Violent incidents connected with the temporary homeless shelter in Maple Ridge are adding up and the city is asking the province for help.
In September, someone pepper-sprayed one of the residents of the homeless shelter after directing the nozzle through the fence that surrounds the courtyard area of the shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy.
Another time, someone else pepper-sprayed a resident while he or she was at a nearby gas station.
In the same month, someone filmed inside the shelter’s courtyard, another resident was assaulted while collecting empty bottles or cans, while a staffer at the shelter was screamed at during her child’s football practice because she works with “those people.”
During July, someone in a van pointed what looked like a firearm; in June, people threw pop cans at homeless people; two males smashed the front window of the shelter and tried to start a fight; and a woman who seemed to be homeless was followed by people yelling and making punching and kicking gestures.
The incidents were even more violent earlier this year.
In April, two men in a van tried to run over a resident of the shelter; while in a separate incident, someone jumped out of a vehicle and beat a resident with a pipe in a nearby parking lot.
On New Year’s Day, a group of “biker-looking” men came into the shelter to retrieve a stolen bike and said next time they’d be “handing out beatings.”
Last December, after the shelter had been open only a few months, a woman who was eight months pregnant, said she’d been attacked, but didn’t want police called.
That same month, an older man came into the shelter and started taking photographs, saying he wanted to see “what’s going on here.”
A similar incident took place last November; while last Halloween, someone barged in looking for his belongings and saying, ‘I have a right to be here, because I’m paying for this place.’
As he left, he kicked the gate, which then struck one of the staff members at the shelter.
And on Thanksgiving Day, someone lobbed a smoke bomb into the area, resulting in a full evacuation of the 40 people in the shelter.
City of Maple Ridge chief administrator Ted Swabey lists the incidents in a letter to B.C. Housing as the city tries to push the government to move ahead with the $15-million shelter and housing complex planned for 21375 Lougheed Hwy. and allow the closure of the temporary shelter.
“As you can understand, we do not want to repeat the Quality Inn scenario, and therefore it’s paramount that the province take the lead on this project,” Swabey said.
Earlier this year, B.C. Housing bailed on its proposal to convert the Quality Inn into a shelter following public outcry and lack of support from local Liberal MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read is now questioning the entire process and wondering why the city would go through the trouble of rezoning the property and hosting public consultation if the MLAs can veto the location after all.
Read referred to a Sept. 20 Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News video interview with Premier Christy Clark in which she said: “When Marc and Doug can support a proposal, that’s the one we’re going to move on.”
Read said it in a Sept. 23 letter to Clark that it would be “very difficult” for council and staff to go through a process with the public, “only to learn at the end of it all, that the MLAs are not supportive.
“That’s not fair to our community or to the homeless directly affected by a decision such as this.”
She now wants the MLAs and B.C. Housing to take on the public consultation process. She’s also offering to give B.C. Housing ownership of the property, so it can proceed with the shelter without going through a city rezoning process.
“When Christy Clark says that Marc and Doug will be the de facto approval authority … if that’s the case, our citizens should be talking to them about what they want, not coming to council,” Read added Wednesday.
“If Marc and Doug are the decision-makers, it should be them who own the engagement process because they’re the ones making the decisions. We’ll be there to support. We’ll do whatever we can.”
Read is also afraid that B.C. Housing may seek to extend the shelter again, past its closing date of next March 31, which itself, is a year longer than initially planned.
“We’ve not even started the rezoning process,” Read said Wednesday.
“We’ve reached the tipping point. It’s a real significant concern. We have to get it closed.”
Read added that the confusion within the community is not good and that’s it unfair to the residents who live around the temporary shelter.
It’s also unfair to the people at the temporary shelter, she said.
“They need health care and housing, not cots stuck beside each other.”
Read added that there has to be public consultation over the new shelter and housing complex.
The city is also continuing with its four dialogues on homelessness, the first of which starts Oct. 20 at the Arts Centre Theatre.
Bing was caught by surprise by the city’s statement. But he agrees, decisions have to be made and that the premier has given them a say on whether the housing project or location gets approved.
“She’s given us the responsibility to look after this and I think that’s understandable. We’re the ones closest to the scene. I would think that it makes sense that the MLAs have an important part in the decision making, not someone in Victoria.”
Bing, though, wants to talk to the city.
“I would like to engage them in conversation. I think I owe them that.”
Bing said he wasn’t sent a copy of Maple Ridge letters to the premier and B.C. Housing.
“And that’s not good.”
He added that no decision has been made yet regarding the proposed supportive housing complex.
Coun. Gordy Robson questioned the mayor’s strategy.
“I can’t believe she wants to get into a fight with these people. I don’t think it’s productive at all.”
Robson said he favours just one shelter in Maple Ridge, supplemented by scattered sites of only a few units where people are given support.
“I think the message is quite clear – we have to rethink where we’re going.”