is in your best interest, and the best interest of your family and the community, then this article hopes to help dispel some of the myths surrounding homelessness and the fear-based response of “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) towards supportive housing. This article also encourages you to read some or all of the reports in the Reference section below and then use your own INFORMED judgement and critical thinking skills, to determine whether your concerns over the School Road Supportive Housing Project are valid. If you read the evidence, if you read the studies and reports, you will find that most of your concerns around the impact of the supportive housing project are in fact, baseless.
Overall, improvements in community integration, mental health and well-being (Reference) have been found among the previously homeless when they were provided with supportive housing services. Initiatives to end homelessness have also been found to save taxpayers money (Reference) often through a reduction in community health care costs (Reference) and other public services (Reference). Property values tend to remain the same or even increase in communities where supportive housing was introduced (Reference) and crime rates tend to stay the same as well (Reference), or in some cases even drop (Reference). But please read on if you would like to consider more of the facts and evidence around supportive housing.
Dispelling Myths Around Supportive Housing
Communities all around the world frequently struggle with various obstacles when trying to introduce supportive housing initiatives to assist those in need. Considering the many baseless stereotypes and stigma’s associated with homelessness, mental illness and substance use, it is not surprising that most of the obstacles and community opposition to supportive housing come directly from those who live the closest to these facilities (NIMBY). Although we need to acknowledge and hear the individual concerns of those opposed to supported housing in their neighborhoods, the evidence has shown that most if not all of the commonly raised concerns around supported housing are in fact based more on personal experiences, misinformation and fear, rather than facts and evidence.
“NIMBY stems from concerns about change in the neighbourhood, ranging from expressions about the presumed characteristics of newcomers (often in the case of supportive or affordable housing) through to concerns over neighbourhood impacts such as traffic and building form.” (Reference)
Also, many who have posted their opposition to the Gibsons supportive housing project (in their neighborhood) on social-media, will often begin with “this will be an unpopular opinion“, or something similar. One should take note that many of these posts are unmistakably PERSONAL OPINIONS and not sound conclusions based on a preponderance of facts or evidence. One should also take note that many of those opposed to the project admit right up front that their opinion is or will be “unpopular“. There are obvious reasons why such opinions are unpopular. First, they are OPINIONS and not sound conclusions based on solid evidence or facts beyond personal experience. Second, they are unpopular because they are minority opinions and do not represent the majority of the community, or those who employ critical thinking based on facts and evidence. Unfortunately those who hold firmly to emotionally-driven personal opinions or stereotypical views, are difficult to convince with facts or evidence. The 30% of American’s who believe Donald Trump is the best thing since sliced bread, is a case in point. But there is nothing wrong with holding to one’s own personal opinions, even if they run contrary to facts and evidence. However, public policy and community planning should NEVER be based on personal opinions, but rather a sound body of facts and evidence.
This article is not intended to dismiss the concerns of anyone opposed to the supportive housing project on 749 School rd in Gibsons, BC. Nor is this article intended to imply that those who oppose the project, are in any way less compassionate than those who are in support. One does not need to have personally experienced abuse, homelessness, addiction, mental illness or discrimination, to feel compassion for those who suffer or have been marginalized due to their circumstances. The vast majority of people around the world (especially residents of Gibsons) feel genuine compassion for the homeless, those suffering from mental illness, addiction, physical disabilities, discrimination or other disadvantages and marginalization. Those who oppose the supported housing project are just as compassionate as those who support it. As was mentioned in the first paragraph, the only difference between those who are opposed to the project and those who support it, is that those who are opposed have some concerns about the location. So what exactly are these concerns, and are they based on facts and evidence?
The majority of concerns from residents opposed to the supportive housing project appear to fall along the exact same lines that other communities across Canada and the USA have raised. The common concerns raised are not about providing services to the homeless in general, but rather that these services should not be in a particular neighborhood – hence the use of the term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). Although some people may have valid and negative personal experiences with homeless persons, those suffering from substance issues, homeless shelters or other forms of supportive housing, or they have heard stories from others sharing negative personal experiences, these personal experiences should not be considered evidence for establishing public policy or making community decisions since they do not reflect the evidence from other public policy and supported housing research findings across Canada and the US.
