The rooms are approximately 200 square feet. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Look inside Maple Ridge’s new homeless housing

53 units of supportive housing officially opened on Friday

The first look at modular housing for Maple Ridge’s homeless people drew positive reviews from the many local people who were invited to tour the new facility after an official opening event on Friday morning.

Jesse Stretch, who has spoken out against earlier shelter proposals, Chris Bossley, who advocates for the people in Anita Place Tent City, mayoral candidate Craig Speirs and Christian Cowley, executive director of the CEED centre, were among those who poked their heads into some of the 53 small units, and gave them a thumbs up.

They saw a bed with a small package of toiletries on it, a cabinet that locks, a bar fridge with a microwave oven stacked on top of it, a small table with tableware, forks and spoons, and a bathroom with a stand-up shower in every unit.

“This is fantastic,” said Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MLA Lisa Beare. “It has exceeded my expectations.

“To be able to give people the dignity and privacy that they need to start their recovery process … it’s great.”

She said the site has been well designed to allow for community building among the residents.

People living in Anita Place Tent City, and others experiencing homelessness in Maple Ridge, will be able to transition into new supportive homes and shelter spaces.

“This is about getting the people who are homeless in Maple Ridge the help that they need – a roof over their head and the supports that they need,” said D’Eith.

The province purchased the land and installed the modular housing at the Royal Crescent site without any partnership with the city. D’Eith said that is not indicative of how the relationship will work moving forward.

“We are going to continue to work with the city. This was more of a question of, ‘We need to do this now.’ It was about urgency,” he said. “But we need to work with the city on an ongoing basis. There are so many housing issues in Maple Ridge that need to be addressed – seniors housing – the whole spectrum. This is just the beginning.”

The province also purchased land on Burnett Avenue for a permanent homeless shelter and supportive housing building, but the site was not approved by city hall. There are no fast answers for what that site will now be used for, but there are options, said the MLAs.

“We want to have a plan for the whole spectrum of housing,” said D’Eith. “It’s very important that the plan moving forward with the city is a holistic plan.”

Asked whether it is up to city hall to find an alternate site for a permanent shelter/supportive housing facility, Beare referred to the Oct. 20 change in local government.

“We’re excited after the election to work with a new mayor and council, whoever they may be, to develop a plan for the range of housing in Maple Ridge, and that is one possible location for any of a number of types of housing that are needed here.”

Shane Ramsay, executive director of B.C. Housing, was on hand both to hear the minister open the building, and see the quality of the facilities.

“I’ve seen a lot of the modulars in Vancouver and Abbotsford, and this was one of the recent refurbished ones, and I’m really quite impressed with the quality,” he said. “It’s self-contained suites with three-piece bathrooms, fridges and microwaves, and a great size.”

They are around 200 square feet, but they have great amenity space in the facility, with a dining room, kitchen and social areas.

“The whole concept is for folks to have those social inclusion opportunities, connect with other programs and services, and it provides those 24-hour supports,” said Ramsay.

The transition will begin on Oct. 18, 2018, with the province, the City of Maple Ridge and multiple partner agencies working together to make sure people make the move safely and comfortably.

“Our goal is to offer everyone at the Anita Place camp and those who are living on the streets in Maple Ridge a warm and safe place to call home and a chance to rebuild their lives,” said Selina Robinson, minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “We continue to witness the life-changing benefits safe housing can provide for people who have been left to struggle alone for far too long.”

She announced that province is providing a range of new housing and support options, including the supportive housing to be operated by Coast Mental Health, an additional 40 rent subsidies to help people ready for independent housing to find rental housing in the private market, and a new winter shelter at Maple Ridge Baptist Church. It will provide 20 spaces and be operated by Hope For Freedom Society.

B.C. Housing and outreach workers will also be referring campers to shelter spaces opened up by the movement of some residents to the new housing from the 60-bed Salvation Army shelter.

A government press release Friday said there is a significant need for supportive housing in Maple Ridge. In the last Metro Vancouver homeless count looking at Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, 124 homeless people were counted. This is an increase of 48 per cent since 2014.

Coast Mental Health operations of the modular supportive housing complex will include daily meal services, access to mental health and addictions treatment, life-skills programming and participation in a community advisory committee, made up of community members and representatives from the municipality, Fraser Health and B.C. Housing.

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MLA Bob D’Eith, with MLA Lisa Beare and Housing Minister Selina Robinson get a tour of the rooms and facilities (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

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