Politics needs to get out of way of addressing poverty, which should be faced the same way that a medical issue is faced, MPs were told Friday.
A parliamentary committee hearing about to prevent poverty stopped to hear local views at the Arts Centre Theatre in downtown Maple Ridge.
If experts come up with a solution for addressing a medical need, such as cancer, no one argues, Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read told the committee.
So homelessness or mental illness should be approached the same way.
Read cited the ongoing controversy over B.C. Housing’s proposed $15-million homeless shelter and supportive housing complex for Maple Ridge.
B.C. Housing says that the 40 people now in the temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy., need 24-hour care in a group setting, but then the community rejects that and the government follows suit and says, “No more congregate care.
“How can that happen when we, as Canadians, have signed human rights treaties to say that we’ll make sure that our vulnerable people will be housed?”
Liberal MLAs Marc Dalton and Doug Bing last year rejected both a temporary shelter and permanent shelter that would have allowed the closing of the temporary homeless shelter.
The MLAs have taken over the consultation process and announced Friday that in March, 30 of the 40 people in the shelter will be moved to the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries across the street.
The federal government should ensure that federal money addressing homelessness is spent as intended by the provinces, Read added.
“We have to take care of people with mental health issues.”
There’s not enough help for people with mental illness, she said.
“When I had a tent city on a residential street, I had to scream in the media. I had to bring in the opposition. It’s just wrong.”
MP Anju Dhillon asked if that strategy worked.
Read said that going to the media is effective.
She said she understands there are three levels of government deciding how money is spent.
“The reality is, our Canadian values trump politics. For me, my re-election matters not when there are people in a shelter sleeping next to each other,” with no privacy or dignity.
William Storey, an administrator with the Township of Langley, told the panel that Langley has adopted an “age friendly” strategy to allow people to age in place and to have accessible homes so they don’t have to move.
And three years ago, the city legalized secondary suites, with the result that today there are 6,000 such suites that meet building code and safety requirements in Langley.
“That’s just one more form of allowing people to find suitable residency at a fair and marketable price.”
Langley, as does Maple Ridge, requires developers to follow certain steps to make it easier for tenants to relocate, any time a mobile home park is sold for redevelopment.
A recent development in Langley will all be rental suites and several purpose-built housing complexes have recently been built, while 120 affordable seniors housing is also underway.
Partnerships are key, Storey said.
“If all governments work together, it should be a no-brainer,” said Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge Dan Ruimy.
Ruimy is on the committee and brought it to Maple Ridge, followed by a tour of the shelter later that day.
Read, who’s co-chair of Metro Vancouver’s task force on homelessness, said there are “significant gaps in the housing continuim. We need housing. We need it built yesterday.”
Affordable housing is needed for seniors, and three-bedroom apartments are needed for families.
“We also want to see incentives for the market to be able to build rentals.”
However, rental rates are going up every year, but income assistance rates remain unchanged, making it harder for people to afford places to live.
The average monthly rent in Maple Ridge is $900 for a one-bedroom basement suite. Meanwhile, the income assistance shelter allowance is $375 a month and the periods for rental supplements are not long enough.
Read said 60,000 people in Metro Vancouver spend more than half their income on housing, while 65,000 people were on income assistance in 2016. She expects more than 4,000 people will be reported as homeless following the count this spring.
“At the end of the day, we’re seeing a massive increase in the number of entrenched chronically ill, street people.”
Meanwhile, many kids remain in government care.
“We have so many children in our school system who are struggling, everyday.”
Then they struggle in their teens and end up homeless, she added.
Read wants the federal government to implement mental health standards.
Vicki Kipps, with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services, told the committee about Maple Ridge’s Youth Wellness Centre, which in a few months, on a small budget, has seen 120 kids with mild to moderate mental health issues.
The formal name is the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills, and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. It will provide feedback on developing national poverty reduction strategy.
SFU professor Stephen Elliott-Buckley, said poverty can be addressed by looking at all policy areas to ensure they’re not inadvertently adding to the problem.