A growing camp on Cliff Avenue is now without its needle exchange program after the employee covering the region quit on Saturday.
Dr. Liz Zubek runs her practice on Cliff Avenue and said the homeless camp that has taken root there is becoming an increasing danger to its residents and neighbours.
She’s not surprised the needle exchange employee quit.
“The need is there and he kept being asked to go more and more places,” said Zubek. “The city called him, even though he’s not a city employee, and asked if he could do an extra day on Cliff Avenue. So he’s being called from everywhere to increase services, and he’s just one man.”
Linda Fletcher-Gordon, program director for the Lower Mainland Purpose Society, which operates the needle exchange program on Cliff Avenue, said the employee quit without notice on Saturday.
Fletcher-Gordon said the employee was repeatedly cautioned about working past the required 35-hour work week.
“He was working 10 hours a day because he wanted to,” said Fletcher-Gordon. “I was cautioning him all the time, ‘You can not be working more than 35 hours a week because you are driving a van and you need to be rested.’ He would stay out there if people called him or wanted service. There wasn’t a lot I could do around that except to caution him.”
The society is scrambling to fill the position as soon as possible.
“I am trying to sort out the mess now. We’re left with no notice, no nothing. So I am trying to sort this out. I’m doing the best I can,” said Fletcher-Gordon.
While Zubek was skeptical of the city’s initial plan to tackle homelessness, she has kept quiet for the past two months, giving the mayor and her task force the benefit of the doubt.
However, Zubek said the camp continues to grow, despite claims by city officials otherwise.
“I hear news reports saying things are stable, but that’s not what we’ve seen in the last three months,” she said.
She’s noticed a spike in overdoses recently and thinks it attributed to a crowding camp that is faced with the threat of vigilantism.
While she hopes there is a temporary shelter set up soon, Zubek said that would address only about two-thirds of the campers living on Cliff Ave. She said the remaining are homeless who have been outside so long they wouldn’t go inside given the opportunity.
She said the city needs to provide them with an safe area where they can set up and feel protected by bylaws and the RCMP.
“Where they are right now isn’t safe for anybody,” she said.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said the camp on Cliff Ave. is not growing.
She said the city takes a head count there each week and the number of homeless on Cliff Avenue has remained static at 32 tents and 60 individuals.