Maple Ridge council, after a two-hour presentation involving B.C. Housing and before a packed chamber, defeated first reading of a rezoning application Tuesday to build a shelter and supportive housing facility on Burnett Street, 5-2.
Some on council suggested the location was wrong, and mentioned a property previously purchased by the city, at 21375 Lougheed Highway, near the cemetery. The previous provincial government rejected the latter location for some form of housing for the homeless in December 2016.
Only Couns. Craig Speirs and Kiersten Duncan supported the Burnett St. rezoning proposal, to allow a modular building with shared living space for 30 residents and a maximum of 20 shelter staff, and 55 private, long-term residential suites, to be operating by the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.
“We need this bad,” Speirs said. “It’s an emergency and it’s growing.”
A group called Burnett Street Neighbours organized a petition against the proposal by B.C. Housing to construct a modular facility at 11749 and 11761 Burnett St. The petition has close to 10,000 signatures.
After council’s decision, about 130 or so people moved from the council chamber and overflow seating to the lobby, some hugging and crying.
Wesley Mann, a local resident who attended a recent community barbecue during a protest on Royal Crescent, where B.C. Housing has proposed temporary modular housing for the homeless, hopes council’s defeat of the Burnett St. application is a starting point for the community – much divided over the shelter and housing issue – to come together.
“It was the right decision, even though we do need housing desperately,” he said of council.
Mayor Nicole Read voted against the rezoning application.
“Until we see this as a health issue, it’s not going to work,” she said.
Read wants contracts to operate such facilities to rest with the Fraser Health Authority, and for them to go through a request for proposals process, given they are for up to $2 million a year and to ensure best value.
The Salvation Army was selected to operate the proposed Burnett St. operation without going through such a process.
Read also wants B.C. Housing to pilot something new in Maple Ridge, with housing staff more qualified to deal with the range of issues, from addictions to mental health, that clients are dealing with than is required now – which she said isn’t much more than a Grade 12 education with first-aid training.
“How do you drive accountability if you can’t staff this facility with clinical care professionals,” Read asked.
Dominic Flanagan, executive director with B.C. Housing, agreed a closer look is needed at staff training needs and partnering.
Coun. Gordy Robson voted against the application and said the current housing model is just warehousing clients for “palliative care.”
Coun. Duncan had an issue with the religious aspect of the Salvation Army’s operations, that its Christian affiliation might be a barrier for some seeking help.
Mayor Read also had an issue with the religious aspect of the Sally Ann, referencing a current job posting for a shelter worker, which lists, as a responsibility, the ability to work within the mission, vision and values of the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.
Darrell Pilgrim, executive director with the Salvation Army in Maple Ridge, responded that applicants only need to respect the organization’s beliefs.
Pilgrim also said the Sally Ann, which currently operates shelter beds at its facility by the Haney Bypass, has a policy of no drug or alcohol use on site, as well as an 11 p.m. curfew, but that neither are “hard and fast” rules.
It supplies harm reductions supplies, he added, including needles, wipes, cookers, smokers and straps.
Pilgrim said the Salvation Army’s harm reduction policies have changed, especially in the past year.
“We embrace them fully.”
Couns. Bob Masse, Tyler Shymkiw and Corisa Bell also voted against the Burnett St. rezoning application. Masse expressed a desire to look further at drug courts, as used in Victoria.
Shymkiw asked about the process to select the Burnett St. location, and why it was better than 21375 Lougheed Highway.
Naomi Brunemeyer, with B.C. Housing, said the project at the latter was different than what was proposed for Burnett St.
She said B.C. Housing has looked at about 35 sites total, and that Burnett St. was preferred for its lot size and downtown location, as well that it was previously proposed for apartments, another multi-unit use.
“We feel that it’s important to be in the town centre, we feel that it’s important to be close to transit and other services, including health services and other amenities.”
Three sites, including the Quality Inn, have now been rejected.
“The location is going to continue to be an issue unless we get firm controls around the clinical care and the outcomes,” Read said.
“This clinical care thing, it’s a full-stop deal for me. If you can’t staff this facility with clinical care people that are going to drive outcomes, there’s no way I’m supporting this, especially with the location being as it is, in a much more residential neighbourhood than 21375 Lougheed Highway, which is disconnected from residential.”