Businesses back extending shelter

About 20 business owners and nearby residents attended the two information sessions in Maple Ridge.

Yvan Charette

Operators of downtown businesses don’t like the fact that street people hang about the temporary homeless shelter on Lougheed Highway and make others feel uncomfortable.

And they told that to City of Maple Ridge staff at the invitation-only gathering held June 16 to get input on extending operation of the temporary homeless shelter, at 22239 Lougheed Hwy., by nine months.

“They had complaints, but they also had a lot of compassion,” said Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director with the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.

About 20 business owners and nearby residents attended the two information sessions, one in the daytime, the other in the evening.

“The stores that I’ve spoken to all say that if it’s going to lead to a solution, they feel the need to support it,” Boekhorst said.

And business owners agree: homelessness is a difficult issue, but they’re trying to deal with it.

The city report recognized the harsh feelings in its report, saying the “level of frustration and distress was also very noteworthy and of considerable concern to service providers and city staff.”

Yet the report concludes, keeping the shelter open another nine months was the only option.

Despite concerns, Boekhorst is feeling better about the whole issue.

The city has said it will listen as it looks for a location for the interim modular shelter, intended to house people for three years while a permanent supportive housing complex is built.

“We’re very happy that we’re so much more involved now,” said Boekhorst.

“This time, there was extensive consultation,” around the extension of the shelter.

When the temporary shelter opened last October, initially for six months to provide a place for people to go following the dismantling of the Cliff Avenue tent city, businesses weren’t as involved.

She said the business improvement area spends $70,000 yearly on security. That pays for 16 hours of Westridge Security patrols every day. RCMP are now doing more summer patrols, as well.

She adds that creation of a permanent shelter in New Westminster in recent years has helped the situation on Columbia Street.

“Now, with the permanent shelter, it’s 100 per cent better.”

The situation in downtown Maple Ridge isn’t perfect, however.

People keep dumping items outside a thrift store, which attracts homeless people.

And discarded needles are being left behind the Ministry of Social Development offices on Lougheed Highway, although improvements are being made in how used needles are collected.

However, Boekhorst says she’s received only a handful of complaints in the last several months, with one calling several times.

Boekhorst says that complaints will continue, but Maple Ridge’s central area is looking better than it did a decade ago.

“A lot of work has been done, but the homelessness is just such a big issue. It’s such a big issue, it’s really hard for the BIA to deal with it.”

Yvan Charette, owner of the Haney Hotel and pub, located across from the temporary shelter, said the latter has been a drain.

He supports extending it another three months, but questions anything more. Initially, he was told it would close in March.

“What do you do? Do you not show compassion and kick them out of town?” he said.

“I support it up to a certain extent, but we have to get the ball rolling.”

Since the shelter opened in October, Charette said sales at his pub have been hurt by at least $100,000.

“I’m on a cliff. Sometimes I’m just keeping people employed.”

Without any Canadian hockey teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, he said bars and pubs in Metro Vancouver have taken another 10-per-cent hit in sales.

He proposes that in return for the effects suffered by having the homeless shelter nearby that he’d like the property taxes of nearby businesses exempted for as long as the shelter remains open.

Crime is another drain on local businesses, and at least one owner questions whether shelters actually help their clients.

At Mark’s in the west part of Maple Ridge, owner Jeremy Bekar has to deal with shoplifters once or twice a day.

“It’s an added tax on business,” he said.

There were shoplifting problems in the former location in downtown Maple Ridge, but the larger building on 207th Street, where the store moved to last August, means it’s harder to see everything.

He’s dismayed at the light approach taken to drug users who commit crimes.

“The judges don’t care so the police don’t care.”

In one altercation from last year, he cornered a shoplifter wearing a stolen jacket. The thief swung a knife at Bekar during the brief struggle, then took off. It was all caught on camera, and the thief pleaded guilty to a charge, but only received two days in jail and the jacket was never returned.

He questions if homeless shelters actually help people and refers to a program in Italy, where people sent for drug treatment or detox followed by vocational training and counselling, followed by a ban on returning to their home town, where they picked up the bad habits.

“I’m saying get them out of the community. If the community is the problem, they need to move somewhere else.”

It’s a topic that’s a regularly discussed as his wife Brie-Anne Bekar is currently studying the issue of homeless for her master’s thesis at the University of Victoria.

She questions the principle of Housing First, which contends that people need to be housed and fed first before they can deal with addictions.

“Providing homes for people doesn’t treat the core problem. The core problem will still exist. It will just exist in the home. The only way of fixing it is treatment.”

Crime rates won’t drop just because people are provided housing, she added.

However, Canada’s treatment doesn’t work very well, with only an eight-per-cent success rate, she notes.

And B.C. doesn’t even report stats about drug treatment to Health Canada because it doesn’t even have a system for collecting such data.

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