Among those who oppose supported housing in their neighborhoods, there are 5 commonly raised concerns which have been widely dispelled in research carried out both in Canada and the USA. These include:
- Property Values (stay the same or increase in some cases)
- Crime & Safety (stays the or decreases(crime)/increases(safety) in some cases)
- Density: Congestion & Infrastructure (no evidence to support this, some evidence to the contrary)
- Neighborhood Character (based more on prejudice and stereotypes, than facts)
- New Resident Behaviors (based more on prejudice and stereotypes, than facts)
We should also be aware that not every community gets an opportunity to acquire property worth over 1/2 a million dollars (for $1.00!) to directly apply towards relieving some of the suffering endured by those most vulnerable. A rare opportunity which would allow the residents of the supported housing project, members of our community family, to obtain the shelter, emotional supports, connections and services which can support them to become contributing members of the community. Not every community gets an opportunity to relieve some of the strain on social-service infrastructures and policing services by providing supportive housing through a federal donation. The suggestion that the School Road Supportive Housing initiative should be located elsewhere due to concerns over decreased property values, crime or safety issues, is shown to be not only factually wrong, but is also impractical and would add additional financial burden to the community, not to mention introduce further delays to helping those most in need. Also, since Gibsons Elementary is a “Neighborhood Learning Center” founded on the premise of “reducing barriers to services, maximizing accessibility for vulnerable children and families” (Reference), this community-minded and socially-aware mandate for supported housing is perfectly in line with the goals and mandate of Gibsons Elementary.
So let’s take a look at the research which has looked into those 5 common areas of concern raised by those who oppose supported housing in their particular neighborhood.
(1) Property Values
Residents near a proposed supported housing project often express concerns that property values will decrease as a result. Both in Canada and the USA, results of both small and large-scale studies have shown NO “statistically significant impact” on property values and in many cases property values actually INCREASED (Reference) when these services were implemented in the community. In other words “The vast majority of studies have found affordable housing does not depress the neighbourhood
property values, and may increase them in certain instances” (Reference).
“The results are clear: there is little evidence to support the fear that supportive housing will negatively impact surrounding property values. Researchers concluded that “a supportive housing development does not have a statistically significant impact on the value of properties within 500 feet of the development.” Further, the report found that once construction was completed on a supportive housing project, the value of properties located within 500 feet of the supportive housing actually increased relative to other properties in the neighborhood.” (Reference)
“This is a relatively simple argument to counter with documentation. Many studies have shown that there is no connection between the presence of supportive housing and the value of properties or owners’ ability to resell their homes.” (Reference)
“A literature review by CARMHA (Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction) at SFU indicates that property values have not declined with supportive housing.” (Reference)
“This issue has been studied in Canada and the United States across a variety of neighbourhoods and development proposals. Twenty-five studies of affordable housing (including some supportive housing) concluded that there was no impact on property values” (Reference)
(2) Crime & Safety
Often residents near a supportive housing project will raise concerns that “unsavory characters” they believe are associated with such facilities will increase the threat of crime in the neighborhood and effect their own, or family, safety. This is another common concern raised by those opposed to supportive housing in their neighborhood which is readily dispelled with a bit of research. Studies across both Canada and the US have shown that calls for emergency police services and incarceration rates more often DECREASE rather than increase, in communities where supportive housing was implemented.
“In 25 years of experience with supported housing in Vancouver, there is no evidence that there has been an increase in crime in areas around these buildings.” (Reference)
“People with disabilities in supportive housing reduce their use of costly systems, especially emergency health care and corrections.” (Reference)
“… this is a relatively easy argument to counter with information. Studies have shown that rather than contributing to neighborhood crime, many supportive housing programs have transformed blighted buildings that previously presented high crime hot spots in the community. In these instances, supportive housing became a neighborhood asset and mobilized a new resident base to combat crime.” (Reference)
“People in supportive housing use costly systems like emergency health services less frequently and are less likely to be incarcerated.” (Reference).
(3) Density: Congestion & Infrastructure
Since more people will be living in the 700 block of School rd once the facility becomes operational, there may also be concerns around traffic and increased demands on local water and sewage infrastructure. First, since School rd is one of the major thoroughfares in and out of Lower Gibsons and sees significant, yet periodic, increases in traffic, and few who are homeless can afford to own a car, any increase in traffic is likely going to be minimal (staff). Especially considering the far greater but periodic increases in traffic with each ferry arrival.
Large scale studies both in Canada and the US have also found that in communities where supported housing was available, numerous (and costly) community services such as emergency department visits, inpatient hospital stays, detox/addiction program attendance and incarceration numbers were all reduced. Studies have also found that “low-income households make 40% fewer trips per household” and “for every doubling of neighborhood density, vehicle miles traveled are reduced by 20%-30%” (Reference).
“Generally, higher-density housing requires less extensive infrastructure than greenfield development — for piped water and sewer services, for schools, for roads, etc” (References)
(4) Neighborhood Character
The assumption that a homeless shelter or supported housing will bring an unsavory element to the community is based on unfounded fears and a false, stereotypical view of homelessness or addiction. The stereotype would suggest that most homeless people are single, male, likely addicted to one or more illegal substances, possibly suffering from mental illness and prone to crime and/or violence to support their habit. Although it is true that mental illness and substance problems occur more frequently among the homeless when compared to the general population, the vast majority of people who are homeless DO NOT suffer from mental illness or substance issues (Reference). In fact, EVERY community has people suffering from mental illness and substance issues across all segments of the community, occupation and socioeconomic status. If we are going to try and prevent those suffering from mental illness, substance issues or who have criminal records from living in our communities, we will need to begin screening our immediate neighbors, teachers, coffee shop owners, doctors and not just those who are homeless (to be fair). However, there are no laws which support discrimination against anyone of a particular socioeconomic class, mental health status, physical ability, substance use or criminal record entering a community or supportive housing project. In fact the laws (and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) which do exist, PREVENT such discrimination.
