MLA Doug Bing sent a message to those at a rally Saturday against a proposal for supportive housing at the Quality Inn in Maple Ridge, that he’s against it.
Cheryl Ashlie, one of Bing’s constituency assistants and a former Maple Ridge councillor, attended the rally on his behalf.
“He stands with you in opposing this site,” Ashlie said to the 700 or so people crowded around a stage in the parking lot on the west side of The Pantry, adjoined to the Quality Inn since it was built in the 1980s.
It is one of only two motels in Maple Ridge.
B.C. Housing announced March 10 that it has offered $5.5 million to buy the Quality Inn, on Lougheed Highway at 217th Street, for conversion into a 61-unit long-term supportive housing facility.
B.C. Housing would then move in the 40 people remaining at the temporary homeless shelter in downtown Maple Ridge. It was only supposed to be open from October to March to allow the city to clear out the Cliff Avenue homeless camp.
B.C. Housing is to provide another $270,000 to keep the shelter open for three more months while the motel would be renovated.
Since the announcement, several online petitions have started in opposition to the Quality Inn as a location for supportive housing.
At a special meeting Wednesday, Maple Ridge council put the project on hold until B.C. Housing announced a date for a public consultation meeting – which has since been announced as March 29 – and local MLAs Marc Dalton and Bing confirm their support for the location.
Ashlie said Bing was surprised by his government’s plan to convert the Quality Inn to supportive housing. Such models may work in other communities, she added, but not in Maple Ridge.
She said that it is Maple Ridge council’s decision where supportive housing should go, not the MLAs.
Judy Dueck, another former Maple Ridge councillor, also spoke at the rally, which was attended by former Maple Ridge mayor Ernie Daykin and Mike Morden, another former councillor and mayoral candidate.
Dueck, standing on stage, asked whether council approached B.C. Housing about the location or if it was the opposite? She also questioned how RainCity was chosen to be the operator before the public has even been consulted. She thinks the operator contract should be tendered, that a needs assessment for the proposed facility needs to be conducted, as well as more public consultation.
She said, to loud applause, council needs to stop moving forward with the supportive housing project until more answers are provided.
Morden also opposes the location.
“People will lose their jobs,” he said.
The local chamber of commerce, of which Morden is president, conducted a survey among member businesses last week about the project. He said they don’t support the location, either.
Organizers of the rally have collected more than 4,500 signatures for their petition against the location, fearing the low-barrier model would bring open drug use to the neighborhood.
Ronald Rogers held up a sign reading “What about jobs?” along the highway, soliciting a stream of honks from passing motorists.
“I think people definitely need help, but they are not going to get it here,” he said. “They need treatment.”
Matt Kelso, who was emcee of the rally, sang a protest song.
“We don’t want this shelter, or lose our hotel. We don’t want low barrier, it will ruin our town … “
Jesse Stretch, wearing a black “Ridgelantes” shirt as part of the rally organizing group, asked the crowd where Mayor Nicole Read was?
“Hiding,” he said, adding that the decision of where to place supportive housing rests with council.
“I’m not against the homeless. I’m against homelessness,” said Stretch, a mechanic who formed the “Ridgelantes” community group that started picking up discarded needles around Maple Ridge because Fraser Health would not.
Since January, he said, there have been 132 overdose deaths in B.C.
“So much for low barrier housing.”
Stretch asked those in attendance if they wanted low barrier housing in Maple Ridge, to which they responded with a resounding “no.”
He dropped the microphone and hopped off the stage.
He returned to ask the crowd to support local businesses.
“Fill up the inn so they can’t get in,” shouted one supporter.