The modular housing on Royal Crescent. (THE NEWS/files)

Six-month anniversary of Royal Crescent homeless housing

Same operator will also run Maple Ridge’s newest site on Burnett Street

In the first six months since the Royal Crescent modular housing complex opened to 53 homeless people in Maple Ridge, four have moved on to permanent accommodations, while two passed away.

An average of 28 people per month are working on recovery goals, according to the operator.

But as for how the neighbourhood is faring, opinions vary.

Darrell Burnham, the CEO of facility operator Coast Mental Health, emphasizes the two people who passed away did not die from overdoses.

One was a cancer patient, who left the Royal Crescent site and died in palliative care.

The other deceased person had heart disease and other underlying health problems.

Burnham noted the homeless population can be negligent with health concerns, and untreated issues result in higher mortality rates than the general population.

“Frankly, they probably didn’t thrive in the [Anita Place] camp,” he said.

Burnham said the impacts on the neighbourhood have been minimal, but the closing of the Anita Place Tent City created a crisis for some.

People from the nearby homeless camp were asking for shelter from friends in the modular housing. Royal Crescent residents are allowed guests on a limited basis, but staff have had to ensure people were not staying at the site on an ongoing basis.

There are also people who have been banned from the building.

There were situations where homeless people outside yelled for friends staying in the modular units, disrupting neighbours.

“I think folks are pretty desperate since the camp closed, then re-opened with a pretty tight door,” said Burnham.

He characterized the first six months at the modular site as having been “relatively smooth.” More than half of residents have clearly stated recovery goals and are working with staff on those.

“For all the concern about it, they have settled in nicely.”

He noted the site has a community advisory committee made up of local people, including representatives from the Maple Ridge Fire Department, RCMP, Fraser Health, the city and other groups.

The advisory committee’s goal is to build and maintain a positive relationship between Royal Crescent and the neighbourhood. But there are differing reports about that relationship from committee members.

Christian Cowley, with the CEED Centre Society – located beside Anita Place on 223rd Street – said neighbourhood impacts have been minimal.

“It’s going very well, considering it’s a new facility near two seniors apartments,” said Cowley.

“Problems encountered have been very limited.”

Cowley noted that, in particular, two young people – albeit over 19 – at Royal Crescent are thriving with new-found stability in their lives, and with more confidence and dignity, being able to shower and clean up on a daily basis.

“It’s a pretty normal neighbourhood, with an extraordinary record of looking after people,” said Cowley.

However, committee member Jesse Stretch, with the Concerned Citizens of Maple Ridge, said he gets between eight and 10 calls per week from neighbours with complaints about Royal Crescent.

He will present a journal from a local business listing disturbing occurrences in the neighbourhood to a meeting this week.

He said most of the complaints he hears are people openly shooting up and using drugs, or open drug dealing, and there are others.

Both committee members are impressed and satisfied with Coast Mental Health, which will also operate the new modular housing on Burnett Avenue.

“Of all the service providers I’ve encountered, they do a pretty good job,” said Stretch.

But he would rather see an operator such as the Hope For Freedom Society, which combines drug treatment programs at the same time as housing.

Stretch said moving just four people to permanent housing in six months doesn’t cut it.

“That is a huge disappointment,” he added. “Especially if this place is to be temporary – how are you going to move all those people on if you’ve only got three years?”

Coast’s approach is to allow residents to set their own goals. That can range from addiction treatment, better health, education or reunification with family, explained Burnham.

“It’s their goals, not our goals,” said Burnham.

He noted a psychiatric nurse attended Royal Crescent and signed people up for clinical counselling for mental-health-related issues through Fraser Health.

Cowley said six months is “very fast” for people to be leaving the facility, given that many homeless people are dealing with trauma from their lives that put them on the streets in the first place.

Coast also has a clean team that does on-site outdoor maintenance and neighbourhood cleanup.

Coast operates the Alouette Heights housing on Brown Avenue in Maple Ridge, and has been chosen to operate the new modular housing on Burnett Street.

“We’re thrilled. We think there will be some synergy between the three buildings,” said Burnham. ”There is an opportunity to almost end visible homelessness in the city.”

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