Cliff Avenue campers digging in

Members asking for micro-homes at various spots around city

Campers on Cliff Avenue in downtown Maple Ridge have now formed a coalition to watch the city’s new homelessness task force.

Campers on Cliff Avenue in downtown Maple Ridge have now formed a coalition to watch the city’s new homelessness task force.

The city is offering garbage collection to keep the street from becoming a mess and there are signs telling people to be quiet during certain times of the day.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the camp, Tracy Scott, says the camp on Cliff Avenue, behind the Salvation Army’s Caring Place, isn’t going anywhere soon – unless people get the help they need.

“You pushed us here. Where are we supposed to go,” asked Scott.

“We want out of here, but we’re not going to go unless you help us.”

While the complete strategy of the mayor’s homelessness solutions task force won’t be unveiled until next week, homeless advocate Brian Harris says the task force has no one who’s actually representing the homeless.

“That’s another idiocy of the program. If they couldn’t have someone who’s homeless, at least someone who represents the homeless.”

Harris himself isn’t homeless, but advocates for those who don’t have a place to live.

Following a meeting of the camp members on Saturday, a coalition has been set up to watch the task force, he added.

Harris said people in homeless camps around the city haven’t been told by bylaws staff to move to Cliff Avenue. But as a result of being pushed from the various squatters camps throughout the city, such as in the bush along Lougheed Highway, just west of Kanaka Way, people have ended up on Cliff Avenue.

The city relaxed its move-along approach on Cliff Avenue so it could a get more accurate idea of the extent of the homeless problem, Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said earlier.

Linda Whitford was one of the first to set up her tent a few months ago after her husband Joseph died in the area. She had put up a cross on a fence on Cliff Avenue in his honour, but was told to take it down.

Soon, “Everybody just showed up.”

Before that, she was living in the bush below Cliff Avenue, before it was fenced off, and has been around Maple Ridge for about 15 years.

One of the camp’s residents who gave his name only has ‘Jersey,’ wearing a Chicago Black Hawks sweater, said before he came to the camp he was sleeping in many spots throughout the city, but not in any of the camps.

He said the camp could go on indefinitely. “As long as people are sticking together for a common goal, I don’t see it coming down, I really don’t.”

Scott handed out a news release expressing the residents’ concerns.

People are only looking for a place to stay, where they can leave their belongings without fear of having them taken or thrown in the garbage, it said.

“We come across certain forms of discrimination daily.

“At night, people drive by hitting us with eggs, full pop cans, full water bottles, [and] calling us crack heads.”

But not everyone in the camp does drugs or commits crime, says the release.

Some of the homeless have been attacked.

Many however, are the same as anyone else.

“We worked, had homes. We had kids and grandkids.

“Due to uncontrollable circumstances, we have ended up on the streets.”

“Just because they make more money than us doesn’t mean they’re better than us,” Scott added.

Another result of the meeting on the weekend was to call on the City of Maple Ridge to provide micro-homes in several locations throughout the city.

People could then rent to own the homes, over several years.

Chris Iversen, who lives in Port Haney, sees the problem in simpler terms.

“We’ve been going through this for 15 years. The problem that I see is these people are homeless. They don’t have homes.

“Why aren’t we building homes?”

He notes tenants in his apartment block are facing rent increases as landlords raise rents in response to the fire earlier this year that destroyed Sunrise Apartments.

For the money the city will spend hiring four outreach workers for six months, extra security and a consultant, totaling $325,000, the city could have bought two old homes and renovated them for the homeless.

“To me, it seems ridiculous,” Iversen said.