Home Start watching Cliff camp

Federal government emphasizes providing homes first rather than emergency programs.

While the city gears up to hire four outreach workers and gets ready to unveil its homelessness strategy next week, the Alouette Home Start Society is keeping an eye on the Cliff Avenue camp thanks to its part-time community outreach worker.

Erin Styles makes regular checks, tries to visit the camp three times a week, handing out water bottles and ensuring everyone’s OK.

Asked what the main issue for people at the camp and Stephanie Ediger, executive-director of the Alouette Home Start Society has a simple reply.

“Homelessness.”

Sometimes people are homeless because they lose a job, sometimes it’s because of mental health issues, sometimes it’s because of drug use.

“But that’s not a reason to blame a person for being homeless. Other issues are compounded by not having a home.”

Each person needs to be heard, Ediger added, and support provided once he or she is found a home.

“You still need a place to live and there’s not enough affordable housing.”

Ediger supports Mayor Nicole’s Read’s homelessness solutions task force, as well as the new Housing First program promoted by the federal government, which emphasizes providing homes first rather than emergency programs.

Read has said she wants to ensure Maple Ridge receives some that funding when the next grant application period opens in 2016.

“We would certainly be willing to work with the city. We’re certainly willing to work with the city and become part of the solution and work on Housing First,” Ediger said.

The Home Start Society lost its funding for its emergency overnight beds at the Iron Horse Youth Safe House after the federal government shifted to Housing First.

The society didn’t apply because it said it had little chance of its emergency program being funded.

It also lost funding for its two outreach workers, cutting that to a half-time position.

Ediger said people may have ended up on Cliff Avenue simply because there’s nowhere else to go after gradually being moved from other camps around the city. But those people are now asking where they’re supposed to go.

“We’re really happy,” that there’s are efforts being made to find better options for everybody, Ediger added.

She said the society has recently talked with the mayor about the issue will advise the task force, but so far the society hasn’t been named to one of the five teams that task force has marshalled.

However, Ediger said she’s glad to be consulted with in the process.