Vicki Murphy, Eva Bardonnex and Maria Horvath are all waiting to see if they get a place in BC Housing’s temporary modular housing complex on Royal Crescent which opens in about a month. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Candidates line up on Maple Ridge homeless issue

Different views from mayoralty hopefuls

The opening of 55 modular housing units for the homeless on Royal Crescent next month may not mean the closing of the Anita Place Tent City.

“There are more people in the [Salvation Army] shelter and the camp than there will be modular housing units,” Mayor Nicole Read said.

That’s been obvious for months, she added.

“Which leads me to believe we’re going to have a problem getting an injunction. How are they going to clear the camp?”

In 2015, the city was able to get the Cliff Avenue homeless camp voluntarily cleared because there was space in the temporary emergency shelter on Lougheed Highway.

“That is not the case right now. There are more people in the camp and in the shelter than there are modular units, which affects the city’s ability to get a court injunction to clear the camp,” Read said.

In 2017, the City of Maple Ridge sought an injunction in New Westminster Supreme Court to try to close the current camp, located on 223rd Street, just south of Lougheed Highway.

But the city later suspended its injunction after an agreement was made, in court, to improve living and safety conditions.

Two candidates for Maple Ridge council in the Oct. 20 civic election, however, are taking a tougher approach.

Mike Morden said at his campaign launch for mayor on Saturday that he will “work with senior governments to close tent city and get in the help they need.”

He wants to follow a “multi-pronged approach.”

If elected, he’ll ask police to make more frequent patrols inside the camp.

“The law enforcement has not been happening on an equal basis,” said Morden.

“There’s stolen property being handled in there. There are weapons in the camp. There are drugs in there.

“We’ll request that the laws are enforced,” Morden added.

“I’m clear on that mandate, that that’s what’s going to happen, that the police will go in there and enforce the law. It’s public property,” said Morden.

He also maintains that the Maple Ridge fire department can close the camp simply because of fire code safety violations, without getting a court injunction.

“Why is it that we need to go get injunctions to enforce the laws that exist?”

Instead of housing tent city residents, Morden said the 55 modular housing units on Royal Crescent should be for seniors or low-income tenants.

He proposes setting up a drug court, then giving people options to get into long-term treatment.

“It’s an absolute fact that we’re not housing our way out of an addictions problem.”

He wants Fraser Health involved and more of a focus on detox and long-term treatment centres.

Former mayor Ernie Daykin, who is running for that position again in October, also questions the current approach.

Daykin said on Facebook that if he’s elected, “I would obtain an injunction to clear the camp.

“There needs to be movement on this tent city situation and now that housing is almost available, tent city occupants will have an option for housing. Tent city is not a healthy place for the community or the occupants and must be closed,” he said.

Daykin supports the 55 units of modular housing on Royal Crescent, providing the operating model works.

Surrey has removed its tent cities after supportive housing was provided there, he added.

“Without it, we’re not going to break the cycle.”

Coun. Craig Speirs, also running for mayor, said that resuming the injunction process to clear tent city could cost the City of Maple Ridge hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

“Anybody who tells you they’re going to shut down the camp as soon as they get elected, anybody who says that, is going to cost the city $300,000 in legal fees, and we’re going to lose.”

Speirs said the city suspended its injunction last year after legal advice saying it couldn’t win.

“There’s absolutely no chance of winning it unless we have housing that will work for people. There’s literally no housing.”

Speirs said the 55 temporary modular units will help, but the city has to do more work creating housing and working with the homeless.

Speirs voted in favour of the 85-unit supportive housing and shelter complex that B.C. Housing proposed for 11759 Burnett St., but a majority of council defeated that at first reading last May.

Read said the city expects compliance with the fire safety conditions set out for the camp in a court ruling from last year.

“That is what the court required,” Read said.

“We want compliance with the fire-safety orders, period.”

Read, though, was hoping the camp clears when the modular housing opens.

“That’s the city’s expectations.”

Three residents who have been staying at camp are awaiting the opening of the modular housing, but they’re not sure if they’ve been guaranteed a place.

Eva Bardonnex has been living at tent city since it opened in the spring of 2017. She’s not sure if she’ll get a space or not, but would like to.

“Indoors is nice. I like running water,” said Bardonnex

The camp has just a few showers and the toilets are plugged all the time, she added.

Vicki Murphy has also been at the camp since it opened and has Huntingdon’s disease, which gives her tremors that people mistake for drug side effects.

Maria Horvath was evicted from a house in Port Coquitlam last November. She spent a few days at the Rain City shelter in Coquitlam, then ended up outside in the winter and developed frostbite on her lower leg, leading to an eight-month stay in Surrey Memorial Hospital.

She now uses a walker to get around and is staying at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries Caring Place shelter, although she used to stay at tent city.

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