It could be five years before a new supportive-housing complex is built in Maple Ridge, according to a city report council reviewed on Monday.
“I knew it was going to take that long from the get-go,” said Mayor Nicole Read.
She explained the proposed conversion of the Quality Inn from a hotel to supportive housing would have been a relatively quick fix. But since the provincial government backed out of that proposal, Read said the city is still waiting to hear what BC Housing plans for the 30 residents in the Rain City temporary shelter.
The province has committed $15 million for a new homeless housing facility in Maple Ridge.
Read said the supportive housing is still worth pursuing, despite a timeline that anticipates six months to identify a site, followed by almost three years to get all necessary approvals and design the project. The final construction phase would take 18 to 20 months, leading to the five-year time frame.
But Read said Maple Ridge’s population is projected to grow rapidly, the societal problems that lead to homelessness are not going away, and the city needs to be equipped to deal with these issues in the future.
Kelly Swift, general manager of community development, said the city will work with BC Housing, and “have a completely different dialogue with the community than we’ve had in the past around social housing.”
“I just want to make sure that we understand that the first discussion that we’re going to have is if we’re going to have a shelter, and what kind of shelter that’s going to be,” said Coun. Gordy Robson, saying the decision between a low-barrier or high-barrier shelter must be made.
Coun. Kiersten Duncan had serious concerns about what conversation the city will have with the community.
“I don’t think we are in a position personally, to have a conversation of whether or not we want to have a shelter. It’s an absolute necessity in all communities, including our own.”
She said the city should consult the public about where it would be best located, but not whether or not to have “this really important service.” And she said BC Housing, a “knowledgable partner” has already told the city it should be located in the downtown core and near services.
“I don’t understand why we would have a discussion about putting it anywhere else.”
Staff was directed to work with BC Housing to develop a detailed process to construct a purpose-built supportive housing facility.
Coun. Craig Speirs said courts have decided what limitations can be put on a shelter, and council shouldn’t put impediments on the process.
“I don’t want to spend money on lawyers,” he said.
Councillors Corisa Bell and Bob Masse said there may be more regional initiatives to address homelessness in the future, with cities cooperating.
Masse noted the city already has the Salvation Army operating a shelter in the downtown, so the conversation should only be about supportive housing.
Mayor Read agreed the conversation has to move past shelters.
“People need housing, they need treatment, they don’t need shelters,” she said.