Maple Ridge business owners frustrated by interactions with homeless people at a nearby camp are scheduled to appear as a delegation before council on Tuesday.
“My life has been threatened many times,” said Mark Lancaster, owner of North Fraser Automotive Repair, which is near Anita Place Tent City on 223rd Street.
He said the disruption since the homeless camp opened is slowly killing his business.
He said there have always been homeless people in Maple Ridge during his six years in the downtown, but he saw the Port Haney neighbourhood as being reinvigorated.
When the low-barrier homeless shelter opened, his problems with the homeless hit a peak. Then,when the shelter closed and Anita Place was established, he said it got even worse.
He said there is frequent theft, and it is caught on video. He has confrontations when he tells people from the camp to leave his shop. Customers don’t want to leave their cars there overnight. There are needles, feces and people yelling at all hours.
His statement to council reads:
“On two separate occasions, two of my customers, both mothers with infants, received highly graphic and violent death threats, warning them against patronizing my shop. I also received numerous death threats, as well as threats that my business would be trashed … ”
He wants the people at the camp to move.
Lancaster had been writing statements for the city to use in its injunction against the camp, and was frustrated when the legal action was halted. He felt the city had an excellent case.
“Why did they drop their lawsuit?” he will ask council. “That lawsuit would have won.”
Kathy Pring is another business owner who wants her frustrations heard. She owns Temptations Salon. It is located in the business tower that also houses city hall, and she has done business there for 17 years.
“Safety is first and foremost with my staff and clients who patronize us,” she said.
The Maple Ridge Mental Health Centre is her neighbour, causing her to have confrontations with patrons, who come into the business and approach staff and clients.
She has to take time out of her business day to deal with these situations, and the unpredictable reactions add to her stress level.
Numerous times, she has security staff from Westridge remove homeless people.
“My stress level is at it’s peak,” she said.
Pring also feels that local government time and resources are being wasted on the homeless file, with no effect. She has attended the dialogues and meetings, and sees no change.
“In recent years, council has spent too much time on it,” she said. “Let’s get something done.”
Grant Contois operates Xpress care on 228th Street, as well as a Pennzoil 10-Minute Oil Change on 216th Street. On Monday, he got video of a person ripping down his security camera in the front of his business on 216th St., then shots of the same individual pulling wires out of a lamp post in the back of his business.
It is just the latest hassle. He has had tires stolen off a vehicle, his vacuums damaged, garbaged dumped.
He is eager to see what other businesses have to say at council.
Ivan Drury, of the Alliance Against Displacement, said people complain about crime or other issues, but there is often no evidence it is related to Anita Place.
“Anecdotally, in the camp, the way people are talking is that they are having less interaction with police now than they were before the camp started. They are having less negative interactions, they are being jacked up less on the street. Anecdotally, it seems like crime and interactions with police are down for camp residents.
Ahmed Yousef, one of the leaders of the delegation, said his request to appear at Maple Ridge council as a delegation to talk about the effects of Anita Place Tent City turned into a frustrating, lengthy process, one in which his democratic rights were suppressed.
Yousef, on Sept. 8, e-mailed a request to the city and was told he could appear at the Oct. 10 council meeting. But on Oct. 6, a senior city staffer visited Yousef’s office to discuss the 10-minute presentation.
After the meeting, Yousef was told a second meeting with staff was needed before the delegation could present to council.
“We would simply review/discuss your presentation materials and perhaps [if appropriate and desired] offer considerations as to how to frame the materials within the context of the meeting,” said the city e-mail.
Staff offered three possible later times for the second meeting, but some in the delegation just showed up for the public question period that took place at the end of the Oct. 11 council meeting.
City staff say they had suggested the Oct. 24 council meeting, but Yousef doesn’t have a record of that.
But Yousef wonders about the point of the prior meetings with staff.
“I don’t know of any group … that was subject to the same amount of scrutiny and censorship simply because they wanted to talk to council,” Yousef said.
Under the city’s procedural bylaw, staff can refuse a delegation if the issue doesn’t fall within the council’s jurisdiction. That decision is up to staff, said Mayor Nicole Read.
“I don’t think staff were trying to censor him. I think staff were trying to be helpful.”