If anyone showed up at Maple Ridge Rally For Community Safety on Saturday wanting to vent their anger on people in the camp at Cliff Avenue, they were quickly informed.
No one is here to attack anyone, Jesse Stretch told the crowd. Take your pitchforks home.
Stretch was one of the organizers of the rally that began at Memorial Peace Park and ended outside the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue and 222nd Street.
“A lot of people think we’re anti-homeless, anti poverty,” said Brett Watts.
“We’re just pro community.”
What bothers a lot of people is that drug users and criminals are entrenching themselves into the camp, which has lined the street behind the Salvation Army Caring Place since the spring.
“So within that camp are groups of people that are really causing the problems. At some point, there has to be accountability.”
He lives in another area but says he’s concerned about the homeowners along Cliff Avenue who have put up with the camp for four months. A leaflet handed out during the gathering said they’re not against the poor or homeless, but against the pushers, thieves and junkies who leave their needles around.
About 75 people showed up for the rally, including former candidate for Maple Ridge council Grover Telford. Homelessness is a complicated issue and will take a long time to solve, he said adding he supports the Housing First model where people are given homes first, then helped with their problems.
But he wants the city to get an injunction to allow it to remove the camp.
“They have let it form and it’s proliferated into what it is now.” If the city spent a million dollars on a bike lane along Lougheed Highway near Laity Street, it could afford an injunction.
In addressing the crowd, Telford noted there no council members present. “Interesting, isn’t it?
“I’ve seen this town go downhill so fast, it’s unbelievable.”
The walk followed 224th Street to Lougheed Highway then down the Haney Bypass to the entrance to the camp.
Stretch, along with several Ridge Meadows RCMP, were there to ensure protesters didn’t enter the camp. “We are not going in there,” said another organizer Karen Leo.
RCMP have said earlier that they enforce the law at the camp as equally as anywhere else in the city.
“We’ll get our town back,” said Pam Banks as she walked along 224th Street.
“You betcha,” added barber Bob Williams as he watched the procession from the Stag Barbershop.
“I think it’s fantastic. It’s time something was done.
“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” said Williams who’s been cutting hair in Maple Ridge for 53 years.
“The ones that are over there they can’t get along with each other. They’re playing a game. We’re getting sucked into it and it shouldn’t happen,” he said.
Some people at the camp need the help but some are causing trouble.
“Political correctness has just gone too far.”
Rick and Venus LaPierre live nearby on North Avenue and saw drug activity on Monday night. “We just want the mayor to do something,” said Rick “She’s tried the soft-love approach.”
Stretch said the criminal element that hides beneath the guise of homelessness, needs to be addressed.
“We want them in shelter, we want them in treatment and we want them in jail, whever it needs to be, it needs to happen and it needs to happen now.
“We have to bring the community back to Maple Ridge.”
The provincial government, through BC Housing, has said it will pay for a temporary shelter so that people can be moved off the street.
Based on previous court decisions, the city cannot get an injunction to disband a camp unless there is a place for the homeless.
The province made the announcment on July 17 but there’s still no location for a shelter.
Coun. Craig Speirs said at the time that the city, within a month, should be able to find a building that it can lease. It has to be located near social services but not close to a residential area. The shelter may require capacity to house 100 people in basic accommodation, which may involve cubicle type residences.