Maple Ridge may not have to provide a bed or shelter space for every person in Anita Place Tent City in order to get a court order allowing it to clear the camp.
But 55 temporary modular units that open next month on Royal Crescent likely won’t be enough to allow the closure of tent city, said Anna Cooper, with Pivot Legal Society.
Cooper cited the 2015 case involving the City of Abbotsford, where the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the city had to provide space for homeless people to rest, have a bathroom, get shelter, stay warm and eat.
But courts haven’t yet ruled on whether those rights extend to full-time, homeless camps.
“Whether or not they need to allow people to occupy a space 24/7 (as in a tent city), is still an open question before the courts. That hasn’t actually been finally ruled upon.”
What is clear is that a city has to provide some space and services for people.
It’s more of a question of how a community can overall meet the needs of homeless people that will decide if a court order is granted to clear a camp, she added.
“In Maple Ridge, it’s pretty clear that there are no other options for people to get those needs met outside the camp. So that would be one of the things that would weigh in favour of the camp continuing.”
Cooper added that mats on the floor, such as those at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, may not be considered long-term shelter for people.
She couldn’t comment on the recent ruling on Vancouver Island in which the City of Saanich got an injunction to clear a homeless camp because of fire safety concerns.
She said, however, that each judge will decide a case individually, balancing the needs of homeless people and the safety risk posed by those camps.
“It’s up to the individual court, based upon the facts of that specific camp, to decide where that balance lies.”
In Maple Ridge, Anita Place is functioning as an overdose prevention site accessed by harm reduction workers, “where people are being saved on a daily basis,” Cooper said.
Mayoralty candidate Mike Morden said previously that the Maple Ridge fire department could simply close the camp because of fire safety reasons. He also said he will ask police to “enforce the law.”
But Cooper hasn’t heard of a fire department actually closing a camp down because of fire safety code violations.
“It would be unprecedented. I’ve actually never heard of a fire department doing that.”
She pointed out, as well, a mayor can’t tell police how to do their jobs.
“The mayor does not control the RCMP’s operational procedures and cannot tell them how to conduct policing,” Cooper said.
And neither option addresses the underlying issues, she added.
If Anita Place Tent City is closed, without any alternative, “Maple Ridge is just going to have a homeless camp somewhere else.
“The community is doomed to keep repeating this problem as long as they don’t address the underlying issues,” she added.
She pointed out that Anita Place opened soon after the temporary emergency shelter closed, adding that Maple Ridge lacks resources for the homeless. There’s not enough room in Maple Ridge to accommodate all of the homeless people in the daytime during the winter.
Maple Ridge, last November, adjourned its injunction to clear the camp after an agreement was worked out to address safety issues.
Cooper said there are about 200 homeless people currently in the city.
“Any city councillor who is not interested in having tent cities in Maple Ridge in a long-term basis should be lobbying really hard for the province to help them in providing long-term housing solutions,” Cooper added.
As long as council is blocking housing projects, such as that proposed on Burnett Street, where an 85-unit supportive housing project was defeated by council in May, “they’re going to have a real tough time getting rid of tent cities.”