At 58, Randy Peterson isn’t ready to retire.
The former construction worker, restaurant worker, trucker and long-term care aide wants to get back to work. He’s not sure how, yet, but he wants to get his own place so he can live with his girlfriend.
“Bring my sweetie home – not the Salvation Army,” he says.
Peterson has lived in the temporary modular home complex since October after moving in from the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries Caring Place.
He’d stayed at the Salvation Army shelter for a few months after being evicted in June from a room he’d been renting for $450 a month in a Maple Ridge condo after the owner decided to renovate the suite.
Now, after four months in the modular homes, Peterson wants to get out the message. The place where he’s now living is the possible solution to homelessness.
“I’d love to see this model across Canada. That would be the end of homelessness in Canada. Housing First works. I don’t care what the mayor says,” Peterson added.
As a resident, Peterson has his own room. Residents need a key fob to access the building and are allowed a certain number of guests over the course of a year and meals are served in a common room.
Every room has WiFi, which helps for entertainment and job hunting, he said.
He doesn’t mind the security cameras.
“It’s kind of nice sometimes to know you’re being watched.”
Peterson’s tough times started about seven years after his girlfriend died. He drank heavily for two or three years and lost his apartment, which forced him into renting a room in a condo. When he was evicted, his $760 a month income assistance cheque didn’t cover any kind of rent.
“I’ve had my own place for most of life,” he said.
“I am not what most people think when you hear the word homeless. I have worked hard all my life until I had health issues. Other than alcohol, and occasionally marijuana, I don’t have a real drug problem. I did try them when I was young, but made the choice they were not for me,” he said in a recent Facebook post.
Peterson said he intends on leaving the modular housing as soon as possible and plans on getting a job, though he’s not sure yet doing what. He said he now has control of his drinking and is already working, doing janitorial work at the housing complex for Coast Mental Health, which operates the facility.
He acknowledges he’s not as bad off as some of the residents with heavy substance abuse or mental health issues. But he has his own challenge, which he has faced his entire life. At age four, when he was going to a store with his mom, he ran ahead and got hit by a car, suffering a lifelong brain injury.
“The brain trauma has been a big part of my life. I used to get teased and picked on mercilessly by other kids.”
They called him by the “R” word, but he could not give up on himself.
Peterson said he was skeptical when he first moved into the modular housing and had heard horror stories. That has changed and he’s now a loud advocate for such housing, and speaks out about it on Facebook.
The staff are all trained in various areas and are “fantastic. They go above and beyond,” he said.
The place offers hope and a gentle “kick in the ass in the right direction,” he adds.
The modular home complex is low-barrier and people do use drugs, either in a safe room or in their own rooms, although they’re encouraged to not to use alone.
And they use all types, from smoking pot, crystal meth and fentanyl, said Peterson.
But he has noticed a drop in drug use among some. Instead of pouring all their money into drugs, some are spending a bit fixing up their rooms or buying TVs.
“What I’ve seen is a lot of the people who are addicts are using way less drugs. The people there are not as strung out of their trees as they were in tent city or the Salvation Army.”
Peterson said he’s seen four people evicted and two people move on into their own places and four or five placed into drug treatment programs.
He’s also seen people who never used to smile who now are. There’s one resident who he said is a known thief who has now improved.
“As much as I hate his guts, this might be the place for him,” Peterson said.
“There is a clear program here for us. This is training us to re-enter society as productive members,” Peterson writes.
He also appreciates being able to live there and the patience that has been shown by the surrounding neighbours who he said watch the place closely.
“I want to thank our neighbours for the tolerance they have shown. I understand the fear and anger this has caused for them. I really do. Just give us a chance,” he said.
“Please try to remember, some of these people haven’t had a real home for years, if they ever did in the first place. Skills need to be learned.”
Coun. Chelsa Meadus said she was happy to hear about a positive story from the modular housing complex and is hoping for a “Maple Ridge solution that helps people like Randy transition through a continuum of care.”
She added that she’s looking forward to Mayor Michael Morden’s meeting with cabinet ministers later this month on future supportive housing facilities.
“The citizens of Maple Ridge have been very directive to council. They want us to advocate for community safety, services to support mental health and addiction through wrap-around care,” Meadus said.
“We want a different approach that fits our community and I believe solutions are not ‘one fits all.’”
She added that housing programs need to target a larger segment of the population, and recently learned 650 seniors are struggling to receive basic supplies.
Coun. Ryan Svendsen acknowledged he was skeptical about the complex when it was built and wondered if Maple Ridge was providing more than its share of low-barrier housing.
“Ultimately, it’s there now. So I think for the benefit of the community, I absolutely want it to be a success.”
Svendsen said he’s looking forward to the mayor’s meeting with the cabinet ministers.
“I think positivity can only come out of that.”
He considers it a success for people moving through the facilities into independent living.
But he’d still like the provincial government to require every city to provide shelter space, based on its population.
“People feel like maybe Maple Ridge is taking more than other communities in the Lower Mainland, that’s the sentiment out there,” Svendsen said.
Peterson said that he would tell Morden, who opposed the modular housing project last summer, that there has to be an in-between place, between homelessness and self-sufficiency.
The mayor generally is on the right track.
“He just needs to consider all the facts, not just what he’s been told,” Peterson said.
“This place does change people.”