Talks on for interim homeless shelter in Maple Ridge

RainCity facility downtown to close March 31.

The city shelter is having trouble finding housing for its remaining clients.

The city shelter is having trouble finding housing for its remaining clients.

Maple Ridge is in discussions to open another temporary homeless shelter after the current one closes, at the end March, and the latter has been turning people away.

RainCity Housing is still trying to find places for the 40 people at Maple Ridge’s temporary homeless shelter, but Sean Speer isn’t optimistic.

“The shelter will be closing,” Speer told Maple Ridge council Monday.

Unlike in Vancouver, RainCity hasn’t been able to find housing in Maple Ridge for all the shelter residents, so by closing day, March 31, several will have no place to go.

“Realistically, the services are not there. With this model, I’m not optimistic at all that we’ll end up with [the result] at our other shelters,” Speer added.

And if the shelter clients ended up back on the street, they’d be more prone to overdoses in remote locations, further from help.

Forty overdoses have occurred in the shelter since it opened, Speer said.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read expects B.C. Housing and Fraser Health will pick up where RainCity leaves off.

Both agencies are already discussing an interim supportive shelter with the City of Maple Ridge, Read said after the meeting.

No location has been identified for a supportive shelter.

“There’s no way that they will allow these people back on to the streets,” Read said of the province. “That would not be a good political move for them. This has been pretty intense for them, too. That would be an epic failure.

“These people are sick and need clinical support.”

She’s confident the province will keep helping the homeless in Maple Ridge. The senior government paid for the six months of operating costs at the RainCity shelter.

“This is something that the province needs to take responsibility for because these people have been on our streets for long periods of time,” Read said.

If an interim shelter is set up, discussions could start on opening a permanent, supportive or low-barrier housing, for people with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Maple Ridge needs a low-barrier shelter to get people on their way into permanent homes, Read said.

“We need people to be moved into housing solutions, not a shelter. We need one shelter, in my opinion, that has the ability to work with whoever becomes homeless.”

Greg Richmond, executive-director with RainCity, agreed that Maple Ridge needs an interim shelter followed by a permanent, low-barrier one.

“These people are really at risk.”

“For you, [Maple Ridge] it looks like there’s a long-term need for at least one,” Richmond added.

Read, though, said work needs to be done for youth mental health so homelessness and addiction can be stopped earlier, noting some of the residents in the shelter have aged out of the youth care system.

“Overall, we really need to put a focus on youth mental health.”

Coun. Bob Masse worries that creating a shelter here could draw more people to Maple Ridge from throughout Metro Vancouver.

“I’m really not sure that a large, low-barrier shelter is going to help the people in our community,” he said at Monday’s workshop meeting.

Instead, he’d like to see more mental health services offered locally.

“All I see is kind of a black hole after March 31,” said Coun. Craig Speirs.

Poverty and social isolation are the drivers of addiction, he added.

Building a shelter is like building a hospital, said Coun. Kiersten Duncan.

You don’t want people to go there, but she said they will.

Speer told council there’s a high rate of overdoses in the Maple Ridge shelter compared to in Vancouver, while there’s a low number of people connected with health services.

“Outreach workers have really had a hard time finding rental accommodation,” he answered later, replying to a question from Coun. Corisa Bell.

“There’s lots of housing out there, but not for these folks, and we all know why,” Coun. Gordy Robson said at the meeting.

“As long as they’re sick, they’re pretty much unhouseable.”

Speer said the temporary shelter has turned away many and as part of the shut-down process, stopped accepting new residents on Feb. 8 so that it has time to place the residents.

“So the demand has exceeded the capacity.”

The temporary shelter opened Oct. 1 for six months as way to allow the city to clear the homeless camp off of Cliff Avenue, next to the Salvation Army.

That was achieved in the fall with 81 people previously housed.

Richmond said that by following the Housing First model and connecting people with support services, “they’re houseable.” That process may take two or three attempts before people find a permanent home, but it’s being done all over Vancouver, he added.

He said that cities that commit land to provide shelter space often receive the investment from B.C. Housing for shelters.

It could take about three years before a permanent, low-barrier dormitory-style shelter, offering separate housing units, is built.

Richmond said that without a low-barrier shelter in Maple Ridge, people will continue to be on the streets, homeless camps will develop again and there will be high rates of overdoses.

Large numbers of homeless people will then draw numbers to themselves, including young people.

Getting people inside can connect them with the care they need.

The RainCity report to council said that 141 people have stayed in or been referred to the shelter.

However, only 15 were able to find homes.

And currently, half of RainCity’s clients, or 49, remain in shelter.

“Given this, it is clear that the majority of the 49 clients in shelters will not have secured housing after leaving the shelter, despite [having] outreach to connect to shelter.”

While the shelter capacity is only 40 beds, the discrepancy wasn’t explained.