NDP leader John Horgan came to Maple Ridge again on Thursday to talk about families and affordability, but ended up answering questions about housing and visiting a homeless camp.
He arrived at the campaign office of NDP candidates Lisa Beare (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) and Bob D’Eith (Maple Ridge-Mission) on Lougheed Highway in downtown Maple Ridge to music and much applause from supporters, those wearing orange pins and garments and holding up Horgan signs. His campaign bus was parked out front, bearing images of his face.
Just five days before the vote, it was Horgan’s fourth visit to the local ridings this campaign.
Three children stood at the forefront of a marker on the ground where Horgan was to stand in the campaign office, and were briefed on how to hold a microphone and talk into it.
The party, beforehand, said Horgan would discuss affordability, services and jobs.
But first he targeted Liberal leader Christy Clark.
“She’s been making two salaries doing one job, while I’ve been meeting people all over this province [who] are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet.”
Horgan said the NDP would change that, among other things.
“There’s little people everywhere. We are doing this for them, and we’re also doing it for the seniors [who] built this great province, who in the latter years shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of a 15-minute home care visit to get dressings changed, to get medications administered, to maybe have a bath, if there’s time.”
Horgan said the NDP would get rid of wait times at hospitals and clogged emergency rooms by creating emergent, urgent care centres – with nurse practitioners, social workers, counsellors, dietitians and family doctors in one location.
“We’re going to make sure that our kids and our seniors and everyone in between get the respect and dignity they deserve from their government.”
After his speech, as Horgan was greeting supporters, the NDP leader was approached by members of the Alliance Against Displacement, who set up a homeless camp in Maple Ridge earlier this week.
As they invited Horgan to visit the camp, located a block away from the campaign office, a woman behind him fainted.
Beare was among those who tended to her.
After ensuring the woman was okay, Horgan accepted the invitation to visit the camp. He grabbed an umbrella and walked and talked with members of the camp.
The camp is on 223rd Street, at St. Anne Avenue by the Haney Bypass, on land owned by the city, and is proposed for a park.
The property is fenced and dotted with similar yellow, grey and green tents. “Anita’s Place” is painted on a sheet hanging from the fence.
The camp is named after Anita Hauck, an advocate at the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue in Maple Ridge in 2015. She died that year at a mall in Pitt Meadows after getting stuck trying to retrieve items from a clothing donation bin.
“If you say it quickly, it sounds like, ‘I need a place,’” said camp organizer Tracy Scott.
Ivan Drury, with the Alliance Against Displacement, asked Horgan if the NDP would build social housing on the camp site?
“We can’t make a commitment to land that belongs to the city,” Horgan said.
Drury pointed out that the city bought land last year, along the highway and near the cemetery, for social housing, but the sight was rejected by incumbent Liberal MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton after a petition and protest.
Another proposal for a supportive housing complex and homeless shelter in Maple Ridge, at the Quality Inn, was also rejected by Bing and Dalton.
On Monday, a citizens’ committee appointed by them to find a suitable location for such a project announced that it has recommended a site, but it won’t be made public until after the election.
The homeless camp was erected the next day.
A temporary, low-barrier homeless shelter in downtown Maple Ridge, which open in fall 2015 to clear the Cliff Avenue camp, is to close at the end of May.
Its occupants are to be offered a place to sleep across the street at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, which is now considered low-barrier.
Bing and Dalton also announced, prior to the campaign, the formation of an intensive case management team, which is now helping temporary shelter residents find permanent housing in suites and apartments in and around Maple Ridge.
Camp organizers, however, expect to attract some shelter residents.
The city last year passed a bylaw allowing camping in city parks, between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. to comply with an October 2015 Supreme Court ruling that allowed homeless people to camp in Abbotsford.
Drury said the city wants social housing, as does B.C. Housing, but the latter backed out of previous proposals.
“I will make better choices than the B.C. Liberals,” Horgan said.
“We’ve committed to 114,000 units,” for social, not-for-profit, co-op, purchase and rental housing.
“I’m telling you, when we win the election, I will sit down with Nicole Read and council, I’m going to sit down with you and I’m going to figure it out.”
Horgan put a hand on Drury’s shoulder.
“I’m standing here,” he said. “Has Rich Coleman stood in front of you down here?”
“No,” said Drury.