Maple Ridge finally had a chance to hash out their feelings about homelessness, shelters and housing, Tuesday as the MLAs public hearing got underway.
MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton hosted the meeting on a $15-million homeless shelter and supportive housing complex proposed by BC Housing, after taking over the consultation role from the city last fall.
Many at the meeting in Maple Ridge Baptist Church didn’t like the idea of a low-barrier shelter where people can still use drugs but come in off the street, as the first step to healing.
“Mr. Bing, Mr. Dalton, would you live across the street in this neighbourhood? (downtown) Would you raise … your children here knowing that there’s needles, there’s drugs, houses being broken into and crimes being committed?” asked one questioner, who drew one of the loudest rounds of applause.
Another speaker, Terry Kennedy told the MLAs that he was representing the taxpayers.
“The people who pay the taxes in Maple Ridge are the majority.” Too much time is spent on the homeless or addicted, he said, adding he’d like politicians to be held accountable on the issue.
“There’s a lot of good taxpaying people here. That’s who we should be thinking about and to hell with the homeless.”
He later added that Mayor Nicole Read has allowed homelessness to escalate at an “alarming rate” and is now trying to save face on the issue. Kennedy said he isn’t worried so much about the homeless as the 75,000 people who pay property taxes, “that the City of Maple Ridge has done nothing for.”
He was one of several speakers who each had two minutes to tell the Liberal MLAs about the proposal to build a 60-unit, $15-million housing complex, somewhere in Maple Ridge.
Both MLAs rejected two previous locations, the Quality Inn as temporary shelter location, and the 21375 Lougheed Hwy., as a permanent site.
One former addict though argued for the opposite.
He was homeless for awhile and said, “We need to be more compassionate.”
The way to solve the problem is to house people first and then connect them with help, he added. “Get them housed, get them the resources … because that’s what helped me."
Mission teacher and former NDP candidate Scott Susin said poverty and homelessness is a provincial issue. Dalton has been office for eight years and since poverty and homelessness has become worse, Susin said.
"Let's actually do something about it," Susin said. "It's really upsetting that come an election … all of a sudden they decide to call a meeting."Dalton didn't attend any of the four meetings on homelessness the city hosted last fall, Susin pointed out.
Chamber of commerce president and former city councillor Mike Morden said the chamber appreciates the $15-million supportive housing complex, but wanted to ensure it has the proper health and detox treatment.
“We ask for a full suite of support services, otherwise improvement in people’s lives will be less likely."
Christine Bickle, whose Alouette Animal Hospital, would have been next to the shelter at 21375 Lougheed Hwy. She organized a 9,000-signature petition against the most recent location.
“I advocate for one shelter, not low barrier, operated by the Salvation Army, not by RainCity Housing, and a new location, not on Lougheed Highway … and of course, input from the people.”
Jeremy Welch wondered if Maple Ridge would survive if nothing changed. “I really do hope something does change because people are losing their lives and their livelihoods.”
He added later that homelessness increased at the time of the 2010 Winter Olympics when people were moved out of downtown Vancouver.
The MLAs will consider the comments then make a decision soon on what kind of shelter, if any, Maple Ridge will have. Bing said he’ll follow the same approach as when he was on Pitt Meadows council. “What is in the best interests of the community?”
The temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. is supposed to close on March 31.
Most of Maple Ridge council attended the meeting. “I thought it was an opportunity for people to have their voices heard,” said Mayor Nicole Read.
She said there was a good balance of opinions at the meeting. “I think we need supportive housing.”
She predicted that the MLAs will offer to create several “scattered” locations throughout Maple Ridge to house the 40 people who’ve stayed almost two years at the temporary homeless shelter.
But moving high-needs people into suburban areas could affect those neighbourhoods. The people in the shelter need 24-hour care, she added.