The Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries has been in the community since 1990, serving those in need from a number of different locations until purchasing its current location at 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway in 2001.
This location was probably not the best decision from a public relations perspective, as the intersection is the gateway to our downtown and many citizens felt that the Salvation Army created an environment that supported street entrenched criminals.
However, the Sally Ann provides services for a diverse group of people, such as seniors and families, living in poverty, people with disabilities, both physical and mental, as well as those suffering from addiction.
The Sally Ann is not the problem. To the contrary, it is a faith-based service that works to provide needed supports to people in times of hardship or crisis.
The Salvation Army also has emergency disaster services, which respond to emergencies throughout the province, such as the 2017 Caribou wildfires, where members provided invaluable supports to the victims and evacuees.
In Maple Ridge, specifically, the Sally Ann has been a leader at the Community Network table, a long standing social service operating in Maple Ridge and which enables collaboration amongst all such providers to avoid duplication and allow scarce dollars within that arena to be maximized.
Maple Ridge is known for this collaborative model and other jurisdictions look to us for leadership.
So it was a shock to many people, and probably most service providers, when this present council, upon taking office in 2014, immediately took aim at the Salvation Army with the goal of having its funding stopped by the provincial government.
Mayor Nicole Read publicly criticized the Salvation Army’s track record and laid blame on it for the issues of the downtown, even though she had never stepped foot in the building, or talked to the operators.
There is no disputing that there were existing problems in the downtown with the visible homeless population when she took office, and it was popular in the public to blame the Salvation Army.
Previous councils agreed that the location of the Sally Ann was not the best and most would have liked to see it move.
However, anyone who knows the track record of the Sally Ann understands it is providing services that are an asset to the community, so while moving was a discussion, removing it never was.
Luckily, the government of the day did not agree with the mayor and assured the Salvation Army that its funding was intact.
Further affirmation of the credibility of the organization is the recent announcement by the present government and the Salvation Army that it will be moving its operation to Burnett Street, so it can be the main operator of the proposed provincial shelter and housing model.
Recent clarification by the mayor that she had no knowledge of the proposal is a good indication that this government decided to take charge of the situation and not spend any more time with this mayor and council, who instigated the introduction of RainCity and the “low barrier” model into our city, without public consultation, which then went on to foster much of the resistance the public has expressed towards building a permanent shelter in Maple Ridge, especially one that contains a “low barrier” component.
The Salvation Army has always operated under the “high barrier” to “low barrier” model while in Maple Ridge. This means the facility has rules, but if someone needs services who also uses drugs, they are not turned away.
However, the Sally Ann’s focus is to ensure a safe environment for a broad client base and the community as a whole. Recently, in order to come in line with B.C. Housing’s “low barrier” direction, the Salvation Army publicly stated that it has a “low barrier” focus.
It is important to not confuse this with a “no barrier” model.
I have grave issues with the “no barrier” model, as I truly feel it is a cheap way of warehousing the more difficult homeless population.
The challenge that the province and Salvation Army has before them is being able to address the fallout from the RainCity mess that includes a distrusting public.
So it is imperative that the province and the Salvation Army listen to the public prior to designing the operational model for the proposed facility and be transparent about it.
They need to listen to the concerns businesses will raise, as they are faced with cleaning up human feces, needles and condoms at their storefronts.
The Sally Ann has an obligation to understand that parents will have fears for their children walking to and from school, and that seniors want to feel safe in their homes and citizens don’t want their private property stolen, as these are all legitimate concerns that are just as important as the rightful quest to respond to the needs of the homeless.
I believe the appropriateness of the proposed shelter and housing location will be dependent on the model that is adopted for the facility and the supports that are aligned with it.
If done right, I see no reason why this location would not work.
A major contributor to my feelings on this is the service provider being the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army has always served a higher power — and I don’t mean the government — but I admire its service to this community and have confidence it will listen to our community and create a model of service that ensures everyone’s needs are respected.
My hope is that it has enough influence on the government and B.C. Housing to do the same.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillour,
constituency assistant and current
citizen of the year.