Homelessness is an issue that troubles government officials at all levels. Whoever is in power is an easy target, susceptible to volleys of criticism from their critics.
The homeless shelters in Maple Ridge both are celebrating their one- and two-year anniversaries. John Horgan’s NDP government had both built. In October 2018 there were 53 units in modular housing opened on Royal Crescent. Then, in September 2019, another 51 units of supportive housing opened at the three-storey Garibaldi Ridge facility on Burnett Street.
Coast Mental Health, which operates both facilities, touts a “housing first” approach as the start of the recovery process. Both facilities provide tenants with 24/7 services, including individualized support plans, training and employment opportunities. There are 13 full-time mental health workers and a nurse at Royal Crescent, and 16 staff at Garibaldi Ridge.
Chelsa Meadus, who is running for the BC Liberal Party in Maple Ridge-Mission, said if the goal was “getting bodies off the streets,” then the facilities have been a success.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the wraparound services we expected,” said Meadus. “We haven’t seen a lot of transition.”
She said there is not a strong record of people getting on with their lives, or even gaining employment.
“You’re housing folks, but we’re not seeing that continuum,” she said. “People are just staying there.”
And, she said neighbours are not happy.
“The neighbourhood impacts have been challenging,” she said. “Maple Ridge residents care about others, but they want them to get treatment.
She said city council wanted more support for mental health and on-demand addiction treatment, but that didn’t align with the NDP government’s plan.
Meadus pledges better and stronger relationships with local government, and more community consultation, if she is elected.
Cheryl Ashlie is running for the Liberals in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, said she would want to determine what factors would be considered success for these buildings, track that data, and then make changes if necessary.
“You need a complete plan, with timelines and measures.”
As she speaks with people about issues, there is still a concern that there is not enough support for the residents of these buildings, she said.
“They (the NDP government) plunked it there, and ticked a box, and then said ‘Now we’ve created this many units’, and then went on to another box,” said Ashlie.
What is the recidivism rate? How many residents are employed
“From a visual perspective, from a response on our streets and addictions… I don’t know if we’ve stopped the tide of that.”
Ashlie also said she heard from a local physician that more people are coming to Maple Ridge from outside the community to access the buildings.
Matt Trenholm, who is running for BC Green Party in Maple Ridge-Mission, said the plan in Maple Ridge should be part of a broader strategy to stop homelessness.
“It’s clear the status quo isn’t working,” he said. “Both the past NDP and Liberal government shaven’t done enough to address homelessness in Maple Ridge and the province.”
Trenholm believes the keys are mental health, affordable housing and livable wages.
“We need to work work on preventing poverty and homelessness in the first place,” he said, noting that spending on anti-poverty initiatives and better mental health would be more cost effective than spending to resolve issues surrounding homelessness and addiction.
Bob D’Eith, incumbent for Maple Ridge-Mission, said his NDP inherited a homeless problem from the previous government.
“Andrew Wilkinson and the BC Liberals failed to address homelessness in Maple Ridge, leading to the Anita Place tent city,” said D’Eith. “I have been working on these challenges since day one.
“We helped provide solutions that work for everyone, and resolved the tent city. We have built temporary supportive housing, with 24/7 wrap-around services that include mental health and addictions supports.
“The Royal Crescent and Burnett Street sites are very much temporary and we all want to get seniors housing built as soon as possible,” he added. “We are working with the city on a plan for a continuum of housing in Maple Ridge that includes affordable rental, seniors and transitional housing. I am especially proud of our commitment for a new youth safe house in Maple Ridge, which has broad community support.”
Lisa Beare, incumbent for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, also blames the previous Liberal government for homeless problems in the riding.
“Maple Ridge has been shouldered with issues of mental health, addictions and homelessness for years, which the BC Liberals ignored,” said Beare, who has served as a Cabinet minister. “Our government is taking action to address the root causes. We are placing the first integrated child and youth teams in schools within School District 42 – offering wraparound care to children, youth and their families struggling with mental health and substance use challenges.”
She said the NDP opened the Foundry, and are bringing back a youth safe house. Maple Ridge and Mission are also receiving a new 24/7 mobile Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, offering psycho-social supports, and recovery options for adults with serious, complex and often persistent mental health challenges.
“These are the types of necessary social services that are at risk if Wilkinson gets his way by giving the wealthy a tax break and making us pay for it through cuts to services,” said Beare.