Maple Ridge council has approved extending the temporary homeless shelter by nine months, providing B.C. Housing seek permission if it wants to keep it open past that.
Council decided in a split-vote on Monday in a move that also calls for increasing the number of people in the temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. back up to 40 residents, the original number of occupants when it opened last October.
The occupancy has dropped to 25 people after previous residents were found permanent homes or left the area.
But because of the need, Rain City Housing, which operates the shelter, says it should go back up to 40, which would improve cost efficiency.
“I think it’s fantasy to believe that the problem [homelessness] will just go away if we don’t have a shelter,” said Coun. Craig Speirs.
The decision followed two invitation-only forums for businesses and property owners on Thursday, allowing them to share their experiences of living or doing business close to the shelter.
Twenty people showed up and told the city that they had lost business, their customers were scared, staff quit, had items stolen and had property damaged. They related experiences of seeing drug dealing, assaults, intoxication, overdoses, litter and solicitation.
They were also frustrated by the lack of response from Ridge Meadows RCMP, the city and ineffective collection of used needles.
However, most realized having a shelter was making the best of a bad situation and supported extending it another nine months, says a staff report from the forums.
Keeping the shelter open another nine months, until next March 30, will give B.C. Housing time to create an interim shelter composed of mobile trailers, followed by a permanent $15-million shelter.
Still, “the level of frustration and distress was also very noteworthy and of considerable concern to service providers and city staff,” said the report.
Most business and property owners realized that having a shelter was preferable to people being on the street and that much of the trouble was being caused by non-shelter residents.
Service providers, such as outreach workers, however, noted that people have been found homes and gone into drug treatment, said the report.
The temporary homeless shelter opened last October to give the city a place to house people in the tent city on Cliff Avenue.
Coun. Gordy Robson wanted the shelter occupancy to remain at its current number of 25, but was voted down.
He also said he doesn’t want Maple Ridge to have more than one shelter.
Currently, the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries operates a 25-bed emergency shelter.
Relatives of the people in the temporary homeless shelter don’t want them to stay there, and want them in treatment, Robson added.
“We’re extending their hell.”
He along with Coun. Corisa Bell said there was a bias in the conversation at the forum towards keeping the temporary shelter open.
She also said businesses didn’t want the shelter population increased. She pressed her case for more public consultation on opening any future shelters in Maple Ridge.
“I don’t feel that we have appropriately involved the community in the discussions at this point.”
People always complain that decisions are made first – with public consultation done afterwards, she added.
Mayor Nicole Read disagreed. Some businesses wanted the shelter to take in more people to help reduce crime on the street, she said.
“I actually resent Coun. Bell’s comments, which provided an unfortunate view of what took place in those engagement sessions.”
Read noted that Bell was only at one of the forums.
Read also pointed out that court rulings are requiring cities to have shelters and that Maple Ridge has limited control over the issue of homelessness and has had to address issues as they developed.
“So I don’t think it’s fair to your colleagues around the table or the staff … to suggest something has failed and we haven’t done something,” Read said to Bell.
“Each time you suggest that someone has failed to consult the public, you’re taking a moral high ground … this is happening over and over again.”
There’s an impression left with the public that we intended to do something that we didn’t do, Read added.
That’s exactly what people are saying, said Bell.
Robson supported Bell.
“I feel exactly the same way,” he said.
Council hasn’t yet agreed on the various definitions of a shelter, he said.
“We want to have a talk about that. We haven’t had that talk.”
Read said council should have a separate meeting to identify what type of consultation to have.
Staff will also report back on how to ease the impact of the temporary homeless shelter on its neighbours.