Neighbours live with 3030 shelter; can Maple Ridge?

Most businesses not happy with new building that opened a year ago

Sandy Burpee has been an advocate for the shelter as the co-chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group

The surveillance camera shows two women walking down the sidewalk, talking, when suddenly one woman pushes the other into a hedge and starts punching her. Soon a young man shows up and grabs the aggressor. He hits her in the face with his fist, hard, four times.

It’s the kind of incident that makes neighbours of 3030 Gordon Avenue say the area has gone downhill since the homeless housing project opened almost a year ago.

A similar facility has been proposed for a property along Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge, near the cemetery, and has raised similar concerns.

John Sinkie’s cameras at the garage across the street from the homeless facility on Westwood Street in Coquitlam depict such concerns.

Two young men square off in the street and fight.

In another, Sinkie drives into his lot in a customer’s SUV, and a person on a bike swerves into the vehicle and breaks off the sideview mirror, then stops briefly.

“He’s swearing at me,” Sinkie explains.

Then the man rides off.

A woman drops her pants and defecates on his property.

A woman plucks a plant out of his flower pot and walks off with it. Another woman, on a different occasion, grabs a bunch of flowers out of a planter and throws them on the pavement.

A man walking, spastic and out of control, falls and hits his head. He is seriously injured, and ambulances arrive.

When 3030 Gordon opened, the number of homeless people on his street increased dramatically, Sinkie said. He feared what it would mean for his business.

“I was stressed to the max.”

He estimates that business has dropped off by $85,000 so far this year.

“It’s down quite substantially.”

Sinkie has tried to be a good neighbour, and hired one of the 3030 Gordon residents to wash and detail cars.

“I think he’s back living at the river again,” he said.

Else Jespersen is the manager of Early Learning Child Care, just down the street from the housing facility. Often she takes the kids to nearby Fox Park, only to find there are needles or feces there, and she takes the right back inside. She wants changes.

“It started with me finding needles everywhere, and crack pipes, and there’s poo everywhere, and vomit.” she said.

Jespersen doesn’t want the kids to see people drinking or using drugs. One day a naked woman was diverting traffic, right in front of the store.

The issue hits home for Jespersen, because she also lives in the area, and it no longer feels safe to her.

“This is my neighbourhood. I’m scared to walk around here. I used to walk around here all the time.”

There are now more businesses with bars on the windows, and cars have been broken into. She had her car window smashed. She has come across places in the parks where there are hundreds of used needles, she said.

Jespersen agrees there had been a homeless camp at the site of 3030 Gordon, but it didn’t bring the problems the neighbourhood has now.

“There was a little bit, but it was nothing like this. A bunch of new faces showed up.”

Moe Jabbari of Uncle Moe’s Donair shop said he doesn’t like his wife working alone in the restaurant anymore.

“The feeling is not safe,” he said, but added that the homeless facility is “not a big problem.”

At the nearby Pizza Factory, Shahab Ardestani said a resident came into his shop for a slice, allegedly stole something from a customer, and the result was a fight in his store between these customers, and police had to attend.

“Honestly, it’s a disaster for the neighbourhood,” he said.

He has had two break-ins in the past year. If the tip jar is left on the counter, it disappears.

Ernie Caithcart has lived in a house across the road from the 3030 site for 30 years. Nothing has been stolen from him.

“You tend to find out who they are, and talk to them person to person – that’s what I do,” he said. “Some you don’t want to know. Some in there are trying to better themselves.

“All in all, they kind of keep to their own.”

Caleb MacMillan at Vapology said the 3030 building does not look bad, and he has not encountered problems in the area. MacMillan read about a man who has converted his trailer into a portable barbershop, in which he offers haircuts and showers to homeless people.

“If we saw more of that, it could start a movement to help people, and not just put up a building,” he said.

Sinkie said local politicians have heard his concerns, and the RainCity staff that runs the shelter are responsive when he complains.

“The shelter is doing a fairly good job,” Sinkie said. “But we’ve had our bumps.”

Sandy Burpee has been an advocate for the shelter as the co-chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group. He is a volunteer with the non-partisan group.

“It’s important to me that it achieves its promise,” he said.

It is critical to have an operator that is responsive to public complaints.

“They need to treat complaints without defensiveness and immediately,” he said. “And RainCity fits that bill.”

Bill Briscall, with RainCity, which runs the temporary homeless shelter in downtown Maple Ridge, said that from the facility’s opening in December through its first four months there were 32 complaints. He said more than half related to the activities of two individuals, and “both are now getting service elsewhere.”

He said common complaints are about needles, garbage and behaviour – such as people walking in traffic.

“There are impacts, there are complaints, and they’re dealt with,” said Burpee.

Burpee retired from B.C. Hydro in 2004, and soon after became passionate about helping the homeless.

“I find it tragic someone could be living on the street unconnected, without family and friends. I find it very tragic.”

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