As with the Quality Inn proposal, which the province withdrew, the opposition is organized and active on the Facebook Page Protecting Maple Ridge, which has more than 4,100 members.
John Szogi is active in that community, and said members are “totally against” the proposed new site at 21375 Lougheed Highway, backing onto Maple Ridge Cemetery and across from Ridge Meadows Hospital. He foresees increased crime in the area, needles left in community parks and overdose deaths if the shelter goes ahead.
“It almost seems they’re more upset now than they were with the Quality Inn thing,” he said, because the proposed site is nearby.
Dan Olson, a local resident who supports the new location, calls these opponents “fearmongerers” and would hate to see further delays to a facility needed in the community.
Szogi said the existing temporary shelter operation in downtown Maple Ridge has done nothing to instill confidence. Driving past it on Lougheed Highway near 222nd Street, he calls it a “frat house” atmosphere.
“The system in place is not working,” he said. “They’ve had a year to get these people assessed, and get them what they need.”
The Cliff Avenue homeless camp was cleared in October, and the temporary shelter, operated by RainCity Housing, opened then. Its operation has been extended until a more permanent location is settled.
Szogi said opponents are canvassing the neighbourhood where the new shelter is proposed to garner opposition. There is a petition circulating, and there will be another rally, like the one against the Quality Inn site. Their online petition had 393 members on Tuesday morning.
Szogi has had mental illness in his family and questions how a homeless person who is mentally ill can be dealt with in the same facilities as those who are drug addicted.
“To put them in a situation where they’re now with drug addicts … you’re allowing their illness to fester.”
He said the mentally ill should be dealt with in a hospital setting, while addicts are treated with supports already in place.
A theme with the Protecting Maple Ridge community, he added, is to see the legal system more involved, and those who commit crimes held acceptable for their actions.
Jodi Statham is also an active opponent of the proposed shelter, and lives in the neighbourhood where it would be located. She said the area already suffers its share of crime. She has had to teach her children about needles, and last summer her six-year-old son picked up a crack pipe in the park.
“We have had many people around here who don’t belong here. Our neighbours have had stuff stolen, another had his car broken into last night, then the night before we had police and the police dogs here around 5 a.m.,” said Statham.
“We already deal with enough around this location. I would have to buy a security camera to protect my home and I shouldn’t have to feel like that.”
She said a low-barrier shelter is not needed, and instead the focus should be on getting addicts into detox, drug treatment, then housing.
“Housing First doesn’t work for many, and unfortunately you can only help those who want help,” she said. “Having a shelter isn’t going to change the problem this town has, which is a drug problem.”
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce president Mike Morden said his organization was against the Quality Inn proposal after a poll showed 80 per cent of its members opposed it.
So far the chamber has received two complaints about the new site, but it seeking information about the proposal – including the model and the operator.
Whether drug use will be allowed in the facility is a key consideration for many people, he said.
“The members guide us,” said Morden. “It’s not lost on the membership that our community needs proper facilities.”
Chris Bossley established an online petition for supporters of the site at 21375 Lougheed Hwy.
“The temporary shelter located at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the homeless population in the community and the construction of a permanent shelter must commence as soon as possible in order to address those needs,” she wrote on change.org.
After five days, the petition had 118 supporters.
“There will never be a perfect location that satisfies everyone, but I think this is a good solution,” commented Debbie Kennedy. “We need something.”
The B.C. Housing proposal is quite different than the emergency shelter model that exists in Maple Ridge now, said Mayor Nicole Read.
“The purpose-built facility will provide a more integrated housing approach and stronger support framework,” she added. “Such facilities go a long way in providing support to our community’s most vulnerable people, while addressing some of the wider community’s desire to reduce crime and improve cleanliness and safety. The zoning process for the new facilities will provide ample opportunity for community feedback and we all look forward to that discussion.”
The first step in the rezoning process is a development information meeting that will be hosted by B.C. Housing, as the project proponent, and the City of Maple Ridge, as the land owner. The timing of that meeting is expected to be middle to late September.
At that meeting, B.C. Housing will lay out its proposal for an integrated housing solution that has 24-hour supervision and the supports to address mental health and addiction services.
“What we heard in the dialogue regarding the Quality Inn proposal is that there needs to be a strong health care support framework around any facility that operates in the community. The community also expressed concern around a transparent public process and the need for people to have their voice heard in the discussions,” said Read.
“Council agrees completely, and this is the very early stages of a community conversation that will take a few months. The province has offered to invest $15 million in Maple Ridge to help deal with an issue that has impacted our community for over a decade. It would be irresponsible to not fully explore this offer.”