This week, Maple Ridge starts its plans to dismantle the Cliff Avenue homeless camp as four new outreach workers get on scene, but people shouldn’t expect overnight successes.
It’s a complicated issue, says Coun. Bob Masse, one of the three councillors on the mayor’s task force on homelessness, now called the Maple Ridge Resilience Initiative.
“It’s not that predictable. It’s not that simple. You take an action that the experts tell us is going to work and you see what the result is.” Then you modify whatever is necessary, in a trial-and-error process.
“We’re going to keep doing the right things but I’m not optimistic that it’s easy.” It’s going take more than a few weeks, he added.
Masse said housing and accommodation is being found for the residents on a piecemeal basis through non-profit groups and BC Housing.
“It (finding housing) is the biggest challenge absolutely, no question.
“The biggest challenge is finding housing. It’s looking at all the options.”
In a letter to camp residents last week and posted on the city’s Facebook page The Maple Ridge Resilience Initiative, the city said camp residents are facing big decisions.
“We understand that you may have made friends and created relationships among the people in the camp.
“Your decision to seek treatment will take you away from these people, but we want you to know that the people that will be there to help you on your journey to a life off the streets will treat you with dignity, understanding and compassion.
“The city is reaching out with a helping hand. We are investing in your future. We are investing in our community.”
The delivery of the letters coincides with the arrival of four outreach workers recently hired by the city to address the issue.
Coun. Gordy Robson is hoping the efforts work. “I’m sure hoping so.”
He said council completely supports Mayor Nicole Read’s attempt at finding a long-term, sustainable solution. “She wants to do it the right way and we’re supporting her 100 per cent.”
As of Tuesday, most of the Cliff Avenue camp was still intact. Meanwhile, five or six tents had already popped up in front of Eric Langton elementary on Edge Street, the day before.
Bylaws and police however asked those campers to move and the tents were removed from the area near the school.
In a letter that was sent to homeowners along Cliff Avenue, Read praised homeowners for being patient and understanding.
Read though said the city is leading in dealing with the issue that is a responsibility of the senior government.
“We will offer the people the assistance they need with compassion and dignity. We will be persistent and fair.
“The offer of alternate shelter will make it unacceptable for people to choose to remain on Cliff Avenue and the camp will need to be removed.” It won’t be allowed back, she added.
Read said the service model for housing in Maple Ridge “is broken, and it has been for some time.”
She said she knows that homeowners are tired about the blaming going on about who should fix the problem.
“So are we. The talk has ended, the plan to deal with this situation is now being implemented.”
Tracy Scott was one of the homeless campers who had packed up and left Cliff Avenue on Monday and set up in the abandoned lot on Edge Street, directly across the street from Eric Langton elementary.
Scott said she and others left as tensions mounted and the threat of violence mounted.
“Yesterday, two people walked through the camp and they threatened to put gasoline on our tents,” claimed an emotional Scott as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Scott also alleges a member of the Cliff Avenue camp was assaulted by a nearby resident with the purpose of sending a message to the homeless.
As bylaw officers spoke with the gathering campers on Edge Street, moving them out of the area, Scott said they chose the area because they’ve no other real option. She said the spot provided plenty of shade for the campers and a buffer from the neighbours on either side.
“We came here because, yeah, me know there’s a school, but school’s out in a week. We’re in behind the tree line. We’re back behind the trees so we’re not bothering them,” she said.
Scott said she feels Mayor Read is partially to blame for creating the tensions that have arisen between neighbours and the homeless camp along Cliff Avenue.
“She hasn’t come back to us with a place. All we ask for is a piece of land to sit on until we find a resolution, and she hasn’t done that.”
However, the city said there are too many legal and financial issues in operating a camp for the homeless.
Scott said she had hoped the new location on Edge Street would have alleviated some of the angst. She said the city was more than happy to chain-link off some of their old gathering spots, like the abandoned lot on the Lougheed Highway between the Haney Hotel and the Chevron gas station.
“What she did was, she herded us to Cliff Avenue. Everywhere we went, she chain-linked it off. But they didn’t do a thing about the camp on Cliff Avenue,” said Scott. “We’re trying to stay, within reason, out of view and yet we’re still getting harassed. All we’ve asked is gives a piece of land we can sit on, that we’re not bothering anyone and their not bother us, until you find a solution. Help us find a solution.”