Another step has been taken to get a new $15-million housing and shelter complex in Maple Ridge, but not without another round of bashing the provincial government.
“What’s going on in this province isn’t good enough. We’re arguing with each other and the province is nowhere to be seen,” said Coun. Tyler Shymkiw.
He said the province isn’t addressing homelessnesses and drug addiction, pointing out the government has opened only 220 treatment beds, while another 800 fatal drug overdoses are expected next year.
The B.C. Liberal government uses B.C. Housing, Fraser Health and TransLink to avoid accountability on such issues, he added.
“If you have a health issue, ‘Oh, it’s not the province’s, it’s Fraser Health. Oh, you have a transit issue, it’s not the province, it’s TransLink. Where we going to put shelter beds? Oh, let’s just put it on the cities. It’s not the province.’
“Let’s pit neighbourhood against neighbourhood, let’s put community against community,’ and on this issue, where kids are dying, it’s just not good enough.”
Council voted 4-3 vote Monday to start public consultation for a low-barrier shelter and housing complex at 21375 Lougheed Hwy. The low-barrier shelter would have about 30 beds, while there would be another 30 transitional beds for people moving into regular housing.
But the vague timelines for the process worried Coun. Bob Masse, who along with Couns. Gordy Robson and Corisa Bell voted against it.
Masse wanted the whole project delayed for a month, but that could result in the temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. remaining open beyond its projected closing date of next March 31.
Masse wanted to know what a low-barrier shelter is and what types of low barrier shelters there are, pointing out some shelters don’t allow drug use. People need to have a complete understanding of what they’re being asked to support, he said.
Dominic Flanagan, with B.C. Housing, said that low-barrier and minimal-barrier shelters are the same thing and allow people to enter shelters with their pets, grocery carts, and some possessions, adding that most low-barrier shelters also allow drug use.
The goal is to get people inside where they can then start to talk about housing and treatment.
“What a minimum-barrier shelter is, is about bringing people inside.”
A development meeting, yet to be announced, is supposed to be the first gathering at which B.C. Housing will explain the project to the public.
After that, the formal rezoning of the site will begin, which includes a public hearing. The city bought the property last month for about $1 million, while B.C. Housing will provide the $15 million to build and operate the complex.
A separate task force on homelessness also will host workshops, though dates haven’t been set.
A staff report from Monday said that the initial intent is to maintain both the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries 25-bed emergency shelter, along with the new housing project, which could later evolve into more of a supportive housing facility, where people have been able to make the move off the streets.
But Coun. Gordy Robson didn’t want more than one homeless shelter in Maple Ridge and said the numbers about who has been housed and how many people have been in the temporary homeless shelter are confusing.
“I do know that it has been backfilling and a lot of our people in our current shelter are not from here,” Robson said.
“I think we’re changing our city’s culture. I will not be supporting this plan in any way.”
But Coun. Kiersten Duncan challenged Robson about who is actually considered to be from Maple Ridge.
“I wonder what the definition of resident is?”
How many years do you have to live in Maple Ridge to be able to access services?
“Any one of us” could become homeless or addicted, she added.
Duncan said she’d love to live in a city where a shelter isn’t needed.
“But that’s not the reality. We have to do something.”
Masse pointed out later that the last homeless count showed that 67 per cent of the homeless population have lived in Maple Ridge for two or more years.
Coun. Corisa Bell suggested that a curfew be considered for the new shelter, and pointed out that the new housing shelter in Coquitlam, 3030 Gordon, has a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew. That could ease residents’ fears about crime, Bell added.
“It’s not meant to be a prison,” said Duncan.
Imposing a curfew could just re-trigger trauma for some, she added. If the shelter was causing a spike in crime, Ridge Meadows RCMP would have said so, she added.
Maple Ridge Nicole Read said she’s not sure if anyone at the temporary homeless shelter has been charged or convicted of theft.
“I want to be careful of the stigmatization there.”
Bell, Duncan and Read also criticized the government.
“Our MLAs are absent. We don’t have a minister here so we can address the politics,” said Read.
“We are all sitting here taking care of the business of other decision makers,” said Bell.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing said he gets irregular e-mails from the city about coming meetings and is never consulted before the city sets a date for a meeting.
Bing also said he’s getting questions and e-mails about the location of the shelter, only four blocks from the Quality Inn on Lougheed Highway, which was rejected earlier this year as a possible housing complex because of public outcry.
“I presume they [the city] did their due diligence … and they looked at a number of sites. I’m just sort of curious.
“What we want is a robust discussion with the public.”
Shymkiw suggested the government start informing the public about the types of housing projects it offers and why.
“Individual members of council shouldn’t have to do a literature review … to explain to the public why we’re favouring this model.”
The agency should also tell people what it’s doing around the region, pointing out that shelters are being built in Abbotsford, Langely and Surrey, so that people in Maple Ridge don’t think they’re providing housing for the entire area.
Denise Hood, with Fraser Health, said the health authority follows “harm-reduction approach.
“We believe we need to begin in a place that has as few rules as possible … a place that includes everybody.”
Read reiterated that she wanted a written commitment from Fraser Health to improve care four youth mental health in Maple Ridge in order to stop the flow of young people on to the streets.
She said the city could say no to shelter, as Abbotsford has done previously, but then the city would be by itself, facing another street tent camp.
B.C. courts have ruled that adequate shelter or housing has to be available before a street camp can be dispersed.
The city also will form a citizen advisory committee to meet regularly and resolve issues, if the project is approved.