Gerald Bowers looks forward to his morning walks.
He leaves his house at about 6 a.m. every day, starting off by the Port Haney dock and walking north through the tunnel into the downtown core.
In the evening he walks with his wife.
Lately, though, he has been noticing more-and-more garbage and vandalism downtown.
“It’s just getting worse. Garbage is getting left all over the place,” said Bowers.
He has found piles of clothes on his walks, along with abandoned shopping carts filled with items, including boxes of pills which he took to the RCMP. He’s picked up pipes off the ground and even, he says, seen human feces in doorways, and along public walkways, that, he says, doesn’t get cleaned up for days.
He doesn’t think the city is doing enough to clean up the downtown core.
The City of Maple Ridge Community Social Safety Initiative (CSSI) Action Plan was endorsed by council in October 2019, and consists of 35 different initiatives, including the Community Safety Officer (CSO) program.
Currently there are four CSO’s that patrol the city’s core – connecting with the those on the street and providing them with support – and cleaning up the downtown. They deal with those who are homeless, those with drug addictions, and mental illness.
According to the city’s website, the goal of the program seeks to ensure citizens feel safe, are engaged, protected and their well-being is supported.
Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden said more CSO’s are coming.
“We’ve authorized 16 hour days, seven days coverage from the CSO’s. The reason why is because that model is working very well. That’s what the public, as well as the business community are reporting to us,” he said.
But, he added, COVID has created all kinds of cleanup problems for their crews who are out there everyday, but, “can’t frankly keep up with it all”.
Morden is pleased with the progress they have made with the initiative to date, although, he said, it is still a work in progress.
To see the progress made by the city, the city has published performance dashboards online which track data as part of the CSSI. For instance, in January, 77 shopping carts were removed from the downtown streets, that number fell to 37 in February, 36 in March and so far for April 10 have been removed. There are also stats for truckloads of garbage removed: 45 in January, 34 in February, 42 in March, and so far 10 in April.
Instances of graffiti vandalism are down this year, said Ineke Boekhorst, executive director of the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.
“It’s gone down quite a bit since the beginning of the year,” she said.
Usually, she noted, it is only three of four people who are the ones vandalizing because, she said, they use the same tags.
Normally Boekhorst’s team would remove up to 35 tags a month. Now they are down to only 12 per month.
Bowers feels for the downtown businesses trying to remain open during the pandemic, and understands the reasoning behind the ones that have closed permanently.
“If there are not enough resources to get these people help,” he said of the addicts he sees passed out on the streets, “then (the city) has to get the resources to clean the streets up,”
Morden can’t say enough about the CSO’s. They are cleaning up massive amounts of garbage and intervening and getting “successes” off the street every day.
“It’s not easy work for our CSO’s,” he said.
The work requires intervention with compassion and understanding, but also being mindful of the fact that public safety is number one, added Morden.
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