Coquitlam councillor has advice for Maple Ridge

Coquitlam councillor has advice for Maple Ridge

Joint Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam task force addressing housing issues

While Maple Ridge agonizes over two proposals for supportive housing planned for the downtown, Coquitlam city is trying to improve on the one that’s been running for more than two years.

The project 3030 Gordon opened in December 2015 to provide 30 self-contained suites for transitional housing, along with another 30 cold-weather mats.

But a recently formed joint Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam task force is searching for ways to deal with the impacts that councillors say have come with the facility.

“It [the task force] was formed in response to the adverse community impacts,” said Coquitlam Coun. Terry O’Neill, who’s on the task force.

He accepts there’s a need for 3030 Gordon, but there are issues that need addressing and notes Maple Ridge should tackle one issue in particular at the start.

From day one, external security around and outside the facility should be addressed, he said.

Maple Ridge council is about to consider an application from B.C. Housing to build an 85-unit supportive housing and shelter on Burnett Street.

B.C. Housing is also constructing a 55-unit temporary modular supportive housing complex on Royal Crescent with opening date planned for the fall, although opponents to that have since occupied the site.

O’Neill said businesses around 3030 have complained about loitering, discarded needles and sometimes threatening or disruptive behaviour from those around the facility, operated by RainCity Housing.

O’Neill said there’s also been a spike in police calls from the area, though police say the actual crime rate hasn’t climbed.

Another surprise after two years of operating is the depth of mental illness many people are suffering.

“The mental health and addiction part ended up being way bigger than anybody on council thought,” O’Neill said.

Many had thought the shelter would help the down and out, and allow people move into transition or treatment.

“It’s became a much bigger issue regarding the drug addiction and mental health.”

That has substantiated Coquitlam’s call to expand mental health and addictions treatment facilities at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam.

He accepts that housing has to be low barrier, not requiring people to be free of drugs in order to get into housing.

Homelessness and its issues existed before 3030 Gordon, but in a more scattered way. Now, the issues are more concentrated around the facility, he added.

“People are saying it’s a magnet … nobody is denying that,” O’Neill said.

Instead, the intent is to improve how the facility operates. “We want to make 3030 the gold standard.”

Coun. Craig Hodge covered the opening of 3030 Gordon when he was a journalist. He too agreed, not enough support services are provided at the facility. “You put a roof over their head but the problem spills out on the street when they’re not in their room.”

He agreed, that people have to be brought in off the streets, “but the problem is, we’re not providing the treatment.”

RainCity though says it provides support services for shelter residents, including meals, counselling, life skills development and connections to community health and wellness services.

At an April 20 meeting of the task force, B.C. Housing discussed removing the shelter part of 3030 Gordon and allowing the facility to be just supportive housing, while finding a new place for a shelter.

Hoarding in the rooms was also discussed.

Port Coquitlam Coun. Brad West is also on the task force and said he’s tried to remain objective and apolitical on the issue, adding that homelessness has not become a politicized debate in the area.

The Gordon project is near the border with Port Coquitlam, which has also received complaints about discarded needles, even though, as West acknowledges, not all of those needles originate from the complex and there is another agency that supplies needles.

And he’s been told that while the health risk from getting jabbed by one of those needles is low, it’s cold comfort for a parent whose child has gone through that.

West, too, says it’s hard to say if the issues are worse now or before 3030 Gordon opened.

“What it is, is more concentrated.”

He’s now against a low-barrier shelter in the area, saying there aren’t the services in Coquitlam to support people with high needs.

He points out, he’s just reflecting the concerns that he’s heard and what he’s seen, and there’s consensus on council about the issue.

“That’s our job,” he said.

“It would be very easy to downplay those concerns … but if I took that approach, I wouldn’t be doing the job that I was elected to do.”

For Maple Ridge, West says it’s important to consider all the issues beforehand.

“I don’t think it does any good to sugar coat things.”

Councils have to discuss what the impacts may or may not be, he added.

According to Rain City Housing, out of the 244 people who have stayed at 3030 Gordon since it opened in December 2015, 92 people have found housing and 55 people got into detox or drug treatment. Another 39 moved into transitional housing.

Aaron Munro, associate director, RainCity Housing, said he welcomed the “involvement from government at all levels to assist us in doing our part to address impacts of a lack of housing, on both housed and unhoused people.

“When issues are brought to our attention, we act quickly and respectfully, and we hope and expect that this task force will aide in better community integration, a decrease in stigma and learnings for other non-profits and municipalities.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said she’s going to review the Coquitlam task force discussion.

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to how do these facilities operate. I think the neighbourhood impact largely depends on how the facility is run.”

How another facility is functioning will influence Maple Ridge council’s interest, she added.

“It’s interesting in what they’re going through so I’m looking forward to looking through everything and reading up on that.”