Social services report IDs needs in Maple Ridge

Cites lack of belief in Housing First strategy.

Banning camping for people with nowhere to go is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

People still aren’t buying the Housing First idea, that if you give street people a place to live and something to eat, they can start dealing with other problems, such as drug use or mental health.

The principle on which the Housing First model is built remains a tough sell with the public.

That’s still “a huge challenge for people,” Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse said at Monday’s council meeting. “The average person, they haven’t bought into the Housing First, harm-reduction, that a person can continue to be in active addiction …  that this is going to work.”

Masse, too has his doubts about the approach that emphasizes provision of homes as the first step to helping people, as council pored over the Maple Ridge Social Services Delivery Research Report.

Masse still favours the four-pillar approach of harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement, combined with a mix of Housing First policies.

The draft report, prepared over the last year by the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., surveyed 26 social agencies in Maple Ridge, such as Canadian Mental Health, RainCity Housing, or Family Education and Support Centre, and asked about housing, mental health and substance use services in Maple Ridge.

It found that of the 22 groups that answered a question about the adequacy of housing in Maple Ridge for homeless people, 15 of those agencies said it was inadequate.

The groups also said that all types of housing was needed, from supportive (supervised) housing, to low-barrier housing, rental housing, women’s shelters, transitional housing, to subsidized housing for those on disability.

Its author, Scott Graham, left no doubt what’s caused the current levels of homelessness in Canada.

It’s just a fact of life that some people will need social housing, just as some people need a level of medical care, he told council.

And just as if the government withdrew a medical service, when it withdraws housing, there’s an impact.

Today, community groups are trying to cope with the result of several decades of inaction by senior governments, he added.

Graham cited a University of Toronto study by Greg Suttor, “Canadian Social Housing and History,” in which the issue is explained.

One part of the Social Services Delivery Research Report mentions a pilot program called Vancouver At Home, which researched five approaches for dealing with homelessness. It found that providing Housing First cost an average of $28,862 a year for high-needs individuals.

It also said that there was a $24,000 savings to the public when visits to shelters, emergency departments and psychiatric wards were considered. The program was adopted everywhere but B.C.

“Regrettably, we have senior levels of government that believe in “evidence-free” policy, Graham said.

“We’ve seen the opposite, for reasons I couldn’t venture to explain.”

Mayor Nicole Read said that Maple Ridge has been missing out on funding for a long time. And while housing is a provincial responsibility, cities are taking on the tasks.

Maple Ridge’s response to homelessness has now brought in provincial money, she added. B.C. Housing is providing Maple Ridge with $15 million to build a permanent housing complex.

The report made many recommendations, some of which suggested that Maple Ridge should consider a centralized approach to housing; that mental health and addiction services share the same location; create a public education program around homelessness and mental health; create a “sobering centre” as well as creating a detox centre, focused on youth.

Masse said all cities have to do their part, according to their ability, which is why a regional approach is needed.

“Some communities, to a large extent, ignore the problem and say, ‘We’re not dealing with it.’”

If other cities provide the services, people in need go to those cities.

One case study noted in the report said that in London, England, the number of people sleeping on the streets had doubled between 2007 and 2014, despite an extensive program and the spending of more than $800 million.

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