Four teams to tackle homelessness

“The problem is, we need a national housing strategy.”

City is looking for solutions to homelessness in Maple Ridge.

City is looking for solutions to homelessness in Maple Ridge.

All the people are in place and now it’s a matter of hitting the streets and putting the mayor’s homelessness solutions task force plan into place.

But so far there’s no written manual or document to guide progress.

Instead, four teams will tackle the issue from different angles in an ongoing effort to find housing and help for the poor, the mentally ill and the drug addicted in Maple Ridge.

Mayor Nicole Read was to introduce the participants and leaders who will try to see that it all happens at a noon-hour briefing in council chambers Thursday.

“It’s just a chance to hear from the people directly involved in the teams now,” Read said Wednesday.

But Read is tired of cities being the fall guy for social problems.

“There’s a serious misunderstanding in what the city’s role is on these issues,” she said.

“Where are the phone calls to our MLAs and MPs to say why does Maple Ridge not have enough funding to deal with the magnitude of the problem on Cliff Avenue?

“The problem is, we need a national housing strategy.”

Everyone involved in the issue says that, Read notes.

“Until we start valuing that as a nation, I think we’ll probably be struggling.”

Read gave an update on the task force to council last week, then tweaked it for the Thursday meeting, which involved all participants, ranging from Alouette Addictions Services to bylaw enforcement officers to the RCMP.

Several goals are identified in Thursday’s powerpoint presentation. For example, the street action team, led by Annika Polegato, with Alouette Addictions Services, will meet regularly with the homeless and service providers, then create an action plan.

The street action team will also try to ensure there are no gaps in care provided, so that someone can move from a detox centre to treatment to permanent housing.

It also will connect homeless with health care.

Read wants to know why Fraser Health hasn’t given Maple Ridge an assertive community treatment team, delivering mental health services on the street.

Abbotsford-Mission recently received a team.

“What about us? Look at our camp.”

Once the four outreach workers, recently approved by council, are on the job, “if we can’t move people into detox, there’s going to be a serious conversation,” Read said.

Money will be needed on an ongoing basis to address the issue, she added.

While there’s no formal document setting out specific goals of the homelessness solutions task force, the update also calls for addiction and mental health outreach workers to work together, to be coordinated by Alouette Addictions.

As well, the standards enforcement team (also known as the community standards team), led by RCMP Insp. Dave Fleugel, will review the Crime-Free Multi-Family Housing program and create a way of dealing with landlords who allow criminal activity in their buildings.

As well, any complaints made to the school district about issues on school grounds will be routed to the city, while the team will connect residents who want to join Block Watch or Citizens on Patrol.

The standards enforcement team will set a strategy and time frame for ripping down derelict homes and find a way of dealing with drug houses.

Meanwhile, the strong kids team will work with educators to enhance drug-use prevention and hold a community forum to help teach kids how resist the street life.

The housing action team will look at new ways of increasing the amount of housing in Maple Ridge.

One of the first objectives set by the task force, comprised of Read, and Couns. Bob Masse and Gordy Robson, is hiring a consultant, for a maximum cost of $75,000, to review how social service agencies are performing in Maple Ridge.

Read said homelessness has been a longstanding issue, including at Cliff Avenue.

“We’ve been moving them around for years.”

Now, as bylaws has moved people from other parts of Maple Ridge, the camp behind the Salvation Army’s Caring Place on Lougheed Highway has grown.

“This camp, as challenging as it has been for us to deal with, is absolutely raising awareness.”

And the issue is not going away.

“Unless there’s a national housing program, this problem’s only going to get worse.”

Last year, Abbotsford created an action plan to address homelessness, as a result of that city’s task force on homelessness.

MP Randy Kamp’s office pointed out that last year, B.C. and Ottawa signed the Canada-B.C. Agreement for Investment in Affordable Housing with each pledging $150 million over five years.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing agrees, all levels of government have to address the issue.

“It’s a cooperative effort that’s going to solve the problem.”

He said Maple Ridge has been in touch with B.C. Housing, which he sees as playing a major role.

“These tent cities are unfortunate, but we’ve seen them pop up in all our major cities. “It’s just Maple Ridge’s turn,” he added.

“Part of it is we have a climate that allows this. You couldn’t do this in the middle of winter in some of the colder provinces. We have a milder climate so that people can do this, so I know it’s upsetting for people to see this in their backyard.”

Read also made it her a major part of her election campaign platform, he pointed out.

“I guess that’s why it ends up on her plate.”