Housing homeless a team effort

Residents concerned about neighbourhood around new city homeless shelter.

Matt Kelso wants to see how the temporary homeless shelter is working now that it’s fully operational and helping those from the Cliff Avenue camp.

Kelso, who’s on the Protecting Maple Ridge Facebook group, has wanted to tour the 40-bed shelter on Lougheed Highway since it opened Oct. 1. He may get that chance next week, after the shelter’s operators, Rain City Housing, agreed to meet him on Wednesday.

He’s not sure if he’ll be allowed inside, but says that “at least a member of the public should be able to see what’s going in there because we’ve [only] been taking pictures of the outside.”

Kelso said his grandmother lives in nearby on 222nd Street and that she’s now afraid to go out because she might be approached by panhandlers.

While the Cliff Avenue area behind the Salvation Army has improved with the clearing of the camp, the area around his grandmother’s place has declined, Kelso added. He wants to see how the shelter is running so he can report back to the 3,000 members of the Facebook group.

He has a list of questions about the shelter, one of which is if residents are still receiving their full income assistance cheques and whether the shelter allowance is being deducted to cover their stay at the shelter.

That’s a provincial issue, he’s been told.

He’s got more questions like that and is worried that when the shelter closes at the end of March, the residents will end up back on the streets.

“But I don’t see how you can house them when they’re spending money on drugs because they won’t be able to pay their rents. You have to rehabilitate them first.”

Lisa Sullivan, a Cliff Avenue homeowner has similar concerns.

At first, she was worried about what would happen to neighbourhoods where formerly homeless people were being located.

“I don’t want them to go through what we went through.”

But after learning that people will be supported and connected with services, some of her worries were eased.

“I needed to hear that.”

Still, with a background in social services, Sullivan has her doubts about the current Housing First approach, in which people are found homes first, to get them off the street, followed by support and treatment.

Instead, she says the issue of substance abuse should be treated first.

“They’ll just fall in and out of addiction.

“Hopefully, somebody will hold the service providers accountable.”

Social planning coordinator Shawn Matthewson said there’s nothing new about the way people are being housed in Maple Ridge.

“There are a lot of models for this in terms of Housing First.”

Rain City Housing has placed many people into housing through its operations in other cities, Matthewson said.

“There’s a team approach to working with people to maintain housing and working to ensure there’s adequate support services and that the neighbourhoods are adequately supported in terms of their needs.

“The outreach workers will be supporting individuals to maintain their housing and to fit in with community values.”

Fraser Health, B.C. Housing, Alouette Addiction Services and Alouette Home Start Society, among others, are all coordinating their services while three street outreach workers from the city’s homelessness initiative, two from Alouette Home Start Society, and one from Canadian Mental Health, will keep close tabs through regular visits to the newly housed.

The help involves everything from getting people to the food bank so they can get some groceries, connecting them with counselling or services, or seeing a doctor.

The first step, though, is getting people off the street.

Once inside the shelter, people can get two hot meals a day, showers and laundry and can stay indoors 24 hours a day, eliminating the daily lineups.

“Research and common sense has shown, it’s much easier for people to access services [and help themselves] when they’ve slept well, when they’re well fed, when they’re feeling safer.

“They make different choices than when they’re out on the street and not sleeping well, not eating well, feeling a lot of stress from having to stay up all night.”

Matthewson’s not worried about another homeless camp sprouting in the spring, once the weather improves.

“I think we’re on the way to supporting folks to getting to where they need to go.

“Homelessness is a 2,000-year-old problem. It’s not an easy situation to address. But I think we’ve made huge inroads.”

She added that a longer-term approach is needed, such as the city’s recently completed Housing Action Plan, which looks at a range of options at maintaining housing. Council has yet to approve any particular measures from that.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said formerly homeless people are already in homes throughout the community.

“We housed somewhere around 50 and in the later days of the camp, we were still housing people straight off the street into housing.”

A few people went into Alouette Heights and some have been placed in single suites around the community. For example, four older men were put into one house.

“They’re doing very well actually, with outreach support beneath them,” Read said.

“Our outreach has put a lot of effort into building relationships with landlords and getting people connected to housing.”

She said the combination of rental supplements from B.C. Housing, that is topping up rental payments to landlords so people can afford to stay there, and the outreach support, “is really working.”

Read is cautious about having tours of the shelter because of privacy concerns, adding she hasn’t been in the shelter.

She disputes Kelso’s claim people will end up back on the street.

“We’ve had a lot of success with housing. I don’t have any doubt we’re going to house people.”

Matthewson added that Rain City Housing is also trying to respond to issues that crop up as it operates the shelter for the next six months and that the better lighting and security that accompanied the shelter opening has improved the area.

From what Coun. Bob Masse has heard from residents and businesses nearby, “It’s been working out pretty darned good.

“There haven’t been any real major incidents.”

Masse’s own business is just across the alley from the shelter.

But Darren Wellander, president of Mission Ridge Auto Sales, which shares a wall with the shelter, says it’s been a sore point from the Oct. 1 opening day, mainly because of the location of the entrance.

Originally, the plan was to have the shelter entrance at the back alley rather than on Lougheed Highway, a main street of downtown.

But he says on the day the shelter opened, the entrance was switched to Lougheed Highway.

And as a result, Wellander sees a steady procession from his showroom’s windows.

Shelter residents meander by, stop for a smoke, sit on the sidewalk to shoot the breeze or light up a joint.

Emergency, fire, police and paramedics are constantly out front.

Wellander has no problem with Rain City. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, he said.

“It’s just an eyesore for the city, non-stop, a constant parade on the sidewalk.”