Maple Ridge businesses are increasingly frustrated with the Anita Place Tent City, and at least one businessman told council he fears for the safety of his staff and his customers.
Home Hardware owner Scott O’Dell said during question period on Oct. 10 that his store has been “seriously affected.”
“I can’t stay quiet any longer,” he said.
“It is becoming a threat to us. I get physically threatened two or three times per week. I try to keep my staff safe, so I am always the one who is confronting. I’m concerned about taking days off work now,” he said. “When people are trying to steal from me, and I ask them to leave, I am being physically threatened.”
Has called police, but said his complaints have not resulted in arrests.
“I’ve been threatened, do something about it,” he said, adding “when somebody pulls out a knife or calls you outside, it’s not a vague threat.”
He told council one of his customers was ready to intervene on his behalf after witnessing a confrontation between the business owner an a homeless man, who said would use a hammer as a weapon.
“I’m worried someone is going to get hurt,” said O’Dell.
Mayor Nicole Read said the threats are concerning and she will follow up with police, but would not speak for Ridge Meadows RCMP.
Another business owner, Mark Lancaster of North Fraser Automotive, said the city owns the park land the camp is on, and allows it to remain there.
“For me, it’s like a bunch of terrorists that live down the street and terrorize me every day, and the whole neighbourhood, and people and other businesses in the area,” said Lancaster.
“It is a huge hindrance to me, to my business.”
He asked why the city did not pursue an injunction to have the camp moved.
Read said council is proceeding according to the best available advice, to get the camp removed as quickly as possible.
“This is not a real homeless camp, this is a protest,” said Lancaster.
Dennis Wager, who lives on 117th Avenue, near the camp, said he has been “very extremely” impacted by it, including a loud overdose incident in front of his house at 3 a.m.
“Feeling uneasy all the time. It’s not a peaceful neighbourhood, like it used to be,” said Wager.
He asked what the city can do, and suggest a security guard be posted near the camp.
Read responded the city would raise the issue of funding for a security guard with B.C. Housing. She added that police are patrolling the area, and do respond to public complaints.
Ahmed Yousef, who wanted to lead a delegation of business owners to appear before council to discuss their complaints, said he was being discouraged from doing so.
He asked “whether council is aware that North Fraser Auto, joined by several other businesses, is being thwarted in their attempt to appear as a delegation before council.”
Yousef said he had been working with Lancaster since Sept. 6, trying to appear before council, about “the truth of the downtown business experience in dealing with the tent city and crime, violence, vandalism, theft, death threats intimidation and massive costs related to dealing with the addicted homeless.”
He said on Sept. 28 that Read advised him to forego the delegation, saying the camp is a provincial issue, and that bringing it to council would be inflammatory and divisive.
He was later asked by staff to provide his speaking notes, and city staff wanted to review and discuss the presentation and materials before the meeting, which he called sensorship.
“The challenge that we face as a council is the community appeals to us for a solution,” responded Read. “Council is appealing to the province for a solution. I’ve told you that we are in dialogue with the province, that our expectation is that the province does something to resolve the camp, that the MLAs are involved, and that they need to be engaged.”
She said city staff and RCMP have been in touch with Lancaster about his concerns.
“There’s no question there are challenges in the area,” said Read.
She suggested a meeting between business owners, city representatives and MLAs.
“That is a functional way for us to actually work together to drive a solution in the interim, while we await the closure of the camp,” said Read.
The mayor said she did not ask staff to discourage the delegation.
Staff responded council was facing a full agenda, and wanted to put off the delegation until Oct. 24.