Jesse Stretch’s appearance has landed him a role as an outlaw biker on TV, but around Maple Ridge the Ridgilante is best known for his tough stance on homeless camps and shelters.
Stretch appeared on the television show DC Legends of Tomorrow, where his biker character came to a bad end when he tried to mug Mr. Darhk. He has also played a viking warrior in Once Upon a Time, and other roles.
Besides acting, the long-haired, bearded Stretch is a mechanic and owner of Golden Ears Auto Service. He is also a founding member of the Ridgilantes, a group of concerned citizens, specifically about homelessness and addiction.
Stretch was at city hall on Saturday with members of his group, watching the homeless demonstration and march from city hall to Maple Ridge’s new homeless camp. A verbal confrontation occurred between members of his group and homeless marchers. It was caught by television news cameras, and characterized as “pitting those with a fixed address against others without one.”
Stretch, who remained at a distance and calm throughout, said the Ridgilantes are getting a bad rap – tarred with the same brush as the Facebook Page Protecting Maple Ridge, which is known for violent messages and posting photos and videos of homeless people that cast them in a poor light.
That said, Stretch believes there are a lot of good people involved in the Protecting Maple Ridge group, and said he would not hesitate to join with them for future public rallies or other work.
The Ridgilantes got its start during the Cliff Avenue homeless camp.
“With the camp growing larger and wilder daily, a few members of the group decided that something greater than complaining on social media was in order. So we all started to meet and discuss what could be done,” he said.
They were accused of being vigilantes, so he cracked a joke about them being ‘Ridgilantes,’ and the moniker stuck. But he maintains they have not been vigilante in meting out their own brand of justice, just in trying to find solutions that have eluded government.
Stretch is well known for picking up discarded needles in the city in recent years, and this week the back of his truck contained about 3,500 of them, he said – about six months worth of collecting.
They donate their time to the Christmas festival, and fundraise for the Salvtion Army’s school meals program. They cleared ice for a boy to be able to get his wheelchair to school. When an elderly couple visiting for their son’s wedding had all their belongings stolen from their car, they and Protecting Maple Ridge fundraised, and within 24 hours presented them “a substantial amount” of money.
Stretch and his fellow Ridgilantes have been doing research into how other B.C. communities are tackling homelessness and addiction. They produced a report with a number of recommendations, and sat down with three city council members to discuss it.
The report reads, in part: “… we have watched far too many street entrenched people overdose at the temorary shelter operated by Rain City Housing. Tent City was dismantled … or was it? It appears that we just put a fence around it and provided an outlet where drugs are used and sold freely, stolen goods could be processed for resale, and a record number of overdoses could take place on a daily basis.”
The Ridgilantes found restorative justice was successful in Fort St. John, and the service was delivered by the Salvation Army there. Offenders meet with their victims, an RCMP officer, one of the service providers and a member of the community. The offender imposes their own sentence, and it is generally more severe than what courts would impose.
“It brings a sense of responsibility and accountability,” said Stretch.
Maple Ridge has restorative justice for youth, and the local Salvation Army has two people trained in how to deliver an adult program like the one suggested. What’s more, representatives from Fort St. John were willing to come to Maple Ridge to help get the program up and running here.
Stretch and his group met several times with former Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. David Fleugel, who he said encouraged their research and initiatives.
So far, they have not received a response from city council about their work.
Former councillor and mayoral candidate Mike Morden is a contributor to the Concerned Citizens of Maple Ridge.
“We have a lot of common goals,” Stretch said of Morden, president of the Chamber of Commerce serving Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
Stretch said he has no political aspirations, although he was present and sat beside Morden when then MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton made a host of funding announcements regarding homelessness prior to the provincial election.
He was also present, along with Morden and followed Premier Christy Clark at the Ridge Meadows Home Show, just two days before the May 9 vote.
Stretch and his Rigilantes organized a rally last year against supportive housing and shelter beds at the Quality Inn, an event at which both he and Morden spoke, along with former city councillors Judy Dueck and Cheryl Ashlie. The latter was then the constituency assistant for Bing and spoke on his behalf.
Bing and Dalton later rejected the shelter location, along with a second location on land bought by the city near the cemetery.
Morden said he is on the Concerned Citizens page for community engagement, and agrees it is not a hate group. He said some are “suggesting that the Ridgilantes are vigilantes, and that is so far from the truth.”
At the core, he said they are people frustrated by crime in their community, and the way it is being handled.
Working with the Ridgilantes, takes time away from family, and Stretch isn’t winning any popularity contests.
“I’ve got my share of haters,” he said.
“A friend asked me ‘Why are you doing this?’ I don’t know why. It just seems like the right thing to do.”