The Cliff Avenue homeless camp is dwindling largely thanks to thousands of dollars flowing in from B.C. Housing, allowing people to have a roof over their heads.
So far, 45 people (28 men, 17 women) have been given rental supplements, payments from B.C. Housing. Those go to landlords to top up monthly rents, allowing people to get off the street.
Another 15 supplements are available so that those still remaining in the camp have a place to live.
“It’s huge,” parks and recreation services general manager Kelly Swift said.
“I know, for a fact, that 30 people have been housed off Cliff Avenue.”
As October begins, the temporary shelter in the old Sleep Shop will open,although a definite day hasn’t been set.
With the shelter open, the city can begin clearing the Cliff Avenue camp. The hope is most will leave voluntarily. If not, the city will go to court to get an injunction, allowing it to order the street be vacated.
“We really hope we don’t have to do that, but we’re absolutely prepared to do that if we don’t get voluntary decampment,” said Mayor Nicole Read.
She added it remains to be seen if those people who’ve found housing remain there.
“We’ll see. We’re doing a lot of work to make sure they stay housed. It’s really important to keep them in that space,” Read said. “We’ve housed a lot of the traditionally homeless people who’ve been on the streets a long time.”
With the camp dispersed, there will be nothing left to attract more people.
“Once that camp is gone, there is no place to hang out there because our bylaw will be what to it was in the past, which is clearing Cliff Avenue and clearing any spots where encampments start to crop up – because we’ve provided that shelter option,” Swift said.
“Everybody in the camp spoke to them. Some people there are waiting for that shelter to open. They’re ready to go.”
Still, while homes have been found for some and they’ve left the camp, others have moved into replace them.
But that process has slowed somewhat.
Swift said most people from the camp who have been housed are still living in Maple Ridge.
She added that the rental supplements reflect the province’s support of the Housing First model adopted by the federal government, in which people are first provided homes, then given support to deal with drug or mental health issues.
Mental health services, Fraser Health, Alouette Addictions Services are all adapting so they can support people as the move into housing.
“It’s really spurred by that federal model of Housing First,” Swift said.
“It won’t work if you just put somebody into a house. Everybody knows that.”
As far as Swift knows, no one who’s been provided a rental supplement and a place to live has returned to the camp.
“I know that, overall, it’s been very successful.”
Swift said there are now about 25 tents on Cliff Avenue, down from an average of about 35.
The city is also working on its housing action plan to try to come up with concrete steps to encourage more housing.
“Twenty years ago, governments weren’t really dealing with the same thing,” Swift said.
With the temporary shelter soon to open, Maple Ridge now can talk to B.C. Housing about a more lasting solution.
But it’s not certain if that means another permanent shelter. Council in August asked that B.C. Housing stop funding the Salvation Army’s 25-bed emergency shelter, which costs a $1 million a year to run.
It hasn’t yet had a response.
“There hasn’t been a definite decision to proceed with a new shelter,” Swift pointed out.
“We need to have a conversation with B.C. Housing about the needs of Maple Ridge going forward,” Read added.
While the temporary shelter has only 40 beds, and there are more than that living at the camp, some people there have other options for housing and may return from where they came.
There’s been lots of pressure and questions from the public, Swift said.
But she’s optimistic the camp will be gone.
For those who don’t want to go to shelter, “they’ll move on. They won’t be allowed to stay on Cliff Avenue,” Swift said.
“It’s been a big focus for us. We have worked very hard to plan it as well as we can and to take the right steps to get to a solution.”
Joanne Pinkney owns Maple Ridge Pool and Spa Centre on Cliff Avenue beside the camp and can’t wait for it to go.
She believes the city will keep its word and that in a few weeks, she and the other residents along Cliff Avenue will have their street back.
But she’s worried about the effect the temporary shelter will have on nearby businesses.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for them to control. I know the businesses over there – they’re going to suffer.”
Coun. Bob Masse, whose chiropractic business is beside the temporary shelter, is also more optimistic than before.
Finding people homes “is one important piece, but it’s not the whole [thing,” he said.
“The 30 people who have been placed so far have demonstrated they have the capacity to take people out and find them housing.”
But housing or homelessness is a complex issue and he’s not willing to say the issue has been resolved.
For one thing, he asked, how does Maple Ridge deal with the issue in the context of the entire region and how does it stop the influx of people from outside Maple Ridge?