Cliff Avenue camp residents concerned

Have doubts about city’s new action plan to end homelessness

Cliff Avenue residents are worried the homeless action plan, officially rolled out Thursday, won’t, on its own, rectify the problems created by an encampment on their street the past few weeks.

Vagrancy and crime have been a problem in the neighborhood, near the Salvation Army shelter off the Haney Bypass, for more than a decade.

George and Pam Banks, who have a home on the Cliff Avenue cul-de-sac, said they want to see bylaws enforced because they are not confident the municipality’s action plan, alone, will make a difference.

“I am not fully aware of the content contained in this action plan. However, I don’t see how it will help the situation,” George Banks said.

A CP Rail mechanic of 36 years, Banks asked if the hand-delivered notice residents received, which stated people living on the street apologized for the “inconvenience” they had caused, was referring to matters such as, “the urinating on the street out front of my home, the shopping cart pushed into my son’s truck, the constant use of paramedics/police, the needle exchange truck …”

If so, he added, calling all that inconvenient was an understatement.

For 11 years, Banks and his wife, and now his daughter and two grandsons (ages six and eight), have lived on the same street. In that time, he’d seen a few homeless people set up tents and later leave, but nothing like the extent it is now.

Although Banks could not confirm how many individuals occupy the encampment, like his neighbors, he is worried there could be as many as 70 – more than the number of homeowners on his street.

“The homeless camp is outnumbering the legitimate residents of Cliff Ave.”

The whole ordeal began with a couple of campers who refused to leave after being asked to do so by bylaw officers and police. Since then the camp has grown and indications have been it won’t disappear any time soon.

“As long as people are sticking together for a common goal, I don’t see it coming down. I really don’t,” a resident of the camp said previously.

The city’s action plan identifies priorities such as removing barriers to get people off the street and into homes.

Coun. Bob Masse said he believed one of the outcomes from the action plan would be the eventual disbandment of the camp.

He could not confirm the exact number of people living in the camp, but agreed it had grown since it first became apparent. He stressed many other municipalities in Canada and U.S. have been challenged by the homelessness, including Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver, where homeless encampments, or “tent cities,” had also appeared.

“This problem is not a Maple Ridge problem. It’s a national problem – even North America problem,” said Masse.

A report on homelessness in Canada published in 2013 states the Homelessness Partnering Secretariat (HPS) uses the estimate that between 150,000 and 300,000 individuals experience homelessness in Canada every year.