Maple Ridge council has asked B.C. Housing to end its shelter contract with the Salvation Army’s Caring Place.
“Council has advised the Salvation Army of our decision and expressed heartfelt thanks for their years of service to our community,” Mayor Nicole Read said Monday.
The Salvation Army operates a 25-bed emergency shelter that allows people to stay as long as a month, with the hope they access services or treatment.
“What we have seen in the conversations in the community is that our citizens have lost faith in the Salvation Army as well,” Read said in a release. “It is time to act.”
“We are on the ground dealing with this everyday. We’ve had so many connections with the residents.”
Read said the Salvation Army’s Caring Place, at the Haney Bypass and Lougheed Highway, does good work.
“But at the end of the day, we cannot pretend we do not have a huge camp of homeless people on Cliff Avenue right now. And something is not working.”
The purpose of a shelter is to take in someone in need and move them on to services and housing, she added.
“We don’t feel that the Salvation Army has necessarily set up the model to deal with this street-entrenched population. If they were going to be able to connect them with services and housing, that should have happened a long time ago.
“But we’re not having success with this population that’s on the street right now.”
Instead, the city is going to focus on opening its temporary shelter, which will allow it to move people off Cliff Avenue.
The city will announce the location of that shelter soon.
“We can’t get it up fast enough for the residents on Cliff Avenue. We’re working to the point where we open the shelter and disperse the camp.”
She hopes an injunction isn’t needed.
Then the city will focus on getting a “purpose built” shelter operated by another agency.
“If we’re going to have a shelter in this community, it should be the interface to get people into the services they need.”
Read said even though council is asking B.C. Housing to no longer fund the shelter, she’d like the entire Salvation Army building, with all its other services, such as its daily meal program, to move.
The Caring Place also offers a drop-in program, three days a week, providing laundry and showers.
It’s going to take a while, however, if B.C. Housing agrees to the request. Its agreement with the Salvation Army expires in March 2017. However, the Salvation Army could be willing to move sooner.
The Army has said in the past, it’s willing to do that, but needs to find a new location.
Read expects B.C. Housing to respond.
“I don’t think they’re going to ignore us, I don’t.”
Already, 28 people have been found housing since the Cliff Avenue camp formed in the spring. And when it first formed, three-quarters of the population was female.
“That’s completely shifted,” Read said.
“There’s a different element in there right now. I don’t think everybody in that camp right now is homeless.”
She said the camp has required “significant municipal resources and has caused immeasurable strain for Cliff Avenue’s businesses and residents.”
Council has also asked B.C. Housing to review its service agreement with the Alouette Home Start Society, in relation to the operation of Alouette Heights, and to amend the agreement to better meet the needs of the community. Those needs would be identified by Maple Ridge council.
“Council is committed to working with B.C. Housing to identify new infrastructure and services to support our goals as a city,” Read said.
Coun. Tyler Shymkiw said by e-mail, that he supports the mayor.
“This move only further demonstrates her leadership and her willingness to start the difficult conversations that are sometimes needed to solve hard problems.”