The homeless camp on Cliff Avenue will be disbanded by October.

The homeless camp on Cliff Avenue will be disbanded by October.

Living a public life on streets

Was aghast to learn she'd just moved from Pitt Meadows to a ghetto

Editor, The News:

I am a relatively new resident of Maple Ridge, having moved here in November 2014. I had little knowledge or experience this fine city before.

I live in a  bachelor suite in a 55-and-older building on 222nd Street, which apparently accounts for the 24/7 human rush hour of people in the neighbourhood.

I was told by my building manager not to be out alone on the street after dark, as there have been four murders in the area in the past year and a half. Also, he advised me to leave nothing in my car, which is, of necessity, parked on the street, as his was broken into five times.

Understandably, I was aghast to learn I’d just moved from Pitt Meadows to a ghetto, which I’ve affectionately named the uptown east side.

I have personal reasons for being dismayed by the homeless/mental health/addiction situation here.

Twelve years ago, my life fell apart when my now ex-husband went through health issues.

We lost our business. He had a brain aneurysm, and I was left to raise two daughters on my own.

Then, when my youngest daughter was 16, she tried heroin. She died from an accidental overdose in February of this year at 20 years old, after four years in and out of recovery.

Every day I am reminded of her when I see skinny girls on street corners. It makes me sad.

I can’t afford to move and this is where affordable housing has placed me. I don’t mean to whine. At least I have a home.

When I read that $75,000 is being spent on a study of the social services offered in Maple Ridge, it reminded me that, on most jobs I’ve worked, management spends money and makes decisions without ever consulting the people that will be affected by them.

What if part of that $75,000 was handed out in coffee cards to find out what the homeless people want or need? Maybe they just want a place to camp in peace in the summer and to be left alone. Maybe just a cup of coffee. Who knows?

I’ve learned that whoever has the money has the power. Do we care what they want, or do we decide what we’ll give them because we can?

I don’t mean to trivialize a complex, tragic, overwhelming issue. I guess I’m just expressing some thoughts and throwing out something to think about because whatever we’re currently doing isn’t working.

And while I don’t like my neighbourhood and a lot of the people in it, including the addicts in other apartment buildings who I suspect are responsible for the daily visits from emergency crews, I recognize that homeless people are people first.

What if there was a program where homeless people helped care for homeless animals? Or got paid to clean the streets?

I’ve noticed city workers aren’t keeping up with the job and I’m pretty sure they’re paid well.

I’ve noticed the homeless recycling cans and bottles and they’re paid poorly.

Part of the charm of living on the street is the lack of responsibility, which for some people with mental health problems, can feel overwhelming. I know, I’ve been there, with a baby. Not for long, mind you, and thank goodness.

Thirty years ago, the street wasn’t as much the filthy dung hole and the drugs didn’t make people as crazy as today.

A couple of Christmases ago my older daughter and I went to a mission on Hastings Street and I didn’t want to listen to the sermon, so I walked the streets outside.

Homeless people there are business people. Everybody’s selling something, be it contraband tobacco, drugs, secondhand goods. It’s a subculture where everyone has a place, a community where everybody knows each other.

It’s public life, as opposed to private life.

No matter where I’ve lived in the Lower Mainland, I’ve always had to work to establish the most casual relationships with my neighbours.

Houses give people a place to hide.

Jacquelyn Johnston

Maple Ridge