The homeless camp on Cliff Avenue was dispersed in the fall

The homeless camp on Cliff Avenue was dispersed in the fall

Dispersal of Maple Ridge homeless camp ‘remarkable’

It was gradual, and began only when the temporary city shelter opened across the street on Lougheed Highway.

Tent by tent, tarp by tarp, treasured item after item, the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue slowly disassembled last fall.

It didn’t happen right away, though.

It was gradual, and began only when the temporary city shelter opened across the street on Lougheed Highway.

But three weeks into the process, Cliff Avenue was cleared and homeowners on the road next to the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries had their lives back.

Maple Ridge council got an update Monday about the process, in which 81 people, many of whom had been hiding outdoors for years, sleeping in forests, doorways or stairwells, were found places to live.

“It was quite a voluntary decampment, remarkable, I think,” social planning analyst Shawn Matthewson told council.

Maple Ridge city staff’s work on the issue has been “exceptional,” said Mayor Nicole Read.

“Clearly, we are leaders in this conversation. So what we’ve achieved is widely recognized.”

Council created the homeless task force a year ago and then re-named it the Maple Ridge Resilience Initiative. Four teams – youth, security, outreach and housing – focused on different aspects of homelessness.

“I think that council has gone through a lot and staff have gone through a lot,” Read added.

Since the Resilience Initiative began early last year, street outreach workers found homes for 67 people. Another 14 were connected with housing by the Maple Ridge temporary shelter, which opened Oct. 1 at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. Forty people remain in that shelter.

Most of those housed, 54, went into apartments or basement suites, with some doubling up and sharing suites in order to cut costs. Another 17 found rooms or suites in houses. Six people went into the Alouette Heights supportive housing complex on Brown Avenue, where there is 24-hour supervision for the 45 studio apartments. Two of the 81 people who were housed, however, left their new homes.

Matthewson said what helped a lot was getting to know the individuals on the street and learning their needs.

“People that have been on the streets for 20 years, that have significant health issues, now have a home to call their own. You can’t measure that.

“People are really grateful for the fact that they have been afforded this opportunity to remain housed,” she added.

Everybody required help of some sort, with 82 given mental health support, through clinical or inpatient treatment or counselling.

Another 15 went into detox programs, while 27 have been referred for treatment and another 10 have gone into treatment. An additional 13 were referred to hospitals, recovery homes or other shelters.

Matthewson was quoting from her report after council asked for the details about what has happened to the dozens of people who camped on the road at various points between May and September.

Parks and recreation services general manager Kelly Swift said the resilience initiative has cost the city $365,000 – about $40,000 more than planned.

“There are no other additional costs at this time.”

The city had to pay for renos to create the city shelter, but was reimbursed by B.C. Housing for some of its outreach worker costs. There are now also three more street outreach workers, 6.7 in total, in Maple Ridge, helping the homeless connect with services, compared to 2014.

Meanwhile, B.C. Housing is providing rental supplements, or rental top-up payments for 72 tenants, allowing those on income assistance to be able to afford today’s rental market.

Outreach workers have also connected with a small network of landlords who can provide places to live.

Still, the need for housing that people can afford remains pressing, as do other needs.

Fraser Health is providing outreach psych nurses, while Riverstone Mobile Detox will promote its detox and treatment options.

Neither is there any help for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and those who hoard.

Coun. Gordy Robson agreed the best thing that came out was that city staff were able to understand the needs of those on the street, but said the issue of fentanyl deaths wasn’t included.

Coun. Bob Masse questioned the almost-unanimous identification of people coming from Maple Ridge. He said that according to the regional homeless count, only two-thirds of Maple Ridge’s homeless were from this city.

And he predicted the issue of homelessness won’t get any easier.

Prices keep rising and people will keep moving here because they can’t afford Vancouver, he said.

“I see nothing but bigger challenges in this region. We can’t solve the housing dilemma for the whole of Greater  Vancouver. I’m concerned about that.”