The debate about where, and maybe now when or if, Maple Ridge will see a new homeless shelter and supportive housing complex is still being batted back forth.
While BC Housing, along with city council started the initiative earlier this year to get a purpose-built shelter, the project is now in the hands of MLAs Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge-Mission) and Doug Bing (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) following their rejection of the proposed location at 21375 Lougheed Hwy.
In spring, BC Housing also abandoned the conversion of the Quality Inn to a shelter, following public outcry and opposition from the MLAs.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said in mid-December that the MLAs are stalling any decision on a new shelter, for which BC Housing has promised $15 million, until after the May provincial election.
But Dalton says that’s not the case and that MLAs are proceeding prudently and just want to make right decision.
It’s a hot topic and many people support their approach, says Dalton.
But it’s one that’s now on the back burner because it won’t be until late January when the public gets to have its say.
That’s when MLAs will hold a community forum to sound out opinions on various locations of a shelter and what form it will take.
Coun. Gordy Robson said the debate may have evolved from where to put a shelter, to what kind of shelter should be built.
The delays irks Coun. Tyler Shymkiw who points out it’s now been two years of “dancing around this topic.
“We’ve had two proposals by the government, that the government has pulled,” he said.
“We need to find a way of getting something moving forward as quickly as we can.”
Shymkiw said Maple Ridge is unique in having its government MLAs taking on the process. But it’s not unique in being the only city facing the issue of homelessness.
“Everyone’s going through this.”
The entire region is facing it, he added.
He supports low-barrier shelters, which minimize restrictions to people entering a shelter because it’s a way of getting people off the streets and inside, where they can get help.
The temporary homeless shelter at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. is a low-barrier shelter. It opened in October 2015 as a means of closing the Cliff Avenue tent camp.
Shymkiw added that if the restrictions to getting into a shelter are too high, another tent camp will just develop on a city street.
Recent court decisions require that shelters be open to the people who need them.
Low-barrier shelters are “a gateway to all forms of treatment.”
But he says larger forces are at work that are feeding the ranks of the mentally ill, the addicted, as well as the end effect – homelessness.
Families are under financial strain, parents are too busy at work and everyone’s on electronic devices.
“We have to start thinking about why so many kids are starting to deal with mental health and addiction issues, that weren’t there (before.)”
Why are so many mental health services, support and counselling needed now?
“We didn’t need them 20 years ago.”
Social media and technology is having a huge effect, he adds.
“You see the decline of the social networks. You see communities that are much less tightly knit.
“You see more and more challenges to family structure. You see more and more financial strain on parents, where parents are absent out of financial necessity, because it costs so much today to get by.”
That’s why it’s important for cities to offer recreation and public spaces so that people can get involved in their community and create social interaction. Getting kids into sports helps, which is why he supports the city’s plan to expand its recreation infrastructure.
“A hundred years ago, we didn’t have a lot of these problems and 100 years ago we had these extremely tight-knit communities.
“You have to ask what creates strong families and what creates happy, healthy kids in communities.”
While many people oppose the opening of a shelter, Shymkiw said BC Housing should explain to the people in Maple Ridge what is being done on a regional basis and how Maple Ridge fits into that plan.
Many people on the street in other cities are from Maple Ridge and vice versa, he added.