Calls for police to remove unwanted people around Maple Ridge’s downtown have risen 59 per cent over last year, according to statistics from Ridge Meadows RCMP. While there may not be any increase in the numbers of homeless or street people, there is less tolerance for the problems they create.
“People are fed up,” said Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director of the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.
She noted that calls to Westridge Security, which is contracted to patrol the downtown for BIA, are also on the rise.
As a result, police are doing more patrols in the town centre, and are less tolerant of people drinking, using drugs, or being publicly intoxicated.
One frustration is that many of the people who police or security ask to leave an area – just reappear elsewhere.
“The biggest problem, really, is there’s no place for them to go,” said Boekhorst.
“They’ll find the same people, in another place, a half an hour later.”
“A lot of the calls are the same people, moved from one place to another.”
Businesses are trying to deal with the problem.
The corner of 224th Street and Selkirk Avenue is a popular hangout. Several businesses in the area have had windows broken. Their customers can be intimidated by street people.
One business owner said there can be as many as 10 people congregated on the steps of his business in the early morning. Generally, they don’t give him problems, but sometimes they can be difficult. Recently, he awakened a man sleeping nearby. The man vomited, and then swore at the store owner and wouldn’t move. The owner called police, but they weren’t able to respond to the call.
“We want our downtown to look nice, open for business and clean,” said Boekhorst.
She said business owners and other members of the public are discouraged from giving street people money.
Rather, she advised them to offer a sandwich or some food.
“You’ll find most people don’t want that,” she said.
Coun. Bob Masse, who has a chiropractic practice in the downtown, said business owners should be encouraged to report their complaints to police, so the RCMP know where to allocate resources.
“That’s how policing is effective – looking at areas and seeing patterns,” he said. “They need that input.”
Masse logged some of the complaints, he said, reporting people who were “getting comfortable” on a business property, drinking and doing drugs.
He said they create a poor environment for customers.
“People do not want to have to deal with that.”
Police are focusing on the downtown drug problem, and in the past three weeks have conducted searches of five residences associated with the drug trade. That has yielded a significant supply of drugs – approximately 900 doses of heroin, cocaine and the synthetic heroin known as fentanyl.
Police have also seized stolen property and illegal firearms at these houses.
Two people have been charged.
The RCMP say the downtown drug trade and drug use is directly related to theft in and around the downtown core.
“We’re taking a proactive approach to it – trying to reduce our calls for service,” said an RCMP spokesman.
Boekhorst said the money needed to hire Westridge security makes up about 30 per cent of the BIA’s budget.
“We could do a lot of other things with that money – revitalizing, beautifying and events,” she said.
“The problem is there, and it’s not going away.”