With debate raging over proposed modular housing near three schools in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood, one voice has been conspicuously absent from the conversation: students.
Opponents of the project have argued the proposed site, which is adjacent to Sir Wilfred Laurier Elementary School and Ideal Mini and Sir Winston Churchill secondary schools, is a danger to students.
But one group of students wants to make it clear they don’t feel that way.
LISTEN: Churchill students speak out in favour of modular housing
“What we saw was much of our community being misrepresented,” Churchill student Ishmam Bhuiyan told CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show.
He and Zaiyou Chen are some of the students behind a Facebook group called Marpole Students for Modular Housing.
“There isn’t nearly this level of concern that these protesters are making it out to be,” said Chen, who also attends Churchill.
The pair said they helped start the Facebook group over concerns students were being used as an excuse by opponents of the housing project.
The proposal, which would see 78 temporary modular housing units for the homeless built at Heather Street and West 57th Avenue, is a part of the province’s plan to spend $66 million on similar projects around B.C.
Bhuiyan and Chen said they wanted to make it clear that there are many students who believe the neighbourhood should be inclusive to everyone, including the homeless.
Their closed Facebook group has 17 members, and its page has attracted about 180 likes.
WATCH: Stanley Park is the best place for homeless, says Marpole protester
Support for the proposal at the school may not be universal. A rival Facebook group claiming to have been created by students opposing the project has also sprung up, attracting 19 likes of its own.
CKNW has reached out to the opposing group for comment.
“We aren’t saying there are no concerns at all. There are valid concerns. It isn’t a flawless, pitch-perfect plan that satisfies everyone. But that’s not really what the protesters are making it out to be,” Chen said.
The two students also said they are concerned with the way homeless people are being depicted.
Chen and Bhuiyan are also part of a group called Kitchen on a Mission that delivers food to Vancouver homeless shelters, and said they’ve seen first hand that the homeless aren’t a group to be afraid of.
“It’s coming forward with a gross over-generalization of all homeless people: Drug addicts. All homeless people have mental illnesses. And then also throwing in students under there and saying ‘all students are afraid of that,'” Chen said.
WATCH: Protest against modular housing in Marpole
“We’ve been inside these places, we’ve interacted with people on the Downtown Eastside,” added Bhuiyan.
“I’ve been inside homeless shelters, I’ve been in the elevators and the hallways. I’m not afraid.”
The pair said they’ve heard plenty of support from their peers at Churchill, and are planning their own demonstration at the proposed site to show their support.
They also said once the project is up and running, they’re interested in developing a program in which students from the school interact with the residents of the new housing and find ways to help them.
As for the contentious debate with project opponents, Chen said the next step needs to be toning down the rhetoric and talking about the issue calmly.
“Okay, now how do we make sure we’re having constructive conversations where everyone pitches in and determines how we can keep children safe?”