The 3030 Gordon homeless shelter in Coquitlam, about to mark its first anniversary in January, does have issues, as Mayor Richard Stewart acknowledges.
“There are issues associated with the operation of the shelter and other shelters, I would suspect,” he said.
“There’s no question that it has issues. We’re working through them with a number of a groups, including RainCity.”
RainCity Housing operates 3030 Gordon, a homeless shelter that offers 30 emergency beds, plus 30 transitional suites.
RainCity also runs Maple Ridge’s 40-bed temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy.
Stewart said the issues connected with the shelter include open drug use, behaviourial problems, petty crime and a concentration in the area of homeless, mentally ill and drug-addicted people.
“Homelessness is not benign. We need to, as a society, tackle it, for a number of reasons.”
And he realizes that all the negative effects can be concentrated into the neighbourhood that hosts such a shelter.
“We have encountered some of that.”
Coquitlam is trying to address those issues on an ongoing basis through its citizen’s advisory committee, while the RCMP’s uniformed crime reduction unit also makes regular visits.
But since 3030 opened, the mayor said he’s had little feedback or complaints.
“We get very little comment about it. In fact, we hear almost nothing from residents nearby. We hear some from local businesses, but not so much that they lament its presence in the neighbourhood.”
Maple Ridge, which is considering a 60-bed housing complex and shelter 21375 Lougheed Hwy., is going through the same debate, a year behind Coquitlam and several behind New Westminster.
At the recent Community Dialogue on Homelessness, the chief administrator for New Westminster reviewed the process which led to that city having four shelters.
Maple Ridge is no different than other cities, said Mayor Nicole Read.
“All cities purchase land in closed [meetings.]”
The land then goes through the rezoning process, to allow the shelter, which involves three readings of a zoning bylaw, including a public hearing.
“So nothing we’re planning on doing is different than the way other cities have done it, in terms of process,” Read said. “We’re not doing anything outside the norm.”
Maple Ridge does have one difference, though.
Council, in October, handed the entire public consultation process over to MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton after Premier Christy Clark said they would have the final say on if, or where, a shelter opened.
Both MLAs opposed the previous B.C. Housing proposal to convert the Quality Inn into a shelter. That was abandoned earlier this year because of public outcry.
“Whenever I talk to a mayor and tell them our own MLAs oppose their own government’s solutions, they can’t believe it. It doesn’t happen,” Read said.
Read said the city has sent several messages to B.C. Housing, asking for an update, but hasn’t heard anything. But in the meantime, the March 31 deadline for closing the temporary shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. is looming.
Read worries that if 21375 Lougheed is rejected, another location for even an interim shelter will be needed. Originally, the 21375 Lougheed property was going to be the location for both the interim, trailer-type shelter, while construction of the permanent shelter started in another location on the same property.
In meantime, the MLAs are wasting time by not making a decision, said the mayor.
“We are at a complete standstill. We have no clue what’s going on,” Read said. “We have no update.”
Furthermore, the public hasn’t had its chance to comment about any shelter.
Read said MLAs are delaying a decision until after next May’s provincial election.
That breaks trust with the public because politicians are supposed to make decisions in the best interests of the community.
Bing, though, says that’s not the case. He said he wants the shelter resolved soon, and hopes it is before the provincial election next spring, saying he’s concerned about residents of the shelter and neighbouring businesses.
“Obviously, we’re politicians and I think everyone’s aware that there’s an election in six months.”
He said he’s talking to B.C. Housing regularly, but no decisions have been made.
Location of the shelter is one topic.
“If not here, then where? What are the possibilities, what are the options available? It may be this is the best spot,” Bing added. “Everything’s open at the moment.”
He and Dalton have been getting lots of e-mails on the topic.
“We’re getting lots of feedback from the people.
“We’re quite aware of the situation … but there’s no time frame.”
Stewart said while most of the public seems to have come to accept the 3030 Gordon shelter, some politicians on Coquitlam council object to the practice of clean needles being handed out to shelter residents. Some say that was never mentioned when council approved the shelter.
According to an October report from RainCity Housing, 120 people have been moved from the Coquitlam shelter in its first year.
Thirty of those went to treatment or detoxification programs, 28 got their own apartments or suites, 24 were put into the transitional housing program – which is also at 3030 Gordon – while 10 went to family, and another 10 went to a different shelter. Four ended up in jail.
In August, the shelter set a 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Stewart points out crime stats haven’t changed much in the area from the time before the shelter was open.
The application process entailed a six-hour public hearing before the shelter was approved.
People living nearby didn’t want it while others did.
“I’m glad our city has this shelter,” Stewart said. “It was controversial.
“There’s a measure of fear. Fear of mental illness is one of those fears. The fear of crime in their neighbourhood. I understand completely those fears,” he added.
“We know very well that mental illness and addictions are two enormous issues and the only way to deal with them is right up front and by helping those who are afflicted.”
Stewart said he tries to avoid giving advice to other cities. But the community liaison committee was helpful in working out issues between residents, businesses and the shelter.
The RCMP uniformed crime reduction unit also helped.
“We know we have this in our community. We have this element of homeless and mentally ill. This is a way of starting to working on their issues, to get a roof over their head, so we can work on their issues.”
Maple Ridge Coun. Gordy Robson proposes combining the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries shelter with another operator, in order to create just one shelter.
Robson said Maple Ridge has enough shelter spaces and has already housed 150 people. He noted Pitt Meadows and Burnaby have no shelters at all.
“Does Pitt Meadows have a [homeless] problem? Does Burnaby have a problem?” he asked.
“We would we house more?”