Once the enforcement was relaxed and people were no longer told to keep moving along from Cliff Avenue, the cosy little street behind the Salvation Army’s Caring Place, the dimensions of the problem became apparent.
Tents went up, blankets were thrown onto the fence and, according to long-time resident Mike Homen, a little bike part business and bottle depot opened.
With bylaws no longer moving people for the last week or so, the number of campers has grown to about 20.
“The incidents of rudeness are escalating,” Homen said.
“People pass out in the dirt.”
He sees cars pull up for a few minutes, then peal off.
He sees women getting into cars and taking off.
He can’t relax at his home, on Cliff Ave.
“I’m at work, ‘How many of them are going to be there when I get home?’”
The city relaxed its move-along approach so it could a get more accurate idea of the extent of the homeless problem, said Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read.
“The enforcement presence is masking the depth of the problem, which we can now all see very clearly. Bylaw resources moving people around is not a solution,” Read said on Facebook.
“We wanted to get a sense of what the situation would look like. We spend money all the time on bylaws in that area,” she added Wednesday.
Read said the camp will be dispersed, but the approach will be compassionate and gradual.
Mental health treatment, counselling or drug addiction treatment are available.
“So, definitely, we have those services set up and ready to go.”
While bylaws contacts people in the camp, she and city staff were to meet with the Salvation Army Caring Place on Thursday.
To have a camp of that size next to a major service provider, “it’s a big concern to us,” Read said.
“Why, with the funding they have … why are these programs not working to move these citizens off the street into shelter and into the programs that they need?”
She knows staff at the Sally Ann are working hard. However, “No matter how many times the Caring Place makes the statement that they’re not feeding these people and supporting the camps on Cliff Avenue,” she hears that it is doing so.
The Caring Place has banned several people from its premises, but “a number of people do eat there.
“There’s a reason that camp is there. When we have a service provider with that many programs, that close to a camp, what’s not working,” Read asked.
If the Salvation Army can’t provide shelter to those in the camp, she added, other steps have to be looked at.
Amelia Norrie of the Salvation Army Caring Place said the organization has tried to adapt its programs to the general new approach of providing homes first.
There’s no longer the emergency bed program for when temperatures dip below 0 C, although the provincial government does provide some funding for temperature extremes.
And the 25-bed emergency shelter is now on a 14-day instead of a seven-day cycle. People are allowed to stay at the Caring Place for two weeks and during that time are expected to get on to a plan to improve their lives.
She’d like the homeless task force to consult more with the Salvation Army.
“As the homeless shelter, we feel we should be part of this conversation. But they continue to meet without including us.
“For the city to say to us, ‘are they running their programs properly – we’re running them to the best of our ability.”
Read said details of the plan from the new municipal homelessness task force will be released on May 21.
Maple Ridge council recently approved spending $160,000 to pay for four street outreach workers for six months. It also approved $75,000 for a consultant to study how to improve social service delivery in Maple Ridge.
The city is working on agreements with agencies to provide the outreach workers.
“We feel there’s actually a need to bring on outreach workers from a different agency,” Read said
Zubek spent Tuesday night in a homeless tent to get a brief taste of what it was like to be homeless.
That night, she learned the street people waited until dark before going for a walk to escape the harassment they would experience during the day.
At the camp, “They were so concerned with cleaning things and keeping things tidy.
“They were such a cohesive community and looking out for each other.”
It reminded her of time spent in Mali, Africa.
“I felt really safe there. They were all around me. I couldn’t believe how cold it was.”
Read also wants to talk to the Alouette Home Start Society to find out how many people are staying longer than the usual two years in the Alouette Heights supportive housing project, which is intended to be an intermediary step to allow people to find their own homes. Residents can stay up to two years and, if employed, pay a percentage of their income in rent.
If people are staying longer than intended, that blocks other people from accessing services, Read said.
Joanne Pinkney, who runs Maple Ridge Pool and Spa, next to the camp, said Read is the only mayor who’s doing something. She’s been writing letters to Maple Ridge mayors for the last dozen years, to no effect, and says the mess in the area is killing her business.
She’s just ordered $1,300 of security cameras she’ll install outside her premises.
Pinkney hasn’t had any break-ins, but items have been stolen from the yard and people were using her outside tap.
“She’s the first one who’s trying to take anything to task at all,” she said of Read. “I know she’s working at it.”