As Maple Ridge grapples with its homeless problem, trying to find accommodations for approximately 65 people in the Cliff Avenue camp and more throughout the city, neighbour Pitt Meadows deals with a much smaller number of street people.
Generally, they are referred to Maple Ridge or Coquitlam.
“I hear about it, and I see it,” Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker said of the homeless issue. “Our numbers are proportionate to our population.”
Pitt Meadows has a population of just 18,000, while Maple Ridge has 76,000, according to the 2011 census.
Becker points out that Pitt Meadows has no local supports for homeless people, and they are referred to Maple Ridge, where there are more services to assist them, including the Salvation Army Caring Place.
“We don’t have the facilities or services that draw the disadvantaged. It’s a different environment,” said Becker.
Unlike larger Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows City Hall has no “social planning bureaucracy,” and there are no provincial supports, said Becker.
When there are public complaints about a homeless person camping where they shouldn’t be, bylaw enforcement officer Lesley Elchuk goes to speak with them.
“We try to hook up people with the appropriate social services,” said Becker.
The Friends in Need Food Bank has a Pitt Meadows location, but its mandate is to provide food and necessities for low income families. Those who want to receive a monthly hamper must have proof of address, identification and proof of income in order to register. The food bank distributes approximately 750 hampers to households in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows each month.
But Clare Devlin at the Pitt Meadows food bank isn’t about to turn away anyone who is hungry, and she has four regular homeless clients.
“We let them come in and grab some bread and vegetables and whatever they can use without cooking,” she said.
Wanting to follow the rules, she asked one of the men for an address, so she could register him for a hamper.
“Number 1 Golden Ears Bridge,” he responded.
He shares his place under the bridge with other people.
“They’re sweet. Nice people. Very respectful,” said Devlin.
Another “regular” doesn’t come to the food bank, but Devlin will bring him water and something to eat.
“He walks up and down the street talking to himself, and arguing with himself.”
Devlin refers homeless people to the Caring Place in Maple Ridge
“If we had something like that, then we would get homeless people too,” she said.
Becker sees no solution for Maple Ridge.
“I admire Mayor [Nicole] Read and her council for grasping the nettle on this, in trying to thing globally and act locally,” said Becker. “I certainly don’t have advice or an answer for her.
“Perhaps they will come up with a template for local governments who are stepping into these provincial jurisdictions,” he said. “And they have to – these are our citizens.”