Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden at Anita Place Tent City. (THE NEWS/files)

News Views: Slapping wrists

New community safety plan to include a panhandling bylaw.

Anita Place Tent City earned a mention Monday during question period in Parliament.

The homeless camp on 223rd Street in Maple Ridge was also featured a day prior in one of Canada’s national daily newspapers in an article that touched on the lack of affordable housing.

But homeless people were camping in and around Maple Ridge before the housing crisis, before Anita Place, before RainCity, before Cliff Avenue and before the Salvation Army shelter.

They were there before the opioid crisis, and before the meth epidemic, and before Gordy Robson, Ernie Daykin, Nicole Read and Mike Morden were mayors. It was Kathy Morse, when mayor, who held the first public forum on homelessness.

But it is not just here that homelessness remains a problem. As the Globe and Mail article pointed out, such camps exist throughout B.C., to Winnipeg, Oshawa and Fredericton.

Local governments want them cleared, citing health and safety risks, as Maple Ridge has stated as it seeks a court order to force campers to move or address such concerns.

There have been six fires at the camp since its inception a year and a half ago. A woman was seriously injured in one.

And now, council, elected this past fall, is starting to roll out parts of a new community safety plan, which proposes an anti-panhandling bylaw and creating a community court to offer options for those with mental health or addictions issues.

Another objective is to ensure accountability is in place for supportive housing and other services to “minimize negative neighbourhood impacts.”

That’s encouraging because a Canadian research study, At Home/Chez Soi, found that Housing First rapidly ends homelessness.

It also found that homelessness in Canada costs $7-billion a year, including emergency shelters, jail stays and hospital care, and that Housing First saves money.

Cities across the country have launched such programs, and the federal government has made Housing First a cornerstone of its approach.

But in Maple Ridge, the current mayor opposes any more low-barrier facilities, spoke out against the modular housing units now open on Royal Crescent, and petitioned against other sites for long-term supportive housing. Now he wants the ability to kick people out of modular housing for not following the rules.

We hope the community court being developed includes options for housing, and not just forced treatment or imprisonment. The latter, in particular, hasn’t solved a thing. Proven treatments, including those assisted by medication, should also be included.

Meanwhile, the City of Nelson, according to The Nelson Daily, rescinded its panhandling bylaw in June because the act itself is not illegal and is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sadly, Nelson introduced a pedestrian bylaw, with fines of $50 for obstructing the street, or being a public space nuisance.

Vancouver also prohibits aggressive panhandling.

We can only hope that during this term, Maple Ridge council will at least consider solutions to homelessness, such as housing, rather than wasting time slapping wrists.

– Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News

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