A Maple Ridge councillor wants the MLAs to get started on sounding out the public on the homeless shelter and housing complex proposed for 21375 Lougheed Hwy.
“They should move, lickety-split. Time’s a wasting. Pitter-patter,” Coun. Craig Speirs said Wednesday.
It’s important to get the new shelter, or at least an interim shelter, operating by the time the 40-bed temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. closes next March, Speirs added.
Mayor Nicole Read wants MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton to take on the public consultation process for the shelter and has offered the property, bought recently by the city for about $1 million, to B.C. Housing, so it can skip the rezoning process and speed up construction.
Council stepped back from the rezoning process after Premier Christy Clark said in September that the two MLAs will have the final say on where, or if, a new $15-million shelter is built in Maple Ridge.
“All of a sudden, it wasn’t [housing minister Rich] Coleman who was the gatekeeper, not the professionals, not the people who know all about the file, but a couple of people … fighting for their political lives. It’s a good little chunk of votes they can get,” by opposing or delaying a new shelter, said Speirs, a former federal NDP candidate.
He thinks politics is behind the controversy about the shelter.
“Every scrap of it.”
He said that Liberal polling shows that “kicking homeless gets votes … so that’s what they’re going to do. It’s not going to be doing what’s best for these people. It’s going to be doing what’s best to get re-elected.”
This spring, a previous location for a supportive housing complex, the Quality Inn, also on Lougheed Highway, was rejected at the last hour by B.C. Housing.
That followed public outcry and the opposition of the MLAs.
As a result, Speirs and most on council want the Liberal MLAs to manage the public consultation for the current shelter proposal.
“They have to come up with a decent plan that works for the people that are affected the most,” he said.
“They have to start making it work. If this property’s not going to work for them, find another property that works.”
Bing, MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, said he’ll make decisions soon and that he’s not stalling until next May’s provincial election.
“I’d like to see this expedited as soon as possible.”
Businesses near the temporary shelter are also being affected, Bing added.
“It’s a desperate situation for a few of them.”
Bing also discounted comments on social media, following a coffee session with residents this week, that are saying that the latest shelter proposal will be cancelled.
“This is total speculation, at this point,” he said. “We certainly haven’t made up our minds.”
Bing said he’s still at the listening stage.
“It’s going to take some time as to how we move forward.”
However, he’s blaming city council for dragging out the decision by abandoning its own rezoning process.
“They’re the ones that have been in control of the scheduling.”
And because the city owns the property, it should be the city seeking the rezoning.
“They have had this on the table for some time now.”
Speirs said the application for rezoning has to come from B.C. Housing.
Bing said he’s hoping that B.C. Housing will respond soon to the city’s offer of giving the consultation process to the MLAs.
“I don’t see how the city can get away with not having proper consultation. I don’t know if it’s been done before.”
Bing said the city should go through the rezoning process, which requires a developer’s meeting, three readings, plus a public hearing, at which the public would give its input, “then make a decision.”
Christine Bickle, with the Alouette Animal Hospital, next to the site of the proposed supportive housing project, said council is trying avoid the public hearing by offering the province the land.
“Mayor Nicole Read reacts predictably when faced with a tsunami of negative opinion. She tries to put the onus on the province,” Bickle said in a release.
She added that almost 8,000 people have signed the petition against a shelter at the 21375 location.
Grover Telford, a former candidate for council, favoured taking more time to make a decision and opposes the low-barrier model of shelters where people don’t have to be clean from drugs to reside.
“There are other options to look at.”
He plans on taking a tour of the Hope for Freedom Society’s 25-bed men’s shelter, which works with local churches, in helping men with addiction.
“They should definitely not proceed with this current location. The public wants to feel that it’s being listened to,” Telford said of the proposed supportive housing project.
“I think that the community is pretty much together in the fact that we don’t want a low-barrier shelter and we don’t want more than one,” said Coun. Gordy Robson.
He proposes that the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries be that sole shelter and that a new location be found, given that its current location at the Haney Bypass (222nd Street) and Lougheed Highway could impede plans to widen that intersection.
“I think that we know that the Haney bypass will be widened, sooner or later.”
There are 25 beds in the Ridge Meadows Ministries emergency shelter, 40 in the temporary shelter, 120 in scattered housing around the city and 45 studio suites in Alouette Heights supportive apartment building on Brown Avenue, leading to more than 200 people being sheltered.
Robson said that’s more per capita than other cities.
He added that the 21375 Lougheed property isn’t large enough for a shelter.