A briefing report from the Maple Ridge Fire Department describes specific concerns around safety and fire risks for both the occupants and first responders. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge resumes injunction process to remove homeless camp

The city is concerned about growing health, safety and fire risks in the encampment.

  • Oct. 25, 2017 1:45 p.m.

Maple Ridge council, a day after hearing from local businesses, unanimously decided to resume injunction proceedings to clear Anita Place Tent City.

But there is no imminent plan as to where those at the camp will go.

“In June of this year, the city adjourned the injunction process against the camp to allow B.C. Housing and health care resources the opportunity to develop and implement a plan that would result in a voluntary decampment,” Mayor Nicole Read said.

“Here we are in October, and there has been no significant movement towards a decampment. In fact, the safety of people in the camp, the fire department, police, other first responders and the surrounding neighbourhood has deteriorated. We have no choice but to seek an injunction for the camp to come to an end.”

The city is concerned about growing health, safety and fire risks in the encampment.

Read said the decision to go forward with the injunction was decided Tuesday night before its council meeting, where a group of local residents were on the agenda to voice their concerns on the impact the homeless camp on the downtown core.

She said council felt it was best to wait and hand out their decision until after the the public had their chance to express their concerns as well as being mindful of those in attendance who live at the camp.

She said no timeline has been set for the injunction and the city has informed the provincial government of its intentions.

Read said the council has not had a formal response from the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Selina Robinson, to a series of questions submitted by council in September.

Robinson said Wednesday that the provincial government has promised funding for modular housing and support services for the homeless in Maple Ridge, but the city has yet to provide a property with rezoning on which to place it.

“We’re certainly making that available to Maple Ridge.”

Robinson is aware of several properties that have been discussed for a short-term solution, adding the province is also willing to discuss a permanent supportive housing and homeless shelter facility.

“But that requires the city working with us to get rezoning.”

Robinson added that any location selected has to work for those at the tent city.

“This is about dealing with a crisis.”

Read said the city is willing to work with the province, but that public engagement is required and the latter should take the lead on that.

The city has done so in the past, pushing forward a proposal to purchase the former Quality Inn site for housing and purchasing property near the cemetery for the same, only to have both rejected by local representatives of the former provincial government.

Read the current council hasn’t decided on a specific site, but admitted that the current camp site on 223rd Street by St. Anne Avenue has been discussed.

But questions remain about where those at the camp would go during construction of modular housing there, as well as about long-term solutions, such as, once in supportive housing, where would residents go next?

The city also asked about the future of the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries and its current location, at the corner of the Haney Bypass. At least part of the property is required for improvements to make the bypass safer.

Read insisted the provincial goverment needs to take the lead on public engagement, and that the city would co-operate and take part.

She expects public backlash, as in the past, and said council isn’t in position to answer questions about provincial responsibilties, such as housing and health care.

“Council is not an expert on addiction.”

She wants to know what supports would be included at a modular housing facility. How long would people stay there? Residents would want to know that, she said, as well as whether the facility would be low-barrier.

As it is, members of council have different perspectives on how to support those at the camp, Read said, such as abstinence-based or harm-reduction programs for those with addiction issues.

“I would like to produce an outcome, or solution, so they can start a journey,” Read said of helping the homeless.

As to where Read expects those at the camp to go if the injunctions is granted?

“That’s a good question for the provincial government.”

She didn’t know if another temporary shelter, such as the one run by RainCity, would open in the meantime.

But there are safety concerns regarding the camp.

A briefing report from the Maple Ridge Fire Department describes specific concerns around safety and fire risks for both the occupants and first responders. The concerns, said the city, were raised with the camp leadership, who have either ignored these requirements or otherwise chosen not to follow them.

Reports of increased criminal activity are another concern. According to the city, reports of criminal activity at the encampment have increased and the RCMP confirm that they are concerned about increased weapons-related investigations and arrests at the encampment.

A shift in attitude of occupants and their leadership is another concern for the city.

“The Maple Ridge Fire Department was tasked by the city to lead regular inspections of the conditions at the encampment. Their briefing report describes a shift in attitude that inspectors have experienced. The RCMP also report a significant increase in aggressive behaviour by occupants towards police,” states a release from the city.

The latter also outlined an increase in public complaints and nuisances.

“From the outset of the occupation, the city has experienced complaints and concerns from area residents and businesses. As of late, these complaints and concerns have increased severely.”

Council heard on Tuesday from a number of first-hand accounts about activities at the encampment and how they have affected the lives of those in the neighbourhood.

Growth of the encampment is yet another concern.

“The city had hoped for a general decampment as B.C. Housing worked to find solutions for those in the encampment. Instead, the encampment has continued to grow. The property is unsafe and incapable of safely supporting the number of occupants and tents located within the encampment. This growth and density further contributes to the rise in life-safety risks, criminal concerns, negative and aggressive attitudes and behaviours at the encampment.”

The decision to proceed with the injunction was not made lightly, said Read.

“Area residents, businesses and city council have shown great patience but this patience has been exhausted. It is time to act,” she added.

While the city is moving forward with the injunction proceedings, the underlying issues including poverty, housing, mental health and addictions will remain, Read said.

“These issues are the responsibility of the province and federal government. The city implores the province, through B.C. Housing, to lead community consultation efforts and find solutions for these very important issues.”

Ivan Drury, a representative for the homeless camp, said he was meeting with other members of the camp to form an official responsive, but his initial reaction was one of disappointment with the city’s decision.

“It is irresponsible and punitive,” said Drury. “All of the four reasons listed in this news release regarding the injunction, all of them are blaming the victims of poverty for the condition of impoverishment.”

He said the city’s continued focus on shifting blame for the current state of homelessness onto the province and the federal government is only deflecting their own responsibility on the issue.

“They are claiming their only responsibility is to police the victims of poverty, push them into the shadows where their chances of death and injury are greatly exacerbated,” said Drury.

He said in six months at this St. Anne St. site, overdoses at the homeless camp have been almost none and there have been no deaths, despite the record number of people dying from opioid overdoses around the province.

“The camp is a safe space for low income people, for drug users, and it’s a community hub for people who are facing hostility and hatred in the streets around it,” he said.

Read said the city is no longer able to ignore the safety risks to first responders as well as the public.

The City of Maple Ridge’s legal counsel will be reaching out to area residents and businesses to update victim impact statements in preparation for the injunction hearing.

Business owners or citizen who live near the homeless camp who have been affected by it can contact the clerks department by email at clerks@mapleridge.ca.

Legal counsel will be provided with these emails and the city will be contacting people privately to record information.

• For more information, contact Paul Gill, chief administrative office, by phone at 604-467-7398 or by email at pgill@mapleridge.ca.

– with files from Michael Hall

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