There are Maple Ridge people who live alongside the tragedy that is homelessness, and it impacts them.
They have been assaulted, have stumbled across a dead man, there’s been a fire near their homes, and the trails beside their townhouse complex are littered with garbage and active homeless camps.
Residents who live in Brookside Gardens abut green space frequented by homeless campers, and want City Hall to restore it.
Verna Ryan looks out her backyard at McKenney Creek. It’s often a beautiful view. Walking out onto the sidewalk along Dewdney Trunk Road with neighbour Adam Burley, they cross the creek, and note a city sign that says its a salmon-bearing stream.
Burley has a trash hauling business, and in 2020 he put on his hip waders and pulled all manner of trash out of the stream – shopping carts, mattresses, bikes, clothes, car batteries and more. He worked long days, and did several loads. Each load cost him $50 to $60 to dump at the transfer station, he said.
Crossing the creek, they turn onto a trail and head south through a forested area on the other side of the waterway. It could be made into a pedestrian link to the Lougheed Highway, they say – a walker emerges from the forest just behind the A&W restaurant.
But the trail is choked with garbage of all kinds. There are areas where a chain-link fence has been cut open, and beyond is the drop-off area for donations to Value Village. Homeless people steal what they need or want. Along the trails are keyboards, broken glass, games, toys, blankets, and clothes. There are bits of tinfoil and other drug paraphernalia.
“This is disgusting – they do their business here and everything,” says Ryan.
She reviews all the wasted donations. Ryan is retirement age, 72, but cleans houses to make ends meet. She holds up jammies – a newish flannel onesey covered in dinosaurs.
“Look at this,” she laments. “Someone would just live in that.”
There are two tents pitched in the area. They have chairs outside, and even a footstool.
Burley has tried to clean up the trails, but found they become littered in a matter of days.
And, he was assaulted by a homeless man. He stands over a large hole filled with garbage, and explains it was once a dugout with a truck canopy overtop as a home for a homeless man. Burley had been walking the trails, when the occupant called him over, to see what Burley was doing.
As they were talking, the homeless man sucker-punched Burley in the face, and told him to stay out.
He reported the assault to police, who took his statement, and advised him not go in the trails alone.
Verna said some children took her into the greenspace to show her a dead cat. She followed them, and unknown to the children, there was a man who had passed away. He was nude, laying on his clothes under a covering, as if he had gone to sleep and not awakened. She hustled the children away from the scene, before they noticed him, and called police. She was told it appeared to be an overdose death.
They said there was also a fire started in the forest in recent years, but firefighters had it out before major damage was done.
Burley warns against anyone being in the area, or attempting to clean it up, because there are discarded needles in the detritus. He said it’s a job the city should take on, and the homeless people there given a proper bed in a local shelter.
“I would like to be able to restore it, so people could use it and feel safe again,” said Burley. “It could be a nice trail.”
Value Village staff confirmed there is a problem with thefts from the back of their store. They restricted access to the area, so donations could not be dropped off overnight, but the fire department said the road must be open.
According to city hall spokesperson Fred Armstrong, Community Safety Officers (CSOs) regularly patrol the area and there are no permanent encampments around McKenney Creek. The CSOs work with outreach services to address the circumstances when an individual does set up a camp, tries to remove the camp, and the city cleans up the area. The city has been working with the owner of the adjacent shopping mall to address fencing and other security concerns on an ongoing basis, he said, adding complainants should deal with the CSO team.
It is a designated ecological area, and there is no plan for pedestrian access along the creek at this time, said the city statement.
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