The trio of senior government politicians felt the mayor of Maple Ridge’s frustration with homelessness first-hand Wednesday.
“Homelessness is not a municipal responsibility,” Mayor Nicole Read told MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton, as well as MP Randy Kamp’s executive-assistant, Mike Murray.
But it is something Maple Ridge is paying for on an ongoing basis, Read said. “This city has put a lot of money into bylaws and policing into dealing with the situation.”
Council had called a special meeting on the issue, to ask for help from the provincial and federal governments.
Read campaigned in last November’s election on ending homeless and formed a task force in January, only to have the issue worsen as a camp formed on Cliff Avenue in March.
While the homeowners along Cliff Avenue support the street people, “There is a massive amount of pressure on the city and Cliff Avenue,” Read said.
“But we have to move people off Cliff Avenue, because the camp is continuing to grow,” she added.
Maple Ridge wants the province to provide no- and low-barrier shelter immediately.
“They need places to stay, not the street.”
There are now about 32 tents lining the avenue behind the Salvation Army’s Caring Place on Lougheed Highway.
In March, when the camp formed, there were about half a dozen.
“This is a provincial issue so we shouldn’t be having to ask,” she told the three.
Maple Ridge has asked the provincial government to take over the costs of hiring four outreach workers after six months.
That’s costing Maple Ridge $160,000.
The city also wants Kamp to help Maple Ridge get grant money from the federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy.
Read said the city has secured between 40 and 50 rental supplements from B.C. Housing. Ten to 20 or those will be directed to Maple Ridge from Atira Women’s Resource Society, while about another 15 will go to help residents in Alouette Heights find market housing.
Alouette Heights, on Brown Avenue and 222nd Street, provides for supportive housing for a limited time as people move to market housing.
But Read said people have been living there since it opened instead of moving on.
Another 10 rental supplements are available for mental health cases.
Bing questioned the mayor’s approach. It’s the first time he’s had a request from the city on the issue, he added.
“This is a provincial issue, so we shouldn’t be having to ask,” Read said.
The city had a meeting where it rolled out its strategy and it’s been in the media.
“This is your area,” she told Bing.
“I just don’t feel I’ve been consulted,” he said.
“That’s strange,” countered Read.
The mayor said the growth of the camp was unexpected and came as the new council were developing its homeless task force, now called Maple Ridge Resilience Initiative.
Read said the issue has been in the media and that Bing was invited to the mayor’s update on the issue in May.
Bing didn’t attend.
Have you watched the meeting online, Read asked Bing, who said no.
“My question is, what conversations have you had with Rich Coleman [Minister Responsible for Housing] or anybody else?
Coun. Gordy Robson said the issue is costing the city money and residents are angry.
Robson said one possible solution would be buying half a dozen condos for the homeless in a strata building and have those units supervised. There are some condo buildings in Maple Ridge that still have vacant suites, he said.
“We are in crisis and I think we have to use the word,” said Coun. Kiersten Duncan. “We need help and we need it now.”
Bing, though, wanted more specifics about the actual requests so he could advocate for them.
“I just can’t do it on what I read in the newspapers.”
He thought the city would have had involved him right from the beginning of the homeless task force. He said the city has been trying to deal with it for months and now the city is asking the province.
“This is the impression you’re giving to the community – that you’re looking after it,” Bing said.
“It’s never been our responsibility to look after it,” said Read.
“We’re just a small city. We set out intent on tackling the problem … then the camp formed.”
The city wanted to disperse the half dozen people at first. “They banded together and [that] was a real clear message to us … we had to hit the ground with resources. We were strapped,” Read said.
Residents were angry.
“We’re talking dozens, and dozens and dozens of calls a day.”
Dalton noted that B.C. Housing paid for the capital and operating costs of Alouette Heights while the city donated the land.
Bing said homelessness is a complex issue and requires the efforts of all governments.
While the city’s four outreach workers are now on the ground, finding physical places for people to live is a time consuming process.
Pivot Legal Society has commended Maple Ridge for its handling of the issue.
Depending on the risks at the camp, the city may have to get a court injunction to clear Cliff Avenue.