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Environment in modular, supportive housing brings instability and uncertainty, says researcher

Maple Ridge home to facilities that are focus of piece in International Journal of Drug Policy
Modular buildings hoisted into place by crane at Royal Crescent in Maple Ridge in 2018. The Mods, as they are called, are scheduled to be replaced. (The News files)

Questions are being raised about how effective temporary modular housing and supportive housing has been in helping people living on the streets.

There are two supportive housing complexes in Maple Ridge, and a temporary modular housing facility on Royal Crescent that is slated to be replaced by a more permanent building on 224th Street.

Researcher Danya Fast of UBC co-wrote a commentary that appears in the December issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy, that addresses a decade of providing these housing options. The focus of her work is with people under 30, and she has consulted street people from Maple Ridge. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at UBC, an associate member of the Department of Anthropology, and a research scientist at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.

The commentary describes how housing that should provide stability can reinforce transience and uncertainty.

“Rather than allowing young people to establish more predictable day-to-day rhythms and routines and enact the futures they imagine for themselves, residing in modular and supportive housing environments often generates significant instability and uncertainty,” it says.

The Royal Crescent temporary supportive housing complex in Maple Ridge was in the news early in 2022, after a Maple Ridge woman compiled a list in social media of people who had died there over two years. It identified 12 women and 10 men, and Diedra Lucas said there have been more.

READ ALSO: Woman lists people dying in Maple Ridge supportive housing

When he was Attorney General in March of 2022, David Eby ordered an independent review of the Royal Crescent mods. BC Housing said that report is expected this spring.

READ ALSO: Government orders review of Maple Ridge modular housing

Fast told The News that she has been doing research since 2007, gaining insights through people with lived experience with unstable housing and homelessness, and many of them have lived in modular housing.

She has heard the sentiment that “wraparound services” that are promised when facilities are established aren’t effective.

Fast said a woman in her 30s referred to modular housing as “death camps.”

“This is clearly not the intention, but that’s how they’re being experienced by some people,” Fast said, adding that sentiment “needs to be contextualized with a highly toxic drug supply.”

People moving from the streets to housing can feel tremendous optimism about the future. They anticipate a more “normal” life, where they can cook their own meals, get employment, go back to school, live with a romantic partner and have pets.

“This moment of getting housing is a big moment for a lot of people,” explained Fast.

But young people living in modular and supportive housing report they don’t feel safe, don’t feel like they have a home, and remain uncertain about the future.

They are sites of intensive drug use, and dealing that can trigger relapse, mental health crisis and overdose, she said.

The commentary article quotes a 14-year-old woman who remarked “You can’t get clean living next to your dealer.”

“As time passes, young people often lament that their housing buildings feel institutional, oppressive, and unsafe,” said the article. “While they hope that these new living environments will be a departure from what came before, modular and supportive housing facilities utilize many of the same mechanisms of control operating in the foster care and group homes, juvenile detention facilities, hospitals, and detoxification, treatment, and recovery facilities that they continually circulate through.”

It says the young people who live in them feel trapped, with no next steps.

The authors say more research is needed into the long-term potential of housing first approaches.

Fast said government might explore solutions such as having different floors for people with different needs.

“What can we do now, to make these places more livable, and more like homes?”

BC Housing continues to follow a housing first model, and announced its Rapid Resonse to Homelessness in 2017, spending $291 million to build 2,000 modular supportive housing units, and $170 million over three years for staffing and support services.

In August of 2019, BC Housing conducted a study of modular housing resident outcomes.

It reported:

• 94 per cent remained housed after six months

• 84 per cent reported improvements to overall well-being

• 54 per cent reported better acces to employment opportunities

• 57 per cent reporrted better living skills

• 56 per cent reported improvement in their physical health

• 44 per cent reported improvements to their mental health

The province announced in November of 2021 it would be replacing the Royal Crescent Mods in Maple Ridge with 52 units of supportive housing at a nearby site at 11685-11695 Fraser St. and 11686 224th St. However, construction has not started.

READ ALSO: Bringing Christmas Cheer to a Maple Ridge shelter

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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