On a warm March afternoon, Ben and Joanne Pinkney answer the phone and talk to customers like any good business owner would. As the owners of Maple Ridge Pool and Spa Centre, the warm winter and budding flowers has everybody thinking of summer just a little sooner. Business should be good.
But for the Pinkneys, it’s anything but. Outside their store on Wednesday shortly after lunch, about a dozen people have set up shop on the street.
Some simply make their way down the dead-end road and cut through an empty lot on their way to the Salvation Army Caring Place.
A group of three sits a few metres from their front door, huddling close together, sharing something pulled from a fanny pack.
Farther down the road, an older gentleman sifts through a grocery cart full of empties and other keepsakes he’s managed to rummage up. Ben takes one more quick glance outside, shakes his head. The exasperation in his voice says more than what comes out.
“I’m just sick and tired of it,” he said. “It’s absolutely killing my business here. I don’t know what more we can do.”
In 1993, the couple purchased the land where their business now sits. In 1996 they built their business.
“This was going to be our retirement, it’s what we worked for so we could enjoy life,” said Joanne.
“It’s more nerve racking what goes on outside our doors than the work in here. I can handle the business. But we’re so busy trying to keep the place cleaned up.”
But 18 years after they first opened their doors, the couple said they have seen their property values plummet and they are forced to continue to work.
They had sold their store in 2004, but when the new owners went out of business, the Pinkney’s found themselves back in the pool and spa business when they couldn’t find anyone else to rent their storefront.
Joanne is now 73, Ben 76, and neither said they expect to be able to retire.
“We can’t sell now,” she said, describing that anyone coming to look at purchasing the business and property leaves as soon as they see the transient activity outside their doors.
In 2001, the Salvation Caring Place secured funding from the federal government and set up shop on the corner of of Lougheed Highway and the Haney Bypass. Since that day, the Pinkney’s said their business, and the neighbourhood around them has gone continually down hill.
“The police come through, tell everyone to move, and they do, but they’re back in a couple of hours,” said Ben.
Living above their storefront, the Pinkneys were awoken from their sleep three nights ago when the fire department came to put out a blaze at 4 a.m. in the morning.
“I’ve been talking to anyone who will listen. I’ve waited for the last 13 years for someone to do something about this, but there’s no end in site,” said Joanne.
As frustrated as the couple is, they said they understand the difficulties faced by the Salvation Army. Joanne said she doesn’t wish ill on the transient population that wanders the front of her storefront, even hurls insults at them when they go outside.
“I understand they’re sick and need help. But it was supposed to be a transition house where they could go in for help, get them back on their feet and into the workforce,” said Joanne. “It’s not that now.”
The gathering crowds on the street in front of the Pinkney’s business are just one of the problems staring at the Salvation Army.
At the Salvation Army, the goal of helping those who need it most has been a difficult proposition in Maple Ridge. Years of funding cuts and dwindling donations has the shelter faced with cuts to services.
The local branch branch has seen donations drop more than $50,000 year-to-date. The Caring place is looking to scale back its nightly meal service or eliminate opening its doors for its morning drop-in program. The Salvation Army serves more than 1,000 dinners a week to clients. The funding shortfalls has meant some support staff have had hours cut.
The reality is the, it’s a problem bigger than the Salvation Army can handle, said Joanne.
She said the problem chocking Maple Ridge’s downtown core shouldn’t lie at the feet of municipalities to clean up.
“Someone other than the local government has to do something about this. It’s a bigger problem than that.”
Michael Emery, general manager at the Salvation Army Caring Place, said he understands what goes on outside their doors.
“We’ve seen the increase in traffic. It’s a concern for us as well. We want to be good stewards of the neighbourhood and the community and do what we can,” said Emery.
But he admits it’s a problem that doesn’t yet have a solution.
“We feel like it’s a community issue and we want to work with everyone to make sure we can come up with a solution,” he said.
But as the numbers grow, he said there is a number of people on the street who won’t come inside, whether it’s for a meal or a bed.
“I think it’s important to note that there are people out there who would just rather be outside,” he said. They’re just more comfortable outside, there’s less rules to follow and less direction to follow from other people.”