The province will not buy and renovate the Quality Inn for supportive housing for the homeless, the housing ministry announced Tuesday morning.
However, Victoria will still provide about $15 million for a permanent facility, once a location is determined. Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the government “still recognizes the need for a long-term low-barrier shelter and housing facility.”
The Quality Inn project, located on the Lougheed Highway near 216th Street and budgeted for $5.5 million, drew the ire of many residents. There was a rally of hundreds of people on March 19, former Coun. Mike Morden promoted opposition with a petition that had collected 7,100 signatures, and Monday morning the Chamber of Commerce came out opposed to the project, based on a poll of its business members.
“There has been quite an uproar from the public about it,” said MLA Doug Bing, just before the press release. He had been preparing to attend a public meeting about the Quality Inn site on Tuesday night, but it was cancelled with the announcement.
The lack of public consultation in finding a location was a sore spot for the public, Bing said, and he called Tuesday’s announcement “democracy in action.”
“The public spoke and the government listened,” said Bing, adding both he and MLA Marc Dalton had suggested other options.
“This (project) will have a major, major effect on the community,” added Bing.
The Province is working with the city to extend the opening of the 40-bed temporary shelter from March 31 to June 30.
“We will work with the City of Maple Ridge to identify a long-term plan for a new permanent facility,” said Coleman in a press release. “Addressing homelessness involves the cooperation and support of many partners and we will continue to work with the community to assist those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.”
The City of Maple Ridge will be asked to provide the land for the proposed project, and waive development charges. A public consultation process will take place prior to any site being confirmed.
Mayor Nicole Read said council was moving ahead with the Quality Inn plan, which had been proposed by the Housing Ministry, even though councillors had concerns about the site and heard public complaints.
“We have some concerns about how the process unfolded,” she said after the province pulled out of the Quality Inn site.
She said there is support on council for a purpose-built supportive housing facility, but location is a significant issue.
“It’s going to have to go somewhere. It’s going to have to be in someone’s neighbourhood.”
Council must answer questions arising from the public, such as “why low barrier housing,” she said. They question whether it is effective in getting people away from life on the streets, and whether building such a facility would mean fewer homeless people in Maple Ridge.
“We’ve all been listening to the concerns coming out of the community,” said Read.
“It’s a good time for a community conversation.”
Those who opposed the facility were happy with Tuesday’s news.
“I’m ecstatic for our community,” said Heather Hopp, who worked at The Pantry for 17 years. “I’ve said it all along, I’m not fighting for my job, I’m fighting for my community, for the people that live here, for everybody.
“The future of our community was going to go downhill because you know once it goes in, it was just going to be a downward spiral.”
“Hopefully they can find a proper location for it,” she added. “There is always going to be a proper location, it’s just finding the right place and the facility has to be good for our community plus the folks that need the help. But I don’t think they need low barrier. I’m still against low barrier. I think they need treatment.”