Plan in place for closing temporary Maple Ridge shelter

Every single person, in the shelter will have a plan, council told

They don’t want to go back to living outside.

According to the city’s social planning analyst, the 24 men and 16 women at the Maple Ridge temporary shelter, at 22239 Lougheed Highway, say they don’t want to go back to sleeping on the street or in the bush, when the facility closes March 31.

Shawn Matthewson explained the process for closing the temporary shelter to Maple Ridge council on Monday.

“Every single person, in the shelter will have a plan,” she told councillors.

Some will go to the new RainCity Housing shelter in Coquitlam, called the 3030 Gordon Project. Some will go to Alouette Heights supportive housing on Brown Avenue, while some will go into market rental housing, helped by rental supplements.

“What’s interesting to me is that every single person that’s in the shelter right now does not want to go back outside,” she told council.

Neither is anyone trying to get people to start another camp.

If the shelter closing plan works and the 40 people in the shelter are housed successfully, it would be an accomplishment for Maple Ridge, said Coun. Gordy Robson.

“This council has stuck out its neck out, especially the mayor, on this issue, and if this comes to be . . . and we actually are able to transfer those 40 back, I think it would be an incredible thing for the community.”

Since the shelter opened, 72 people have gone through the shelter, with 40 now remaining.

Of those 72, 68 have substance abuse issues and 30 have been diagnosed with mental health issues, council heard.

Fifty-five of the 72 had been tenting, and 60 of the 72 were from the Cliff Avenue homeless camp beside the Salvation Army.

But so far, 15 people in the shelter already have applied to go to RainCity’s shelter in Coquitlam, while six applied for a suite in Alouette Heights supportive housing.

“B.C. Housing is firmly committed. There will not be another camp forming,” she added.

Fraser Health, RainCity Housing, B.C. Housing, the Salvation Army, Alouette Addictions Services and the Alouette Home Start Society have all been developing an exit strategy and will work with shelter staff to figure out how to help people find places to live.

The process of closing the temporary shelter, which opened Oct. 1 to give Cliff Avenue campers a place to go and allow the dismantling of the camp, will start in a few weeks, when the shelter no longer takes new arrivals.

As each resident finds a home, the cot he or she had been sleeping on in the shelter will be removed, council heard.

From then on, it will be a matter of finding homes one by one for the people living there. RainCity Housing and B.C. Housing will handle the process, while Fraser Health will ramp up its detox and mental health services to make sure shelter residents are connected. RainCity has closed many similar shelters in Vancouver, in the same way, she explained in her report.

Matthewson said since the shelter opened, the emphasis has been to be pro-active, with good communication and to deal with issues as they arise, adding in her report that neighbours are reporting “minimal impacts.”

Matthewson said neighbours around the building, a former mattress store, were contacted and that a neighbourhood advisory committee was set up, which only now meets to discuss specific problems.

Since it opened, some people who’ve been living in the street or the bush for years have made their way into the shelter. One 26-year-old man had been living in the bush for 10 years and never had any help, until he showed up at the shelter, she pointed out.

The shelter is low barrier, meaning that people don’t have to be off drugs in order to stay at the shelter. They can also given regular meals and stay in the shelter all day, instead of being forced to go out and wander the streets during the daytime.

Many of residents in the shelter are young, with 12 people under the age of 25, with many of those seeing no hope or value in themselves.

But the only way to get people to value themselves is to get their trust, said Coun. Craig Speirs.

“It always amazes me when people think they can cure sick people with a stick.”

“I think that is the most satisfying part of it, and of course, the test is in April,” when the shelter closes.

The city has to be prepared for whatever happens after the shelter closes, he added.

Coun. Corisa Bell said she was nervous about what may happen in April and was worried that a street camp may reform.

Matthewson said those remaining in shelter are “among the hardest to house, such as those who hoard or collect items.

“It’s very difficult to treat.”

The shelter also has people with physical illnesses, such as Hep C, and HIV, and those with post traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s hard to be inside if you’ve experienced trauma indoors.”

Still, the number of emergency calls to the shelter is less than that from the Cliff Avenue camp during the six months it was open, she said.

Matthewson noted that in Abbotsford, the opening of winter shelter there has failed to see the removal of its campsite.

Council passed a resolution asking B.C. Housing to provide another outreach worker to help in the process of closing the shelter.