Homeless people, their advocates and self-styled “Ridge-ilantes,” who want to see the end of a new homeless camp downtown, all met at Maple Ridge city hall on Saturday afternoon.
The homeless and those arguing for housing, led by Ivan Drury of the Alliance Against Displacement, gave speeches and marched from city hall to the camp at 223rd Street and St. Anne Avenue.
Criticism was levelled at city hall after bylaws officers attempting to pull down the tents and load them into trucks on Thursday morning.
“We live in a community where there is political cache in the demonizing and harassment of the poor,” said Stephen Milner, one of the administrators of a Facebook page for the “Anita Place Tent City.”
“Our acting mayor Tyler Shymkiw seems to have recognized this,” he added. “He vowed to move heaven and earth to destroy this camp before anyone doesn’t get hurt.
“Apparently anyone doesn’t include the campers themselves. They had their property ripped from the ground and thrown into the trash. Apparently being homeless doesn’t hurt. Apparently being told your new home is a mat on the dining room floor of the Sally Anne doesn’t hurt.”
Milner has lived in Maple Ridge since 2014, and got started the Facebook page in response to the city’s recent actions.
He said he got involved out of simply caring.
“When I see people who are vulnerable being mistreated, I think it’s my responsibility as a citizen to stand up and say something about it,” he said.
He said there are vigilante groups operating in the city and “this issue has polarized people.”
Members of the group who call themselves Ridge-ilantes said they were just at city hall to watch, and got engaged in debate.
“We have views, and there’s two sides to this,” said George Banks, who was a near neighbour of the Cliff Avenue homeless camp.
“I was trying to have a reasonable conversation, but Mr. Drury wouldn’t allow it,” he added.
“Ivan [Drury] doesn’t want anyone to speak to them, because he’s the one who speaks.
“Having a homeless camp is not going to fix the drug addiction problem,” he said. “Tyler Shymkiw did something productive.”
He said the temporary homeless shelter has been operating for 18 months, “and what have they done?”
Another member of the group was Jesse Stretch, who volunteers to pick up needles in town, and has researched what other cities have done to address homelessness.
He said the group was called vigilantes, and they called themselves “Ridge-ilantes.”
“And the name stuck,” he said. “We’re just concerned citizens.”
They are completely non-violent, are not affiliated with the Protecting Maple Ridge Facebook page that is often radical, and believe that whoever has threatened Mayor Nicole Read needs to be caught.
“Someone has to pay for that,” said Banks.
Steve Bodnar, a homeless person who lives at the camp, said there are still about 30 people still there. Some left after bylaws started taking down tents on Thursday, but more have since arrived.
He wanted to speak, and send a message to politicians tackling the issue of homelessness and housing.
“Step up to the plate man, people count on you,” he said. “Just do something, even if it’s wrong, just do something.”
“Today wasn’t meant to be a show of force. It was an opportunity to come and tell the city bylaw department specifically and acting mayor Shymkiw that what they did this week was not acceptable,” said Milner. “That they do not have the support of all people in Maple Ridge. And the people they are affecting have a voice and something to say, and they are going to say it today.”
Teal Quin organized a feast after the march, with pulled pork, turkey and “Anita’s favourite that she used to request from me – carrot cake.”
“Communication over food can bring people together.”
A co-organizer of the new Anita Place Facebook page, Chris Bossley said Maple Ridge people have to oppose the hate speech brought against the street population in social media.
“I speak out against the hatred, and the bigotry and the intolerance of these people. I don’t know where it comes from,” she said.
“These people are not bused in from other places, these are people who have lived in Maple Ridge – sometimes all of their lives,” Bossley added. “I want to be a person who would speak up for these people, not against them.”
The marchers left city hall chanting “Homes for all!” and “Stop displacement!”
• See more videos of the rally on the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News Facebook page.