The former Sleep Shop building will house the city shelter.

‘Does Maple Ridge want to host shelters?’

City to hold homelessness forum.

Work is underway on fixing up the former Sleep Shop building and by October the 40-bed temporary shelter will open and the dismantling of the Cliff Avenue homeless camp can begin.

The two are connected because unless people have a place to go, bylaws and police cannot tell campers to move along.

But what happens at the end of March when the city shelter closes is another question.

Maple Ridge council and the community need to address that, says Coun. Corisa Bell.

“I think we need to see more feedback on what the community wants to see.”

She voted against the location of the temporary shelter, not against a shelter, just putting it downtown.

“It’s a really challenging, multi-layered conversation. There’s no right answer. In Canada, we need our federal government to step up.”

It’s unacceptable that Canada doesn’t have a national housing strategy, she added.

Bell said Mayor Nicole Read is working on holding a community forum, at which people can share their views on how to address homelessness in Maple Ridge.

But the city and community has some decisions to make.

“We have to decide too, as a community, if that’s what we want, is to be a community that provides permanent shelter. Once you build one shelter, then you probably very likely need to build more permanent shelters,” Bell said.

“Maple Ridge needs to decide, how does it feel about being a community that is one of the main shelter providers?”

Maple Ridge council has asked B.C. Housing to stop the $1 million it pays the Salvation Army yearly to run the 25-bed emergency shelter at the Caring Place.

But that doesn’t mean Maple Ridge opposes other services the Salvation Army offers, such as its community meal program, its back-to-school backpack program or the emergency food hamper program, Bell added.

“We, as a council, have no desire to end any of the programs the Salvation Army offers.”

And if those services are no longer offered by the Salvation Army, she said another agency would likely take on those programs.

Bell said council, in the next six months, has to focus on what happens when the temporary city shelter on Lougheed Highway closes.

Former mayor Ernie Daykin has had a close-up view of the Cliff Avenue camp and Salvation Army Caring Place from across the highway at Maple Towers, run by Baptist Housing, which he manages.

He thinks the Caring Place is providing something the community needs and closing it is not going to solve the problem.

“If I were still mayor, what would I do?”

In absence of having all the information for last nine months, Daykin says he wouldn’t have allowed the Cliff Avenue camp to form.

But, “maybe it did bring it to head and maybe a year from now I’ll say – these guys are brilliant.”

The future is more definite for Coun. Kiersten Duncan.

Once council hears back from B.C. Housing on council’s request to cut funding to Salvation Army shelter, “that will help us make a decision.”

The city wants to connect people on Cliff Avenue with the services they need.

Her idea is to take the funding that B.C. Housing provides to the Salvation Army and give it to another agency that can provide a broader range of services.

The city wouldn’t call for an end to funding the Salvation Army without a backup plan, she added.

Duncan said the Salvation Army does good work, but it can’t deal with the needs of the mentally ill and the drug addicted.

“We need a shelter that is very low barrier. There are a lot of people with a number of mental health issues and severe addiction issues. Given their [the Salvation Army] model, they’re unable to support a lot of the residents we have on the streets right now.

“A more broad level of service is the best way to put it. It’s not just about people that are hungry. They service that population well,” Duncan said.

“But with regards to mental health and severe addiction, their program does not work for everyone.”

Duncan expects the study on social services offered in Maple Ridge will help determine what kind of service provider could operate a permanent emergency shelter and supportive housing centre in Maple Ridge.

A contract for that study, up to $75,000, will be announced soon.

The agency that will operate the temporary shelter on Lougheed Highway hasn’t been officially announced either, although RainCity Housing and Support Society of Vancouver recently has advertised for shelter workers for a city shelter in Maple Ridge.

Meanwhile, the contract for the social media component of the Maple Ridge Resilience Initiative, formerly known as the homelessness task force, has been issued to the Laura Balance Media Group.

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