The frustration of the public overflowed in Maple Ridge council chambers Tuesday as business owners and residents came looking for answers on Anita Place Tent City.
RCMP were stationed at the east door of the Maple Ridge council chamber as a standing-room only crowd waited to hear what, if any, could be done to resolve the homelessness issue plaguing Maple Ridge’s downtown core.
There concerns were many. Business leaders reiterated to Mayor Nicole Read and council the ongoing issues of the threat of violence, loss of business, and repeated vandalism and theft.
Yvan Charette, of the Haney Hotel, was clearly upset while addressing council, his voice wavering while speaking to Mayor Read.
“I’ve been at ground zero for the past three years,” said Charette.
He said his business is suffering and can’t be sure how much longer it will be viable if the current situation continues.
He said he approached the city almost three years ago, looking for a timeline on an answer to the growing homeless issue. Charette said he was told it would be a six months.
While he said he understands that timelines shift and that the issue is complex, his business is bearing the brunt of the city’s inability to come up with a solution.
“I’m disgusted by the leadership of council,” said Charette. “I’m hanging on by a thread here.”
Charette said since the start of the Cliff Avenue camp in April of 2015, then progressing to the RainCity shelter – directly across the road from his business – and now the Anita Tent City on 223th Steet (also near the Haney Hotel), he has seen his business plummet due to the ongoing homeless issue in the downtown core.
He’s engaged with the homeless that gathered near his business, and it became clear more and more of them settling at the camps were coming from outside of Maple Ridge.
“You have to show compassion. I’ve seen a lot of people in a lot of pain, and business-wise, right now, I’m one of them. I’m down 33 per cent and I’m in trouble,” said Charette.
His sentiments were shared by Ron Lancaster, a resident of Maple Ridge for more than 30 years and the father of downtown automotive business owner Mark Lancaster.
A frustrated Ron Lancaster wanted to know why city council can’t get a proper response from the province to help deal with the homeless camp.
“You have a responsibility to get the provincial government here – in front of the businesses on a regular daily basis – to experience this,” he said. “Right now, I don’t see it. You heard the businesses, they are not experiencing it. What I see is a disaster in the downtown core.”
Read said the city is sympathetic to businesses in the downtown core and has been engaged with the provincial government in hopes of getting the issue moved forward.
She said the homelessness issue is not simply about people falling out of housing, but rather mental health, addiction, and ultimately, a health care issue that falls under the province’s jurisdiction.
“This is a broad systemic failure of the provincial government to take responsibility for an issue that is firmly within their domain,” Read responded.
“And as a city council, and myself personally, we’ve stepped into it full on to try to drag resources into the problem. We’ve tried to get the attention of the federal government to demand the attention of the provincially government, and we are sitting here spinning. We ask the same questions over and over. Show us the outcomes. How many people in the province are shifting from supportive housing into next stage housing and into wellness. There are not good outcomes.”
Read said one of the troubles she has is that when she presses the government on where the funding is going to come from to tackle the issue, the response has alway been that they will simply have to divert money from other critical programs in the province.
It’s not a solution she said she’s interested in.
“They said we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. We’re taking services from one community and putting it into your community, and my answer was, ‘Well, if you’re doing that there, then you’re going to do that to us, too.’”
Read said the reality is, cities across the province are dealing with the spike in homelessness and drug addiction, and they have their hands tied.
“The problem is, this is not the level of government that actually has the money or the resources to drive the solution. It’s the provincial government.”
Read said council hoping to have an announcement on the future of the camp in the coming days and is urging patience with business owners and asking them to work with the city to find a solution.
Earlier in the day, residents at the homeless camp held a demonstration, saying the numbers provided by the region don’t reflect the actual amount of those living on the street.
Tracey Scott, who started and runs the homeless camp on 223rd Street near St. Anne Avenue, estimates the number is close to 200, not the 124 pegged by a Metro Vancouver count released earlier this year.
Of those, about 55 are at the camp. Others are turned away. There are an estimated 35 homeless youth in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, according to the unofficial count.
Regardless of the actual numbers, Mark Lancaster, owner of North Fraser Automotive Repair, is taking action in to his own hands.
His business is located in direct view of the homeless camp and he told council he’s frustrated by the daily threats of violence and vandalism to his property.
He has started a petition looking for a disbandment of the homeless camp. It had more than 500 signatures as of Wednesday morning.