Two of Maple Ridge’s mayoralty candidates agreed on one point Monday night at the Salvation Army’s Caring Place: Ernie Daykin is a nice guy.
The present mayor is one of the “kindest, most generous men that I’ve known,” said Gary Cleave.
Nicole Read agreed.
“Ernie has a lot of heart. I have a lot of respect for him,” she said as the mayor’s debate on poverty and homelessness wrapped up in a crowded cafeteria.
Despite the praise, however, four candidates still want to unseat him in the Nov. 15 civic election.
“I think it’s time for someone with a little harder edge who can keep council corralled and going in the right direction,” said Cleave.
“You can make tough decisions and do it in a respectful and kind-hearted way,” he said. “Maple Ridge needs a mayor with experience.”
The softer tone at the end of the meeting contrasted with a tougher tone from Mike Morden at the start. He blamed for the mayor for what he said is a deteriorating downtown.
Crime in the downtown is up 10 per cent the past year, Morden said.
Ridge Meadows RCMP confirmed that calls for service in the downtown have increased by that amount, although that doesn’t mean there’s more crime. However, one category that’s jumped by 59 per cent from last year is calls to police regarding unwanted people hanging around in the downtown.
“Four more years of Ernie is four more years of the same,” Morden said. “Rising crime, rising homelessness, rising poverty. We can’t afford it.”
He said the lack of municipal experience in the other candidates – Gary Cleave, Nicole Read and Graham Mowatt – shows in the promises they make.
“Look at what inexperience has done in neighbouring communities,” he said, mentioning the dumping of manure on a homeless camp in Abbotsford in 2013.
Read said she could lead the city for the next four years because she has experience lobbying with senior governments, managing large projects and teams, and is an expert in freedom of information legislation.
While the five candidates reviewed the platforms and discussed drug addiction and crime, Anita Hauck said attention needs to focus on the high cost of housing, noting the shelter allowance is $375 (for employable single people), while one-bedroom suites rent for $1,000 in Maple Ridge.
“Now, the last time I checked, this wasn’t the West End,” she added.
John McKenzie, on Maple Ridge’s social planning advisory committee, wanted to know how Daykin would provide affordable housing.
Daykin cited work on Vancouver Island, where the regional and local government joined with the health authority and non-profit housing society to create 156 affordable homes.
“It takes a lot of work, but it can be done by willing partners, and I think we can do that in Maple Ridge.”
However, while new initiatives lead to homes, others are being abandoned. The federal rental subsidy ends next August for Haney Pioneer Village and Rene Spakowsky fears she may become homeless when that happens.
Changes to federal funding also threaten to close the Iron Horse Youth Safe House next year and council candidate Kiersten Duncan wanted to know what Daykin had done to keep it open.
The mayor said he’s asked around to several agencies and has been rejected.
“I can’t give you a definite answer. It’s frustrating has heck.”
Mowatt said if he’s elected mayor, that he’d relocate the Caring Place away from its current location at the entrance to downtown Maple Ridge on 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway.
The Caring Place does “an incredible job,” but moving it somewhere else would allow the downtown to “blossom,” he said.
So far, no one has asked the Caring Place if it would consider moving, he added.
That’s not true, said Darrell Pilgrim, director with The Caring Place.
A new location could be considered if the Salvation Army headquarters agreed and if a suitable location was found and the Army still could offer the same level of services and the same accessibility.
Pilgrim confirmed that the high cost of housing was the single largest cause of homelessness.
“That is the ultimate answer. That is what we are lacking most in our community.”
Morden said his plan is to take an inventory of the housing and social needs in the downtown, then present them to the provincial government and ask for help.
“The relationships I have formed with people in the senior governments will ensure I am listened to.”
Read challenged that.
“It sounds like Mike Morden has a plan, but I haven’t seen that in six years and that concerns me,” she said.
“I think we have a drug epidemic in our community.”
According to Metro Vancouver’s homeless count done in March this year, 84 people were homeless in Maple Ridge, a decrease of 38 per cent from three years prior.