Friday’s announcement by MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton rejecting the latest location for a homeless shelter in Maple Ridge is merely stalling the issue until after the May provincial election, says the mayor.
The site at 21375 Lougheed Hwy. “has been deemed not suitable” for a shelter and supportive housing complex, said a Dec. 9 release from the ministry responsible for housing. It also said that the MLAs will hold a public meeting in late January so people can comment on a location for housing the homeless.
“Are they finding it or are they just pushing it off till the election?” Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read asked.
“To me, this is a big do-nothing plan, to get them past the election.”
B.C. Housing had planned to build a $15-million, 60-bed shelter and housing complex at 21375 Lougheed on land bought for that purpose by the city.
But many nearby residents opposed that location.
It’s the second location for a shelter and supportive housing complex that’s been rejected this year in the wake of public outcry, following B.C. Housing’s abandonment of converting the Quality Inn, a few blocks away, into a shelter.
Housing minister Rich Coleman said both MLAs were “instrumental” in ensuring other sites were looked at.
The MLAs also said that they’ll hold a meeting in January, when the public can talk about shelter locations.
Read questions whether either an interim site or a permanent one will be found in time to allow the closure of the temporary homeless shelter by the March 31 deadline.
However, the release says that its closure is a “priority.”
The temporary homeless shelter, at 22239 Lougheed Hwy., opened in fall 2015 after a voluntary clearing of the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue.
“What I know is that we have 40 people who are in that shelter still who need a place by March.”
These are people with addictions and mental health issues who can’t go into market housing, said Read.
“They need support. That was the whole purpose behind the supportive housing component of that facility.”
The province says that it will work with RainCity Housing to improve the operation of the shelter.
That could mean putting in a curfew, Read added.
“They’re not talking about changes that will help people in the shelter. I think what they’re talking about is changes that will make their election more palatable.”
A curfew was previously considered by council, but rejected it after advice to the contrary.
In September, Premier Christy Clark said that local MLAs have final say on a location for the supportive housing proposal.
“I’m really at a loss to figure out how they’re going to be able to find a location. What have they been doing this whole time?” Read asked.
Now, another location’s not even being discussed, she added.
Dalton, though, said he wants the temporary homeless shelter closed.
“What I’m pushing for and I think will happen, will be March 31. We’re pressing to get that place closed.”
There could be some wiggle room on the closure, but it’s not sliding by, he added.
He said there are a number of alternative locations being considered.
Dalton added that the MLAs are not trying to put off the issue until after the election.
“Not at all. We just want to get this right.”
He said people are supporting what he and Bing are doing.
“People have felt very frustrated that they haven’t been heard.”
The public forum in late January will help set the parameters of how a shelter can operate. He added that he’s not sure that a new homeless shelter needs to have as many as 60 beds or be a completely low barrier, such as allowing drug use on site.
“I personally think there does need to be some conditions.”
But he added later that he believes at looking at some of the barriers, noting the Salvation Army has removed some barriers such as allowing people to bring in their pets, or possessions for its 25-bed emergency shelter.
Dalton said downtown businesses have been hurt by the proximity of the temporary homeless shelter.
“There’s no doubt about it.”
RCMP, though, have said there’s been no local increase in crime stats since the shelter opened.