Allen Aicken and other volunteers serve meals to homeless residents at Anita Place Tent City at dinnertime on Wednesday. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

UPDATE: Maple Ridge doesn’t want more low-barrier shelter beds: mayor

Small group wants council to find a place for supportive housing

As Maple Ridge tries to make its case in Supreme Court next week for an order that will allow it to enforce fire safety measures inside Anita Place Tent City, Mayor Mike Morden says the city isn’t interested in adding more low-barrier shelter beds.

That contradicts residents who assist those living at Anita Place Tent City and want the city to start cooperating with the provincial government.

Whonnock resident Allen Aicken plans on being at Supreme Court to show that he disagrees with the city’s approach and that, instead, it should find a place for a supportive housing facility, so there is no need for a camp.

“Whenever there’s an attempt to do so, the NIMBY factor comes along and everybody is in favour of it, except not there. There needs to be a place and they need to have a home, that’s my concern,” he said of supportive housing.

“It seems that Maple Ridge pushes back against the provincial government rather than being a partner with them.”

He added that the new council seems less friendly towards a homeless shelter compared to the previous council, which was replaced after the Oct. 20 election.

But the previous council, last May, also rejected, at first reading, a B.C. Housing proposal to build an 85-unit supportive housing and shelter complex on Burnett Street and 117th Avenue.

B.C. Housing also withdrew a proposal to turn the Quality Inn on Lougheed Highway into supportive housing in 2016 after public opposition.

Current Mayor Michael Morden collected a petition against that location and also opposed the current location of 53 modular supportive housing units that opened last October on Royal Crescent.

Morden then said that the modular housing facility didn’t offer long-term mental health or drug treatment.

Aicken admits that there are safety concerns in the camp, but there are also safety risks for homeless people outside of it.

Aicken has written to council with concerns and is part of a small group of half a dozen residents who, for the past year, have been preparing home-cooked meals using their own groceries and serving them up every Wednesday evening at tent city.

“It’s a very simple operation, but it seems to work. It has for a year,” he said.

The group, composed of both church and non-church goers, used to prepare about 60 meals. But after the modular housing complex opened in October, they reduced that to about 50.

B.C. Housing also provides daily lunches, prepared by the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, to camp residents.

Closing tent city, however, will be part of a community safety plan that’s currently being developed and which will be presented to the public, Morden said recently.

For Aicken, though, “community safety means, to me, that the rich must be protected from the poor.”

Morden said Wednesday that he does not want to politicize what is an important safety issue.

Asked if a court order addressing fire safety was the first step in clearing the camp, as claimed last week by the Alliance Against Displacement, Morden replied that the city’s goals are clear in the court documents.

“It’s a safety issue,” Morden said.

“We just want a good outcome in the community for all concerned.”

He said the city’s injunction application is a legal matter, and he did not want to comment on the merits of the legal action by the city.

“It’s up to a judge to look at this.”

He added that he’s written to the province seeking confirmation that B.C. Housing money allocated to Maple Ridge is still available, but said that the city is “particularly interested in seniors and affordable housing.

“I’ve also made it clear, our community isn’t interested in adding low-barrier shelter beds as we already provide three times our regional share,” Morden said.

He added the city is interested in “a more made-in-Maple Ridge model that is acceptable to our community …” and which includes concepts from The Path Forward report produced last year by the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, which recommends adding detox and long-term recovery programs.

“This would form part of our community safety strategy,” Morden said.

Pivot Legal Society confirmed Thursday that it will represent tent city in court.

Pivot says the city is seeking orders that will prohibit structures other than tents and require mandatory identification and exclusion of some residents, allowing police to make arrests in such cases.

“The requested orders and injunctions include untenable demands, made under the guise of public safety, against people affected by homelessness and the freezing winter conditions in which they live,” Pivot said.

“They would expose residents to greater harm and open the door to the decampment of Anita Place.”

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