Former Ridge Meadows RCMP commanding officer Dave Walsh will be hired to “support public safety in the downtown” as one of four new initiatives city hall is undertaking to placate businesses and residents most impacted by the extension of the temporary homeless shelter.
“This person would be walking about, popping in proactively, talking to businesses and asking how they’re doing,” general manager of community development Kelly Swift, told Maple Ridge council Monday.
“This is a resource we just haven’t had in the past.”
Maple Ridge hosted two workshops in June for “high impact stakeholders,” which it defined as those within a two-block radius of the temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. About 185 people were invited to offer feedback about the impacts of keeping the temporarily shelter open for an additional nine months.
“To be responsive to businesses, this is the level of service we need to provide,” said Swift, noting that businesses and residents expect the city to “go a little further” than it has in the past.
Chief administrator Ted Swabey told council that Walsh had agreed to take on the position, and could be on the job next week.
Swabey said Walsh would do liaison work with city bylaws, the RCMP and the business improvement association.
“He will be a presence to help deal with the crime issues that people deal with, and be a voice for the business owners,” said Swabey.
The fact that it will be Ridge Meadows’ former top cop in the position was a key point for councillors as they approved the recommendation. Coun. Bob Masse said he was not positive about the new hire “until I heard the name.”
“Knowing the individual, I’m for it,” he said.
Coun. Gordy Robson noted the cost will be $100,000 “give or take,” for the nine-month contract.
“I’m kind of disappointed we had to hire someone extra. I thought between the outreach workers we have and staff we have in bylaws, we could have done this,” said Robson.
“Our merchants are beside themselves, and this can only help,” he added.
Coun. Corisa Bell fears the downtown shelter could drive businesses under, and supports the hire.
“It is something the businesses desperately need and want, and I think it will be good faith on the city to provide something like this for the troubles that they’ve been experiencing,” said Bell.
“I’m very concerned that we are going to see the loss of several businesses over the next nine months.”
The other three measures approved by council at Monday council meeting were:
• To establish a central number for the public to report non-emergency issues relating to the operation of the shelter. Walsh will monitor the line.
• Enhance online communications with businesses and residents.
• Improve coordination of needle retrieval in the downtown, with the formation of a new committee.
Swift said all four recommendations should lead to more timely responses to issues that arise around the shelter.
Bell noted that some downtown residents and businesses were upset that they did not receive notification about the workshops, or received late notice.
Mayor Nicole Read noted that the radius was extended, meaning some people received later invitations.
Swift said staff walked the area handing out notices, and she would follow up with staff about missed businesses.
“Our intention was to be as inclusive as possible. Our apologies if anyone was missed in that process,” she said.