Maple Ridge council is worried about more crime, homelessness or prostitution in the downtown, but it’s going to get the details first before it takes action.
“For me, I think we need to let staff go away and come back with the facts,” Coun. Judy Dueck said at council’s workshop Monday.
She was reacting to Coun. Bob Masse’s concerns about an apparent deterioration of the downtown.
“I believe that there’s been a significant downturn in the social dynamic of downtown, recently,” he told council.
Masse, whose chiropractic business is in the downtown, says new people have arrived and he could see a “definite change in the downtown.”
The possible increase isn’t affecting his business, he added.
Maple Ridge’s central area provides lots of social services that is “enabling this type of existence,” he added.
But there’s been no real jump in homeless numbers, according to Shawn Matthewson, recreation and social planning coordinator.
She told council there was an increase in homeless youth between 2008 and 2011, but no “significant” increases in overall numbers of homelessness in that period, adding that the Salvation Army’s Caring Place shelter, as well as workers who help street people also say there’s been no increase.
People from outside Maple Ridge are encouraged to return home after three days, she pointed out.
But Masse countered later that some private social service agencies have been told by B.C. Housing that no limits can be set on length of stays.
Masse told council that he had his concerns before those of residents last week about an apparent increase in prostitution downtown.
He said later that many people don’t report crime.
“I’m saying that there’s an increase in anti-social behaviour in the community, that is, prostitution and the whole drug-addiction scene and the consequences that go with it. It’s certainly much more visible.”
Masse said both RCMP and Westridge Security have told him they are seeing more people. “There are a lot of new faces because I’m certainly seeing them.”
But he agreed, more people may not necessarily result in higher crime stats if they don’t become involved with police.
Masse added he wasn’t saying the downtown is in a horrible state and there were many positive developments. He liked an initiative underway in Surrey where social programs aim to help people move out of poverty rather than enabling them to continue that life.
Councillors also feared that businesses would leave downtown if crime increased.
The community feels that Maple Ridge is focusing too much on social issues, said Coun. Cheryl Ashlie.
“What are we missing here? Let’s have that conversation.”
Coun. Corisa Bell wanted to create a task force, noting there’s a “sense of urgency,” and didn’t want to wait a month for staff to report back.
But Mayor Ernie Daykin wanted staff to do the work, and prepare a report, “so we’ve got some hard facts to work with.”
Coun. Mike Morden agreed. “Let’s not go in with a big stick. I’m not keen on that at all.”
Chief administrative officer Jim Rule said the district’s existing “Community Network,” an umbrella group of social service agencies that meets regularly, should address the issue.
Some of the issues are not solvable, he added.
Masse said Tuesday he’s happy with council’s decision to get staff to report.
“So maybe we’ll look at this at the end of the day and say things are as good as they can be – which will be great.”
Coun. Al Hogarth wanted council to direct Ridge Meadows RCMP to issue tickets to cyclists who don’t wear helmets, and that police take away their bicycles until they can prove they ride legally. That would at least slow down those on two wheels who are breaking the law, he said.
But Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Dave Walsh told council that police can’t seize bicycles unless they can prove the bike has been stolen, while issuing tickets isn’t effective because people don’t have the means to pay.
That’s news to Downtown Maple Ridge Improvement Association executive-director Ineke Boekhorst.
The spectacle of women soliciting sex in the downtown area where Maple Ridge has focused its planning efforts the past several years has not changed recently, said Boekhorst.
“There isn’t a significant increase over last year. That is the only thing I can say from stats.”
That’s based on regular shift reports from Westridge Security, which helps patrol the downtown, along with RCMP.
“We haven’t had any phone-in complaints, specifically.”
The women may have moved the locations where they ply their trade, however. They used to hang out on North Avenue, near 224th Street, now a hot spot is on Selkirk Avenue, near 222nd and 223rd streets.
“It just seems like they’ve moved over.” That could be because the folks at Westridge Security are moving people along.
“The johns are more of a problem than the prostitutes. It’s the johns that put them there,” Boekhorst added.
According to the Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Dave Walsh, there’s been no huge increase in call volume about crime in the downtown.
“There’s no big increase that we can detect, in terms of police contact.”
That’s not to say there aren’t new people, he added.
Two factors that could put more people on to the street are the nicer weather and development in the downtown, which could have displaced people.
But RCMP haven’t reviewed their files for the exact information, he added.
“There hasn’t been a huge increase in call volume. But that’s not to say there isn’t a lot of people around doing things. Are they happening and not being reported? I’m not sure.”
With the community safety officers and the police on bike and foot patrols in the area, “I’d like to think we have a relatively reasonable snap shot about who’s out there, doing what.” But police don’t encounter everybody, he pointed out.
Coun. Robert Masse said business operators aren’t involved in the discussion because they think nothing will be done about their complaints.
“We need to re-engage the business community.”
But Walsh said people have to at least call police and let them know their concerns.
“You might think that the police may not do anything, so you don’t call. But I guarantee if you don’t call and we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything,” Walsh said. At least police can look for trends or changes, he said.