Mayor Nicole Read will press on with reforming how homelessness is dealt with in Maple Ridge, despite the province’s continued support for the Salvation Army shelter.
“Our position remains unchanged,” she said.
“We’ve had boots on the ground. We know who’s in and out of housing and we’ve housed 77 people. Taxpayers in B.C. are paying more than a million dollars for the shelter and we don’t feel that it’s connecting people to housing.”
Council, in August, asked B.C. Housing to stop the funding the Salvation Army’s 25-bed emergency shelter, located in what’s now known as the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows, formerly the Caring Place, on 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway.
It has since cleared the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue and opened a temporary shelter on the highway in downtown Maple Ridge. It is set to close, though, at the end of March.
“We need to make sure all the tax dollars being spent in our city are working effectively,” Read said.
But the Salvation Army is “providing a much-needed and valued service to the community of Maple Ridge,” B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman said in a Dec. 22 letter to Maple Ridge council.
“We are pleased with and remain committed to this partnership.”
B.C. Housing pays $1 million yearly to the Salvation Army for the emergency shelter.
Read said there are gaps in the province’s data collection in tracking the homeless and disputes Coleman’s statement that the Salvation Army is meeting its obligations.
“So what does that even mean,” she asked.
“We need to have the province take this seriously. When we say … we think we can do more with the money … I expect a conversation, not a letter from Rich Coleman. That’s unacceptable, in my opinion.”
Council had earlier asked for a meeting, in addition to making the request to cut Salvation Army funding.
Read added that most, if not all of the 77 people housed through city efforts so far had been in and out of Salvation Army shelter, “over and over and over.”
Less money is being spent on street outreach and rental supplements than the million yearly going to the Salvation Army, she said.
The city budgeted $160,000 for four street outreach workers four six months, while B.C. Housing provided 70 more rental supplements in 2015 than previously.
With the province continuing to support the Salvation Army, Read said that Maple Ridge council will what discuss what happens next. She isn’t calling for a new permanent shelter for the homeless.
“People need to be connected to housing, not put in shelters.”
Coleman said a review of shelter programs throughout the province is underway.
Still, Read wants to know why the Salvation Army gets funding “year after year.”
She added if another homeless camp forms in Maple Ridge after the 40-bed temporary shelter closes in April, as happened on Cliff Avenue over the summer, it will be the province’s fault.
The city has said what it needs to reduce homelessness, and that includes pulling the funding of the Salvation Army shelter and using it for outreach or for permanent housing.
“We cannot continue to use city resources to deal with the situation when the province doesn’t listen to the solution we’re proposing.”
There won’t be “any lack of clarity surrounding who’s responsibility it will be,” if another camp appears.
“I’m absolutely done,” Read adder.
The majority of council’s position towards the Salvation Army shelter isn’t shared by Coun. Craig Speirs.
“You can’t be mean,” he said.
“You have to work with people, not against them. When you’re mean, it puts up a wall,” he said.
“When you’re saying you shouldn’t feed people, that gives a huge message. And it’s a very negative one.”
The City of Maple Ridge can’t control the province’s budget, Speirs pointed out.
“I think there’s a basic meanness that I have really despaired over with this council and I don’t think it’s a positive way to go forward.”
He was the only one of seven on council to vote against the letter to B.C. Housing.
“To send a letter like we sent was unconscionable.”
He said the Salvation Army does a lot and it’s not just about homeless people.
“I’m not a religious person, but thank goodness they’re there.”
Salvation Army headquarters spokeperson Patricia Cuff was happy for the support from Coleman.
“I guess the good news for the citizens of Maple Ridge is that the funding is continuing,” she said.
“We’re saying that we’re committed to remaining in this community. We’re delighted with that.”
The Salvation Army’s contract with B.C. Housing expires in March 2017.
Cuff said from January to October 2015, a total of 354 people accessed the Salvation Army’s emergency shelter in Maple Ridge. Of those, 65 per cent of those were placed into permanent housing, while 20 per cent went into drug treatment.