One part of Maple Ridge’s effort to tackle homelessness carries guns and have badges and has the ability to haul people away.
But Ridge Meadows RCMP won’t be following that approach as it does its part for the Mayor’s Homelessness Solutions Task Force.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem, but we are enthusiastic to be part of the solution,” Insp. Dave Fleugel told a gathering of municipal workers and volunteers, all part of the group that’s charged with solving the issue in the city.
And while police will stop criminality wherever they see it, the homeless and poor won’t be singled out as police go about their job keeping the peace and enforcing the law, he said Thursday at a special briefing about the plan to end homelessness.
Fleugel said that one thing officers learn about early is Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The charter applies to every citizen no matter what your income or social class. It’s part of what makes Canada the best country in the world and the envy of many other nations.”
Homelessness is not a crime.
“We will not apply an unbalanced or prejudicial level of enforcement to those living in poverty.”
However, there must be other options other than the criminal justice system for dealing with the mentally ill or drug addicted, he added.
Police know they have to do something, but also know they’re not trained to deal with the gaps in social services.
And police are only part of the solution.
Citing former Vancouver police chief Jim Chu’s perspective, police used to be the last resort to deal with mentally ill or those in crisis. Now they’re often the first to respond.
That’s not sustainable, Fleugel said.
“I think our officers do an incredible job of dealing with the reality of what our marginalized population present to them each and every shift,” he added.
“Mental illness is very real. Addiction and substance abuse are very real.”
Fluegel, with the task force’s standards enforcement team, said RCMP have been lobbying for an assertive community treatment program, in which mobile teams of mental health workers meet people in their own environment and expects Maple Ridge will be able to share a team with Langley.
Mayor Nicole Read said having bylaws or police constantly moving homeless people from place to place doesn’t work.
That’s been done for years.
But now, the community as a whole seems to be getting involved and others are starting to take notice, so it’s time to have a “powerful” national, provincial and local conversation about the issue.
Read added that the people in the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue, behind the Salvation Army on Lougheed Highway, and which has become the focal point of the issue, had been living all over Maple Ridge.
“Now they’re all in one place. It’s interesting to see what happens when you have people in one place in a community that traditionally has been voiceless and invisible. They start to actually become empowered and have a voice.”
That’s a step towards solving the problem.
The issue of homelessness will be the toughest task that the current council takes on, she told the group in council chambers.
Read said her own family experience is motivating her.
“I have this in my own family,” she said.
“So anybody who thinks I don’t have the courage or resolve to step into this pocket is sorely mistaken.
“I understand both sides of this equation. I understand that drug addiction and mental health and homelessness are things that compel people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do.”
At the same time, she understands that homeowners and residents also have a right to live in safety.
Read, with emotion in her voice, showed the audience a photo of when she was young with her aunt, who was abused and an alcoholic and struggled to raise three children, two of whom turned out be addicts and one of whom was schizophrenic.
“That’s a product of the environment in which they were raised.”
Her aunt’s problems required many family trips to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside until finally her aunt managed to overcome her alcoholism and achieve stability.
Then her aunt was strangled by her son, Read’s cousin, a drug addict, likely over money for drugs.
“I’m happy to work with other levels of government in partnership to be able to ensure that as a community, we’re set up for success for the long term.”