The proposed site is located along Lougheed Highway near Laity Street.

The proposed site is located along Lougheed Highway near Laity Street.

New Maple Ridge shelter site ‘not perfect’

Property on Lougheed Highway near Laity Street.

The proposed site for a new homeless shelter in Maple Ridge has been identified as 21375 Lougheed Highway.

The site is on the north side of the Lougheed Highway, just west of Alouette Animal Hospital, backing on to Maple Ridge Cemetery.

“It’s not too badly located – it’s out of the downtown, which everyone says they want,” said Coun. Craig Speirs.

He said the cemetery provides a buffer zone for residential neighbourhoods in the area, and it is still a short walk to the downtown.

Coun. Bob Masse said it is the best option council has, and clarified that B.C. Housing also had a say in choosing the site.

There are advantages in that the site is close to the hospital in case residents need medical care, and although it removes residents away from other services, there are probably advantages to the shelter being out of “the immediate downtown,” he said.

“There is no perfect location, for sure,” said Masse.

He said council will now seek clarity on exactly what the proposed facility will be, working with B.C. Housing, and then engage the public.

“I would say lessons were learned in the first go-round,” Masse said. “We are not at the end of the process here.”

The first go-around, in March, involved purchasing the Quality Inn site, which is also on the north side of the highway, about half a kilometer closer to the downtown than the new location.

A public rally was held to oppose the hotel site, and the province backed away.

B.C. Housing has committed $15 million for the construction and operation of a purpose-built housing facility in Maple Ridge.

The city must provide the land. The new site cost the city just over $1 million.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing won’t endorse the new site until he hears what the community has to say.

“We really need to get the public involved, and get their feedback on this issue. That was the problem with the Quality Inn – was that the public wasn’t consulted,” said Bing. “This is really the beginning of the conversation, and certainly it’s not fixed in stone or decided.”

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton said the public reaction over the Quality Inn was compelling.

“I’ve never in the years I’ve been elected, seven years, seen the public outcry on an issue like I heard, both of heard, on the Quality Inn.”

Both MLAs told Rich Coleman they felt it was not a good site.

The MLAs agreed the proposed site is the right size, in the right location, and has other attributes that could make it suitable.

“There’s no perfect site, and there are those in the community who are going to oppose any kind of shelter, and I don’t agree with them,” said Speirs.

“We want to be able to manage people when they become homeless, so they don’t become street entrenched,” he added.

“I don’t blame people for being a little upset, but we’ve got to have a solution. There’s no going back. Saying, ‘This isn’t a shelter community’ is ignoring facts.”

The purpose-built shelter is a long way off, but Masse said council will be looking at a modular facility to serve as an interim facility. Council is considering an industrial drop camp used by logging companies or in the Alberta oil fields.

“They are good, high quality buildings,” he said. “And we can get that done in a relatively short term.”

Once the interim facility is opened, the existing shelter just east of 222nd Street will be close.

Speirs, first elected to council in 1999, feels the city is finally coming to grips with homelessness.

“This is the first council that’s really faced it head-on. I’ve got to hand it to council. And it has been divisive,” he said.

“It’s coming to a head, and that’s because there’s a lot more folks at risk of being homeless than ever before.”