The City of Maple Ridge has agreed to buy property backing on to the cemetery for a permanent homeless shelter.
The property is located at 21375 Lougheed Highway, just east of Laity Street and across from Ridge Meadows Hospital.
The purchase price for the property is just over $1 million and the city is working towards completion of the deal by the end of August.
The site is to be used for both an interim housing facility, then a purpose-built permanent housing facility.
The current temporary shelter on Lougheed Highway, just east of 222 Street, will be closed once the interim housing facility is open.
The property requires rezoning from residential to institutional.
The normal rezoning process will be followed and include a development information meeting hosted by B.C. Housing and the city, as well as a public hearing.
If council decides not to approve the rezoning application, the land will be considered for other community uses or it may be put back on the market and sold, according to the city.
Maple Ridge has been looking for a place to locate a $15 million purpose-built shelter that will be funded by the province since spring, when the contentious plan to turn the Quality Inn into a shelter was shelved by Victoria.
The public rallied against that plan, and a city run homeless shelter in downtown Maple Ridge, which cleared the camp from Cliff Avenue, was extended.
Local politicians predict that citizens will support a purpose-built shelter in Maple Ridge, if it is away from the downtown.
As well, if it is not simply a way to “warehouse” people as they continue in a life of drug addiction.
“I think most people in Maple Ridge agree that if we have a proper shelter that is helping people to move along in their lives, they’ll support it,” said Coun. Gordy Robson.
The new site has been chosen from a list of options, and district staff has been negotiating a purchase.
Robson, a former mayor, said he is no stranger to the issues around homelessness. He grappled with the problem in 2004. There were 43 people living on the streets, and he knew them by name. He said “low barrier” should not mean a government-sanctioned drug house.
“What we have to do is help save these people’s lives,” he said. “Not just put a roof over their heads so they can continue in their hell.”
Robson will support the new shelter plan under the conditions that it is the one shelter in town, and that Alouette Heights return to its intended role as drug-free, third-stage housing, where homeless people live for a limited time, before they are ready to live independently.
He did not rule out the Salvation Army being the operator of the new shelter facility, and said it should be considered a potential operator.
“For the sake of the community, we have to get our act together,” he said.
Mayor Nicole Read said if the proposed site is not approved as a suitable location for a new purpose-built shelter after public consultation, the city will still have use for the property.
“I don’t think it is ever a problem for the city to own property,” she said, noting that Maple Ridge has a small inventory of land it owns.
Read also said council has to approach the proposed shelter as a human rights and health issue, that the city has a responsibility to provide housing that meets the needs of the homeless.
“Council remains very concerned about how shelters are run, and whether there needs to be more than one shelter in the city.”
She said the low-barrier model creates opposition from the public.
“The public is rightly questioning, ‘does this work?’”
She noted there are more homeless camps springing up around the province, not fewer, and in her opinion there is a lack of solid data that the present model is working.
“I still think there is not enough evidence that people are being moved along through the system.”
However, she was critical of “vitriolic” social media pages that stigmatize the city’s homeless people.
“There is a relationship between the way a community feels about its people in need, and the way those people feel about themselves,” said Read.
And, she added, the public rally against the proposed Quality Inn shelter resulted in a negative impression of Maple Ridge.
“It does reflect poorly that a lot of that happened, but there was a lot of politics behind that,” said Read.
The new proposal will involve B.C. Housing and Fraser Health, and Read said there will be public engagement during the rezoning process.
Robson said the public should ultimately decide the issue.
“We’re going to listen to the people.”