BC Housing plans on building 55 modular homes on Royal Crescent this summer. (THE NEWS/files)

BC Housing plans on building 55 modular homes on Royal Crescent this summer. (THE NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge council gets an earful against social housing

Question period extended to hear concerns

The public may like the 80-unit homeless shelter and supportive housing complex proposed for Burnett Street, or hate it, but either way, the public hasn’t had enough say on the issue, says the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce.

After surveying its members, the chamber said it has found one thing that’s “abundantly clear.”

“… the lack of public input was of grave concern to all of us,” chamber president Ken Holland said in a recent letter.

Holland criticizes the provincial government for both its Burnett Street project and the 55 temporary modular homes that will be built at 22548 Royal Cres., which he says are being imposed by the provincial government, and comparing it to the Kinder Morgan pipeline issue in B.C.

The temporary modular homes are being built without seeking Maple Ridge council approval or rezoning because of the urgent need to house people, B.C. Housing said previously.

The agency will seek rezoning for its proposed Burnett Street complex and recently filed an application with the city.

“[These facilities] will only put a roof over their heads and will be unsupported by any type of treatment regimen,” said Holland, adding they’re too close to residential neighbourhoods.

Instead, the recommendations of the former citizen’s committee, formed by the previous Liberal MLAs, would have offered a solution. That rejected any low-barrier shelters in the downtown.

Holland said later he doesn’t have a suggestion where the shelter should go.

“I don’t have a location picked out, but that’s not my job to do so. I understand it has to go somewhere.”

He lives near the location of the proposed Burnett Street complex and said he’s not opposed to that location, “as long as it’s not low-barrier.

“Treatment requires a long-term commitment, it is not enough to herd troubled souls into a warehouse and forget about them,” he said in his letter.

Holland, though, said he’s willing to listen and plans on helping cook dinner at Anita Place Tent City in a few weeks.

B.C. Housing says that social housing has to be centrally located, otherwise no one will use the housing and homeless will remain on the streets.

Tuesday’s Maple Ridge council meeting drew a full crowd who wanted to speak on the issue, and question period was extended to hear concerns.

Larry Toombs said he moved into downtown Maple Ridge two years ago and that it seemed to be a diamond in the rough with “some real potential … not realizing … what we were getting into as the homeless and addicted problem escalated in our community.”

A low-barrier shelter is not the answer, he added.

While it’s a provincial issue, “we want leadership, not dictatorship. We expect our elected officials to stand up for us.”

Two former drug users also addressed council.

“If somebody offered me free housing in my addiction and harm reduction, as it is today, I would not be here,” said A. Johnson.

She went into long-term treatment for eight months, then relapsed before staying clean for 10 years. Giving people places to live won’t stop the crime, prostitution, theft, drug use and assaults, she added.

B.C. Housing said it will provide 24/7 on-site support, including access to mental-health and addiction treatment and life-skills programming at the Royal Crescent site.

Coast Mental Health was announced Wednesday as the operator of the facility.

However, an outreach worker from Mission, Terry Wilkinson, told council there is a model of shelter that works, though no one ever wants it near where they live.

That model involves volunteers working with people to help them, she added, “and not look at it as one big negative bunch of hopeless people.”

Dave Mussallem, who grew up in the home that B.C. Housing is paying to relocate to the Maple Ridge Cemetery, used to own part of the house and said it was a numbered company that bought the property and didn’t know it was the B.C. government.

“I just fear for the downtown core and the business people in the downtown core. There’s got to be a better solution on the location.”

Tent city volunteer Chris Bossley, though, said other B.C. cities are welcoming the social housing projects and asked why Maple Ridge council wasn’t doing the same.

Abbotsford is getting 83 modular housing beds, Chilliwack and Kelowna 46 each, New Westminister 44, Parksville, 52, Richmond 40, Sechelt 40, Surrey 160 ,and Vancouver 618, she said.