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Maple Ridge businesses tired of deteriorating downtown

Selkirk Avenue business owners Alicja Wnorowski is bothered by prostitutes and homeless people in the area. - Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS
Selkirk Avenue business owners Alicja Wnorowski is bothered by prostitutes and homeless people in the area.
— image credit: Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS

Alicja Wnorowski is not a heartless person. She cares about the homeless people, such as the old-timer who’s sitting bent over on the park bench down the street from her Cutting Image Hair Design shop on Selkirk Avenue, Tuesday morning.

She knows the guy and has seen him around for years and he doesn’t bother her, she says.

What does bother her, though, is the constant parade of sex-trade workers and drug addicts in front of her little shop, just west of 224th Street in downtown Maple Ridge, where she’s been the past 11 years.

“It’s frustrating. It’s absolutely frustrating,” she said.

“I’m sick and tired of being afraid of those people and what they’re going to do next.”

Wnorowski also lives nearby and from her shop has a firsthand view of street life in downtown Maple Ridge.

She’s seen people trying to break into buildings, called police to pick up a guy lying on the sidewalk next to the new condo nearby, screaming his head off, and sees heroine addicts shoot up in the back parking lot, which sometimes doubles as a bathroom.

“They say Canada is a free country and we can do whatever we want,” Wnorowski recalls.

Sex trade workers who often show up first thing in the morning, walk right up to her customers and grab them by the sleeve, she says. “ ‘Oh come on, come on sir, you give me $2.50 and I’ll do anything.’ My clients don’t need that, really.”

While Maple Ridge council awaits a staff report on the downtown, for Wnorowski, the area just keeps getting worse.

“They’re always bragging in the newspaper how much they want to clean up the downtown, but basically nothing happens. It’s all just talk, right?”

Wnorowski says Maple Ridge used to be a great place for kids, but that the downturn started with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, when she heard that busloads of people were sent here from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Mayor Maple Ridge Ernie Daykin said he’s heard such stories, but there was never any proof.

He once heard there were notices circulating in the Downtown Eastside, telling people to go to the Salvation Army’s Caring Place, and asked people to provide those notes.

“I never did get it,” he adds. “You want to act on the facts.”

Daykin says in the past two months he’s had only two e-mails and a phone call complaining about the downtown.

Wnorowski, though, also wonders why the Salvation Army’s Caring Place is located at 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway, at the entrance to downtown.

“That building has wrecked the downtown completely. Why can’t those people go some place else? Keep them away from normal, hard-working people.

“It’s very, very wrong, what’s going on, for sure,” she says. “Now it’s another Hastings.”

She wants to do something to help. “But people should be more aggressive in pushing them to get help.”

In her native Poland, sex trade workers must have regular medical exams, or risk jail.

“Because then we have disease.”

One bright spot, however, is the opening of a new shop next door, that provides more company on Selkirk Avenue. Ali Piruz just opened his Caspian Groceries next to Cutting Image two months ago.

The former Azerbaijani politician has had a quick introduction to the area and has a five-year lease on shop and wants to stay in the location. Even though he doesn’t sell tobacco, street people still wander in wanting to buy a few cigarettes for a few dollars.

“Between seven and eight in the morning you will see all the different girls working here.”

It’s up to the municipal government to find a solution, he adds.

A few blocks away, at the Economy Cottage thrift store on Dewdney Trunk Road, manager Karen Moritz is also getting frustrated.

Maple Ridge seems to be getting messier, with people dumping their trash everywhere, such as at the back of the thrift store that’s run by the Ridge Meadows Hospital Auxiliary. Under the guise of giving a donation, almost weekly loads of useless junk is left at the door.

The store can’t sell it, so it all has to be trucked to the transfer station and a tipping fee paid. That takes away from the money the cottage raises for the hospital, says Moritz.

Last week, with two dumped mattresses, the charges worked out to $50.

The dumping almost happens every week now and it’s getting worse, she says, and she wonders why Maple Ridge doesn’t have municipal garbage pickup.

“Maple Ridge is getting really filthy.”

With most volunteers being seniors, only a few people have the muscle power to move the garbage to the transfer station or recycling depot on River Road.

Daykin, though, pointed out, municipal garbage pickup wouldn’t make any difference because larger items such as old furniture still cannot be left at curbside.

Council requested the report into the downtown in August after Coun. Bob Masse’s said he’s seen a “significant” downturn in the area, with seemingly more new street people in town.

But police and social agencies say their number hasn’t changed.

Masse, though, said Tuesday that fewer sex trade workers are now on the streets in the last few weeks.

Ridge Meadows RCMP say they haven’t changed their approaches to patrols.

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