“Supportive housing programs benefit overall community health. Studies show that supportive housing helps communities to save money. It cuts down on emergency room visits, hospitalizations, arrests, and other high cost services incurred by people struggling to live on the streets without any supports. ” (Reference)
(5) New Resident Behaviors
Many who oppose supported housing initiatives in their neighborhood express concerns that there will be an increase in persons entering their neighborhood who may not share the same values or social norms of the rest of the community. Similar to the concerns around changes to the character of the community, this reaction is based on an irrational fear of “imagined characteristics” of the homeless and is driven by stereotypes and emotion, and only serves to increase the stigma around homelessness (Reference).
Studies have shown that a minority of homeless people suffer from mental health or substance issues (Reference), and not a majority as the stereotypes around homelessness imply. It is also a myth that all homeless people are unemployed or single males. In fact many who are homeless are employed and often have children to care for as well (Reference).
“Research has also shown that individuals in supported housing are three times more likely to complete a treatment program than those who are not in alcohol and drug free housing.” (Reference)
“Affordable housing must comply with the same building code standards as marketrate housing and as such, the physical condition and quality is the same.” (Reference)
For those who oppose the School Road Supportive Housing initiative in it’s present location, I would like to acknowledge your concerns and fears. You have every right to be concerned about your property values, crime rates, safety and the character of your community. And for some of you who may have had, or heard about, negative experiences from others living around supportive housing in other communities, I appeal to your common-sense and compassion for those in need and our shared desire to know the facts, the truth about supported housing projects. As certain as you may feel about your belief’s around the potential impact of the School Road Housing Project, they are not supported by the wide-spread evidence carried out by small and large municipalities and cities all across Canada and the USA – including Vancouver. You are free to hold your own personal opinions and even to ignore or dismiss the evidence. But you should also recognize that personal opinion does not equate to reliable evidence in support of, or opposition to, supported housing projects. Personal opinions should not be used to set public policies or community planning decisions which will impact many more lives and families than your own. If one’s own personal experiences were to become the sole determinant of reality and evidence, then I would be forced to believe that all women are violent, mother’s are abusive and single-female parent households are responsible for juvenile delinquency. But in spite of having been abused by my mother for years and having worked with dozens of troubled and violent youth for over a decade who were predominantly raised by single mothers, I know for a fact that these would be false beliefs (based only on my personal experiences) since I know from the science and evidence that only a small proportion of women and mothers harm their children, and that single mother households are NOT the cause of most incidents of problem (male) youth behaviors.
As a final comment, I would like to point out that the overall success of a supportive housing initiative seems to depend on many factors including community engagement, outreach, access to medical and behavioral services, effective case management and life skills training. All of which Rain City Housing is committed to provide as part of their mandate. And although I personally have no expertise or experience around municipal policy development, based on the (limited) research I carried out for this article, I would like to encourage municipal consideration of some of the recommendations I came across in the research for this article.
- (Task Force) Establish a “Community Supports Task Force” with representatives from both the homeless community and neighborhood, professional/health fields, community-services and municipality. I believe this may already be established in Gibsons.
- (Resources) Ensure there are adequate resources available (financial and knowledge), for those concerned about the impact of the School Road Shelter (SRS) on their community.
- (Communication) Ensure there are adequate online and offline resources to effectively engage the community and municipality on supported housing initiatives and concerns. I see very few Gibsons Counselors or members of the Community Services organizations helping to provide factual information or helping to dispel some of the misinformation spread online. We are a connected world now, 70% or more of the community is online and so community and municipal initiatives CANNOT hope to be truly effective or claim they are “engaged”, without directly supporting engagement ONLINE.
- (Media) Engage the local media to ensure a balanced and evidence-based presentation about concerns as well as the science behind the community impact of supportive housing. Using the media for the dissemination of supported housing research and ongoing policy development would help in the delivery of important facts to those who may not be online.
- (Training) Consider offering community and municipal-staff training programs on how best to address NIMBY opposition and carry out effective research.
- (Share Our Lessons) Consider the development of a Community Impact of Supportive Housing in Gibsons report/overview which would highlight best practices and lessons learned for the benefit of other communities facing the same challenges. (I would be very willing to submit a proposal for this research/report)
I would also like to enthusiastically offer my services (volunteer or paid) in any capacity to support the Gibsons Supportive Housing Project in either the planning stages or operation. I can offer education and/or experience in project management, research, psychology, statistics, databases, survey development, data analysis, technology, web development, content writing, marketing/promotion, social-media and soon, counseling/life-coaching services. My singular purpose in life is to be of value to others and to make a difference. I hope to apply my education and experience towards supporting the Gibsons community and the well-being of those most in need.
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