The conversation around housing for homeless people in Maple Ridge has been a long one with no resolution in sight, although advances in Surrey offer hope.
No location or operator has been selected for a proposed $15 million, 85-unit supportive housing and homeless shelter in Maple Ridge.
Council, however, has refused, with Mayor Nicole Read insisting that the province pilot a new service delivery model with Fraser Health.
Three locations in Maple Ridge have now been rejected for such a facility: the Quality Inn, in March 2016; 21375 Lougheed Highway, in December 2016; and Burnett St., last month.
Ernie Daykin, a Maple Ridge mayoral candidate and former mayor, said homelessness is a housing issue.
He wants to see more housing available for people with life challenges, but only if supports that cater to each person’s unique needs are in place.
“It doesn’t just affect those who are harder to house. There’s a critical shortage of housing and appropriate housing for people with life challenges like mental health, substance abuse, aging. Many of those folks need adequate supports in place.”
B.C. Housing is building 55 units of temporary modular housing on Royal Crescent in Maple Ridge to accommodate residents of Anita Place Tent City and other homeless people. The modular housing will be operated by Coast Mental Health.
However, Ivan Drury, with Alliance Against Displacement, a Surrey-based organization that advocates for residents of Anita Place Tent City in Maple Ridge, said the Royal Crescent modular housing is not enough to shelter more than 100 residents living at the homeless camp.
Meanwhile, Surrey cleared a homeless camp on 135A Street by relocating homeless people to temporary housing.
Surrey and B.C. Housing partnered to offer approximately 160 homeless individuals with temporary housing and health and social supports.
The supportive housing is in three locations and includes secured individual rooms with private bathrooms, meal programs, counselling, medical offices, life and employment skills programs and 24/7 staffing.
Terry Waterhouse, director of public safety in Surrey, attributes the transition of homeless people into housing to understanding individual needs.
“It’s a matter of understanding needs, working with them, having our outreach team creating relationships. The key is matching the housing model with the needs of the individuals.”
Maple Ridge has an intensive case management team. The province has also promised funding for an affordable rental housing project on property the city owns at 21375 Lougheed Hwy., for housing and supports for families and seniors.
That property, next to Maple Ridge Cemetery, was initially purchased for the supportive housing facility, but met with much community backlash, as was a previous proposal to buy the Quality Inn for the same purpose.
In Surrey, Waterhouse said, supports in housing and the location of such are key, as is the operating model.
“It had to be relatively close to where they already are in their community. To move them too far would be too disruptive. It had to be low-barrier to allow people to transition away from their addictions challenges. It had to provide an integrated case management team that would be there to support individuals as they make the transition.”
The temporary housing is operated by the Lookout Housing and Health Society, a group that operates shelter services in 14 communities.
Keir Macdonald, deputy executive director with Lookout Society, said its operating model consists of 24-hour staffing, programming, meals, and a partnership with Fraser Health to offer health services.
“It’s a collaboration of multiple partners working together to make it possible. We were meeting weekly for over a year to resolve our local challenges with the City of Surrey, B.C. Housing, Fraser Health. These things don’t happen without commitment,” Macdonald added.
Waterhouse said despite what people may think, homelessness is not a choice.
“Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people do not want to live in tents or urban centres for the long-term. Many people will do it, but it’s not a choice. Rather, it’s where they end up. People were telling us right from the beginning if we would provide housing solutions, they would take it.”
As for a location for the proposed supportive housing in Maple Ridge, Daykin said that’s up to the community.
“It needs to be in close proximity to services needed, or potentially if there was some sort of mechanism to get folks from the housing to appointments or services they need.”
If elected, one of the first meetings Daykin would have with the new council would be a discussion with B.C. Housing.
“I think one of the first meetings would be having the new council sitting down with staff and B.C. Housing to get the background, do some research and bring some examples of where it’s worked well.”
Daykin said since Surrey’s temporary housing resulted in clearing the ‘Whalley Strip’, he hopes more housing options in Maple Ridge could decrease homelessness.
Daykin also cited the temporary housing being built on Royal Crescent as a viable solution to decrease the population of people in camps.
“From my perspective, housing is successful or unsuccessful based on the operating model in place. I believe there needs to be structure, programs in place and accountability to help people break the cycle. I’m not supportive of something that’s a free-for-all. It boils down to the operating model and the operator providing those things.”
As for a solution to location and operating model, Daykin said it’s something that must be determined with strong relationships.
“I think the key is to come to some sort of solution is having strong relationships at the federal, provincial and municipal level.”
Daykin also said he has hope that the compassionate and passionate people of Maple Ridge can solve the community homelessness problem.
“There’s no shortage of emotion in discussions, but I’m an optimist and I think if we have constructive conversations to channel those emotions we will come up with something that works for Maple Ridge.”
Coun. Craig Speirs said he’s jealous of Surrey’s success in clearing its homeless camp.
“I think it’s a good solution and if Surrey can do it, so can we.”
Speirs added it’s irresponsible that Maple Ridge council passed on the opportunity to build more housing. Only he and Coun. Kiersten Duncan supported the Burnett St. location.
“We’ve had three opportunities and we’ve passed on them. I think it’s a horrible thing that we passed on homeless solutions when we have homeless,” Speirs added.
He also said the Royal Crescent temporary housing will not be enough to clear Maple Ridge’s camp.
“There’s no secret, building houses helps homelessness. The biggest cure to homelessness is community.”
Speirs said council’s opposition to the Burnett St. housing proposal reflects poorly on Maple Ridge and where it stands politically.
Speirs said he wants the community and council to “embrace solutions as they’re offered” in order to get people off the streets.
“We have people who are bracing themselves to fight any solutions unless it fits their criteria, which it seems to be to push the homeless out of the community. It’s not something you push away, it needs to be embraced and we need to bring it in,” added Speirs.
Housing Minister Selina Robinson wrote a letter expressing disappointment in council’s opposition to the Burnett St. housing, leading Mayor Read to draft a response. which is underway.