Even after modular housing is placed on Royal Crescent, there could still be a homeless camp in Maple Ridge.
“There will be another winter in the street, regardless of opening the housing in the fall,” said Ivan Drury, of the Alliance Against Displacement, a Surrey-based organization that has been advocating for the residents of the Anita Place Tent City in Maple Ridge.
He added that 55 units being placed in Maple Ridge by B.C. Housing are not going to be enough. His group had asked for 200 units.
“There are closer to 100 people in camp right now,” Drury said. “We’re in a routine of plugging away, and staying alive.”
This week he saw a frustrated homeless man looking for a spot to put his tent, and not being able to find a place in the camp, located at the south end of 223rd Street.
Drury said there are more people who are “languishing in the shelter across the street,” referring to the Salvation Army shelter, and others camping “in the bush.”
He said 200 units were not a bargaining position by the Alliance, but a sound estimate of the number needed “to actually end the conditions of homelessness in Maple Ridge.”
“The goal should be actually ending homelessness, not bringing some people in, to make the government look good,” said Drury.
“Yes, that will matter for 55 people, but not for ending the camp, or ending homelessness in Maple Ridge.”
He allowed that the number of people in Anita Place shrink during the coldest months and swell during the warmer ones, as is the nature of homelessness. People are able to stay indoors with friends or family when it is literally a matter of survival, he said.
“And then they burn out those contacts.”
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said she would not be surprised if the camp remains after the modular housing is in place.
“We’re seeing huge advocacy around the camp, and the numbers being pumped up,” said Read.
Coun. Gordy Robson got a head count from the camp from three weeks ago and said there were 62 people there. He said some are not there full-time, and others remain there just in case they get housing.
“I don’t doubt that if the trailers are built, there will still be a camp,” said Robson. “If anyone is thinking this is going to solve the problem once this is built, they’re dreaming.”
He said hundreds of homeless people have already been helped off the streets in Maple Ridge, through scattered sites and other ways, but homelessness persists.
“I don’t think we’ll scratch the surface,” he said of the modular housing.
Read said the city has been clear in its position, stated as it defeated a B.C. Housing rezoning application to build a shelter and supportive housing facility on Burnett Street last month. Councillors said the province needs a new approach, and Read said homelessness should be viewed as a health issue, involving the Fraser Health Authority in solutions.
“The provincial government needs a better strategy around mental health and addiction,” she said, which would keep people from falling out of housing in the first place.
“We’re fighting fires,” she added.
“This is a crisis across the region. We need to bring homeless people inside, no question. But what happens when they are inside?”
Read defended Maple Ridge residents who have been accused of not-in-my-back-yard attitudes.
“There is NIMBY-ism, but there is also a really frustrated public saying, ‘What we’re doing is not working,’” said Read.
“They [B.C. Housing] are asking for trust in a depleted account.”
Read added that the camp “needs to be gone,” noting there are real fire hazard concerns and other issues that make it unsafe for people to live there, particularly in the winter months, when residents are trying to keep warm in their tents.
Read said the government is moving too slowly in the midst of a crisis, when bold decisions are needed.
B.C. Housing said that since it was granted an injunction on May 25, a few protesters have returned to the modular housing site on Royal Crescent, but have since left. It anticipates the work to be completed by the fall.
In response to the statement from Drury that a camp will persist after the modular housing is built, B.C. housing stated:
“B.C. Housing is committed to finding the best way to move forward to ensure the health and safety of those struggling with homelessness in Maple Ridge, and will continue working with the city to identify a way to quickly and safely move forward with supportive housing for the people who need it most. This is part of the province’s efforts to work with the city to provide a full spectrum of housing options and supports to help people in need, and to strengthen the overall response to the persistent homelessness and housing challenges in Maple Ridge.”