Maple Ridge council will not begin looking for a site for a homeless shelter and supportive housing facility, despite the housing minister’s assertion to do so after turning down the province’s Burnett Avenue proposal.
Members of council said Tuesday that a letter from Housing Minister Selina Robinson shows a lack of understanding of its position, and authorized the mayor and staff to draft a response.
“The ball is definitely in the city’s court now – no question,” Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith said of the minister’s letter.
“We need a partner, and once they identify a site, the resources are there.”
At Tuesday’s regular meeting, council voted against a motion by Coun. Kiersten Duncan to have city staff consult B.C. Housing about criteria for a new site, then begin searching for suitable properties. Councillors said they wanted dialogue with the province first.
“If I might be so presumptive, I think it would be a good idea to allow me the ability to work with staff to put a response together,” said Mayor Nicole Read.
“I think that the letter needs to be strong. I think the point was missed. I think this council has a leadership voice. I think the rest of the province is listening.”
She said the government offers only “nebulous” details about health support for homeless people at the proposed shelter and supportive housing facility.
“I don’t think this council has said ‘no’ to housing. I think this council wants the model adequately defined,” said Read.
Coun. Gordy Robson agreed a written response to Robinson is warranted.
“The minister didn’t get what we’re saying,” he said. “We’re talking about what kind of facility it is, before we can talk about where.
“To ask us for a location, when we don’t know what it is they’re going to build, I think is absolutely ridiculous,” he added.
“We should be talking about health, and we should be talking about addiction and mental health, and not about housing. I don’t think the minister gets it.”
Coun. Tyler Shymkiw also said council’s position is not understood by senior government.
“It is quite clear we weren’t heard by the minister, we weren’t heard by the MLAs, we weren’t heard by some of the people around this table,” said Shymkiw, referring to Coun. Craig Speirs characterizing council’s decision as turning Maple Ridge into a “city of hate.”
Speirs said Robinson’s letter “showed their frustrations, for reasons I think are valid.
“Our provincial partners are wondering what’s going on, what’s going to happen next, so I think we need to talk to them, and we need to talk to them in a productive fashion,” Speirs added.
“I think we just have to go forward in a productive way that creates some housing for those who don’t have any.”
Speirs said decisions to not proceed with previous housing locations were “caving in to anger and hate and a bunch of really negative stuff.
“The health outcomes are disastrous right now,” said Speirs. “We had five die last winter, associated with the camp, and now it’s going to take us a long time to get this back on track.
“You can talk about warehousing, but we’re warehousing them right now in tents, and it’s absolutely ugly.”
Duncan could not convince her council colleagues to begin looking for a new location.
“The province has put the ball back in our court, and said that it is up to us to work with them and to help move forward,” she said.
“I would like to follow the direction, and actually ask staff to start looking into properties in the community that are available for sale and would meet the requirements of B.C. Housing and the Ministry of Housing. I think that would be a good start.”
Read said there is still no information about what health care services would be provided by the facility.
“So simply transferring the property search from the province to the city doesn’t solve the crux of the issue that the majority of council delivered on the decision on Burnett,” Read added.
Duncan responded: “I completely understand that it doesn’t answer all of council’s questions, and I quite frankly don’t think anything will.
“We can go around with rounds of questioning for quite some time.”
Coun. Corisa Bell said city staff has done prior research into possible housing locations, which could likely be updated quickly.
Duncan’s motion was defeated, with her and Speirs in favour.