When the Salvation Army’s Caring Place first opened almost a decade ago, at the entrance to downtown Maple Ridge, they were welcomed, says a former Maple Ridge councillor and council candidate.
But not any longer, says Sandy Macdougall, also a retired journalist.
It’s time for the Salvation Army’s Caring Place to find a new place, says Macdougall, who lives a block from the shelter that’s been helping those down on their luck for nine years.
“None of this crap was here until the Salvation Army got here,” Macdougall said Tuesday.
Debate on the topic isn’t dying down, as shown in letters received on the topic.
Macdougall says in one such letter that the Caring Place and its patrons were once welcome in the neighbourhood.
“But they have long since worn out their welcome with most area residents.
“These derelicts should be re-located to somewhere nearer to their supporters and admirers so they can be better cared for and appreciated and, perhaps, less criticized.”
Macdougall says condoms and drug paraphernalia are found around the Maple Ridge Baptist Church nearby. Garbage is strewn along sidewalks and streets.
“I found them crapping in our exterior stair wells,” he added Tuesday.
“It’s just too much of a concentration of that stuff in one corner of the municipality.”
The little church across the street from his apartment on 119th Avenue and 222nd Street is also used by sex trade workers, he points out.
So instead, Macdougall adds, half seriously and half in jest, that the District of Maple Ridge offer its three acres on Selkirk Avenue and 227th Street as a new location for the Caring Place.
Some nice apartments will be built there.
“What did we do to deserve this?” he asks.
Even the property value of his condo has dropped from the $210,000 he paid a few years ago to about $175,000 now. The housing market has dropped, but not to the extent that his property has declined in value, he says.
For realtor Scott Leaf, the Caring Place is hurting all of Maple Ridge.
After the commuting concerns, crime is the No. 2 concern people have about moving here, he says.
“I don’t know how we could possible see more drug dealing and crime downtown than we currently do,” he said in response to a comment asking what would happen if the shelter wasn’t there.
Coun. Bob Masse raised the issue about crime and prostitution on downtown streets with council a few weeks ago.
Council responded by asking for a staff report, due this fall.
Lately, Masse says he’s seen fewer street workers.
A building on McIntosh Avenue also has less of a drug problem, he adds.
Masse, who runs a chiropractic business in the downtown, has been trying to find out why street life seems to have improved, at least temporarily.
“Nobody’s saying they’re trying to do anything that’s particularly different.”
As for the location of the Caring Place, that’s a non-issue, he says.
“They own the building and they’re acting within their zoning.
“They’re absolutely entitled to be there.”
He pointed out shelters are often found in the downtowns of other cities so people can access the services and other related help.
But Masse wants to tone down the rhetoric on the topic.
“I definitely think we need to find some solutions, for sure.”
Caring Place spokesman Amelia Norrie says it’s not easy finding a location to help people.
The Caring Place’s location on Lougheed Highway and 222nd Street, at the entrance to downtown, “puts us right in the forefront of everybody’s attention.
“We’re going to run into NIMBYS (not in my backyard) wherever we go.
“There’s no really good place for us to be. We feel being where we are is where we need to be right now.”
Because the nature of its services, such as the community meal program, the shelter has to be accessible, she points out.
“We are feeding the community’s most vulnerable,” not just the homeless, but the working poor who may have homes but are going through tough times.
If the shelter was in Ruskin, how would people get there? she asked.
Currently, The Caring Place serves 10,000 meals a month (three meals daily). Most nights, only 40 people are in the shelter, 25 in emergency shelter beds and 15 in transitional housing beds.
The shelter opened in 2003 with a 14-bed emergency shelter and five independent transitional housing suites.
Norrie says of the 600 people helped each month, 86 per cent are Maple Ridge residents, and that the number of people leaving Maple Ridge for services elsewhere equates to those arriving in Maple Ridge. Those away from their homes are encouraged to go back, after three days, she adds.
Anyone known to be involved in crime is barred from The Caring Place, she points out.
Although it’s impossible to track everyone, (names are required to get a meal), staff know what’s going on because they regularly talk with police, agencies and outreach workers, Norrie said.
“We’re all in communication. We know what’s going on.”
She notes though the Caring Place has little contact with sex trade workers.
It’s a “sad fact” that the prostitutes don’t use Salvation Army services, “because they don’t need to.” They can usually find themselves a warm place to sleep, which is a bigger problem than the meal program.
“That’s a sad, sad part of what’s happening in our community.”
She disagrees with the view the shelter is enabling people to continue their lifestyles, pointing out many people with homes going through tough times have to use the shelter.
“We don’t necessarily see it as enabling bad behaviour. We see it more as being compassionate and giving people the benefit of grace.”
Mayor Ernie Daykin said the topic of relocating the shelter hasn’t come up.
“It hasn’t even been discussed.”
But he pointed out Langley partnered with the Salvation Army and built a new shelter near Kwantlen university.
And Burnaby disperses its social service agencies around the city, though it has the bus service for that.
Daykin said he hasn’t heard of any major problems at Maple Ridge Baptist Church.
Homelessness action week
This week salutes the efforts of dozens of people and agencies trying to ensure people have a roof over their heads.
Oct. 7 to 13 is Homelessness Action Week and Maple Ridge will host its share of events to commemorate the cause.
Tuesday, the Caring Place held a health and wellness clinic, while today a talent contest fundraiser show takes place at The Caring Place, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Admission to the Maple Ridge Has Talent fundraiser is by donation and there will be an evening full of song, dance and community. Prizes will be awarded to funniest, most talented, those who shouldn’t quit their day jobs, and the most inspirational.
This Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., people can stop in the Caring Place for a spa day, have their hair and makeup done and enjoy deserts.
Also Thursday, the Caring Place and Golden Ears FEAST (Food Education and Strategy Table) is co-sponsoring a Community Chili Lunch at the ACT Theatre between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
A donation to the Friends in Need Food Bank is welcome, but not required.
• For more information, visit Stophomelessness.ca or contact Connie McGonigal at 604-463-8296 x 112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.