Dr. Liz Zubek

Dr. Liz Zubek

Homeless are not criminals: doctor

Affordable housing is ‘a huge struggle.’

While one couple says homeless people are hurting their business, a neighbour wants people to know that those who have nowhere to live are not the root of all the downtown problems.

“They’re not criminals. They’re just people,” Dr. Liz Zubek said about the homeless.

Zubek runs Shepherd’s Hill Medical Clinic, beside Maple Ridge Pool and Spa, off the Haney Bypass, by the Salvation Army Caring Place.

Spa shop owners Ben and Joanne Pinkney said last month that homeless people near the Salvation Army on 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway are ruining their business and making the place a mess.

But Zubek says there’s a difference between the homeless and those who rob and steal.

“The homeless who are being targeted are not the ones causing crime in Maple Ridge. It’s just that they’re visible.”

People think that by moving homeless people they’re solving the crime issue, she says, and that’s just not true.

Like the spa shop, the medical clinic is also on Cliff Avenue, just off the bypass. On a sunny morning, she drives up in her van with her daughter, and a group of homeless people are sitting nearby.

“Come and meet them,” she says.

“Christina, [her five-year-old daughter] they’re so respectful of her,” Zubek says.

She added that they make sure there’s no swearing.

Zubek points out they keep the empty lot nearby clear of litter and points out the place where one of the homeless, Joe, used to sit. He died recently and a cross was put up on the city’s chainlink fence in a memorial tribute.

But Zubek says city crews took down the cross after a few weeks.

The homeless are not allowed to grieve,” she said.

“The cross issue just struck my heart.”

Zubek, whose property is fenced, thinks the city is spending money in the wrong places, such as fencing off an area to keep out the homeless. That just moved people across Lougheed Highway, behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken. And all she sees is bylaw enforcement rather than attempting to help people find places to live.

“I know just what a struggle it is to find affordable housing in Maple Ridge, a huge struggle.”

A few common sense solutions, she said, could make a difference for all Maple Ridge residents, business owners, residents and those without homes.

Having a daytime drop-in centre to go to, possibly with resources and counselling, or just a place to go to, would help.

“You need somewhere for them to go during the day,” says Zubek.

A simple matter of storage space for personal items would help, as well.

With no place to put their possessions, the homeless use grocery buggies or carriages to carry them around.

That brands them as homeless and makes them targets of bylaws enforcement.

“They see you pushing a cart, that’s it, we’re not allowed anywhere in town. As soon as we stop, bang, they’re right on us,” says Mike Lancaster, who’s camping out nearby.

While the Caring Place has lockers, they’re not big enough for most people’s possessions, adds another in the group.

However, the Caring Place tries to address both needs. The drop-in area is open most of the week, except Sundays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Other days, the Caring Place drop-in area is open from 9 a.m. Half lockers are also available for those who are at the shelter to store their personal items.

“These guys are causing no problem. They’re sitting in the sun,” talking, Zubek adds.

“I can carry on my business. There is no problem. They’re not distracting from anyone’s business.”

While the location of the Caring Place now being questioned, Zubek says it’s in the perfect spot, close to the other services needed by the needy.

“The homeless will always be around town because that’s where the services are.”

Anita Hauck, who volunteers at the Caring Place and has been a client there, said it needs to be in a central location so people with mobility issues can easily get to it.

She said the shelter isn’t responsible for the trash on people’s property or business problems or break-ins or thefts.

People can find themselves homeless suddenly – after divorce, loss of a job, or illness, she said in a recent letter.

“And bottom hits like a ton of bricks.”

It’s hard for those on income assistance to find a place to live, while apartments cost $1,000 a month.

“This is why people are homeless for so long,” Hauck said. “Then after being homeless for a period of time, there is a sudden stigma put on an individual ,which makes us damaged goods. Some folks think we’re dangerous or contagious.”

Without the Caring Place, another 50 people would be on the streets, she added.