Mike Shields withdrew from 2018 Maple Ridge mayoralty race. (THE NEWS/files)

Letter: ‘Empathy has led to enablement’

‘Anita Place campers want to be left alone to do as they please.’

Mike Shields, who initially entered the race for mayor this past municipal election in Maple Ridge before withdrawing, recently toured the Downtown Eastside with a social worker, as well as a former Surrey homeless encampment area, and spend parts of four days and nights at the Anita Place Tent City in Maple Ridge, with its leaders. He then wrote the following.

Whereas many of you who know me know I’ve spent the past few years advocating that Anita Place is a needed “last resort” for unfortunate homeless residents, four days around and inside produced mainly the conclusion that too much empathy has led to enablement.

In blunt terms, the human beings at that location want to be left alone to do as they please. Which is reasonable enough on the level of Good Samaritan’s who drop off old clothes and cookies and milk at the front gate.

But on a more realistic level, it means widespread hard-core drug abuse.

Which in turn – if you dare look even deeper – means endemic lawlessness and theft (to a diminishing extent, the luckier you are to be farther geographically away).

I am truly sorry if these statements come across to you as derogatory or stereotypical.

If provincial agencies truly believe the studies that suggest Housing First yields the best overall results, then use the science to get the public behind it.

But until then, the perch on a high horse that some people prefer is, in my opinion, literally killing people.

As a specific example, I was pilloried on the radio and online for inferring that given a limited number of modular housing units becoming available, priority should be given to potential residents who at least voice the words that they want to attend addiction counselling.

And that mixing the truly homeless down on their luck single-mother families with individuals having currently outstanding warrants for drug distribution or violence should be a policy priority.

The thing about saying there aren’t easy answers is that reciting it is quickly becoming the easiest way for us – myself included – to salve our consciences and go on with our lives.

As I stated, we, as a community, have tried a strategy of tolerance for the past three years, and if anyone feels it has worked at all, they also won’t deny it can work better.

But stakeholders refusing to admit or hiding their mistakes is unerringly going to yield polemic distemper.

Providing functional toilet facilities produced the theft of thousands of taxpayer dollars absconded to Alberta by the homeless couple put in charge of the cleaning budget for said facilities.

Providing heated showers yielded scores of extension cords pirated onto that electrical line – and a “Dear, God, thank you for not allowing a fire to rip through all these nylon tents yet” dismay from most who saw it.

Providing a “warming tent” without a single pamphlet or white-board note about any detox, job training, or otherwise available assistance programs and, well, maybe what we’re also doing, in certain respects, is underwriting an open-air drug market.

Meanwhile, Surrey and other cities have, through various means, kicked the can of their homeless camps (I originally thought down the road to us, but it turns out approximately 30 individuals moved from 135 A Street to Anita Place, but subsequent battles for control led all but a few to quickly move further on).

And the easy road to getting votes would be to dog whistle code words suggesting policies to that effect.

But fact is, I can’t see any way around the thought that the wood and nails and corrugated plastic and construction time that could go into soliciting for what realistically is probably 1,500 votes maximum would be better deployed toward ameliorating the “de-humanizing” aspects of sheltering in tents through a Lower Mainland winter.

On which note, although it will earn me only the enmity of one NIMBY group or another, I will close by suggesting that we in the City of Maple Ridge have a number of non-central business district locations at which a relatively permanent housing resource for could be established.

On the mornings of two of my “homeless” days, I drove around the entirety of our community scouting locations and then broaching possibilities with Anita Place’s fledgling council (notably not including the Ivan Drury).

I’m naïve enough to think I could persuade local business owners to chip in for an Alouette Lake style series of camping pads, say a hundred yards off the eastern portion of Lougheed Highway, with outdoor commodes at each end and a modular housing type communal lodge in the middle for necessary services to be delivered and facilitated at.

And to paraphrase Winston Churchill about democracy, that very well might be the worst solution ever – except for all the others.

Mike Shields

Maple Ridge

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