Shelter operation questioned

Spike in drug overdoses everywhere: says Mayor Nicole Read

Medical staff attend to a man at the city’s temporary homeless shelter last week.

He’s got a ton of questions about the Maple Ridge temporary shelter and few answers, at least so far.

After a lengthy chat with the shelter’s operators on Nov. 4, Matt Kelso wanted some specifics, such as how many overdoses have taken place at the shelter on Lougheed Highway since it opened at 22239 Lougheed Highway on Oct. 1. He’d also like to know how many have been moved on to permanent housing, how many have gone into rehab or detox programs and how many are changing their lives by looking for jobs or getting mental health help.

And what really are the rules on drug use inside shelter’s gates?

Kelso submitted dozens of questions and was recently told to pare them down to 20 and that he’ll be getting a reply shortly from Rain City Housing, which operates the shelter.

But right now, he’s questioning the operating method.

The shelter opened for six months in order to give those at the Cliff Avenue homeless camp a place to live. The camp was dispersed voluntarily shortly after the shelter opened.

Kelso says that, based on what he hears from his police radio scanner, there have been 100 overdoses at the shelter.

“There have been four overdoses in the last 24 hours, two overdoses within six minutes.”

The exact number of emergency calls to shelter hasn’t been provided yet by either Ridge Meadows RCMP or B.C. Emergency Health Services, nor could the overdoses be confirmed.

The shelter follows a harm-reduction model that tries to connect people to health services, and give them shelter.

“Abstinence is not a requirement for staying at the shelter, but is one of the many possible, positive outcomes that will occur for folks staying at the shelter,” according to a fact sheet from Rain City, which didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“I don’t see it as harm reduction when you have four overdoses [in 24 hours] and two in six minutes,” Kelso said, adding that people who overdose at the shelter shouldn’t be allowed to stay there and that people can’t just continue their habits.

“It’s like having an open bar at an Alcohol Anonymous meeting.

“If they’re going to use, they should use it outside the shelter walls. You can’t refuse help the whole time.”

Kelso said every day he drives by the shelter, emergency vehicles are parked outside.

That could mean an ambulance shortage somewhere else.

“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” Mayor Nicole Read said.

“So what does that mean … so somebody in the shelter deserves an ambulance less than somebody else in the community? I don’t think that would be our community’s position.

“We’re responding anyways. If that person was somewhere else in the community and had an overdose, we would be responding. We’re not simply responding because they’re at the shelter.”

Overdoses are happening everywhere, not just in the shelter, said Read. There’s a spike in overdoses caused by fentanyl.

“We were seeing it in the camp. They’re using no matter where they are.

“This is something we need to stare down. It’s happening in every community. This significantly addicted, street- entrenched population, it requires steady work and encouragement.”

The mayor said talks about a permanent shelter are a priority and the public will be involved at some point.

However, a new, permanent shelter will not be open by the time the temporary shelter closes April 1.

She added that there needs to be discharge plans in place so that people who come out of prisons and treatment centres don’t end up on city streets.

The city also wants to have an update discussion with B.C. Housing following Maple Ridge’s request for that agency to cut the $1 million yearly it gives the Salvation Army for its 25-bed emergency shelter at the Caring Place.

The contract doesn’t end until spring of 2017.

Kelso said he wants the issue discussed and supports a recently filed freedom of information request to the city about the shelter so that there can be an informed discussion as Maple Ridge considers a permanent shelter.

That should be arriving in a few weeks.

“What I really want is to get the facts now, as soon as possible, so that when there is a permanent shelter, we can decide which works better, the Salvation Army or this model.”

 

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