By Bob D’Eith
As a proud representative of Maple Ridge, I am grateful to the many residents who have reached out to thank the province for taking action to address the tent city and homeless challenges facing our community.
The province’s plan to transition people from Anita Place tent city and temporary shelters into modular housing is a major step forward. I have heard from many of you who appreciate that action is being taken after years of failure by the B.C. Liberal government and their local MLAs.
No one in Maple Ridge wants a tent city. Not residents. Not businesses. Not the campers. Unfortunately, like many tent cities that have been around too long, Anita Place has become dangerous and unsustainable.
There are 47 people from the tent city were displaced by the recent evacuation. With only 14 allowed to re-enter and the remainder currently living in a temporary shelter that will be closed soon, where are these people going to go?
We know that courts are extremely unlikely to close a tent city until it can be shown that there is adequate housing available. And until there is housing available, tent cities will continue to spring up in different parts of our community.
I’m grateful to Housing Minister Selina Robinson and B.C. Housing for responding to this urgent situation by asking the city to provide a location for enough temporary modular housing units to be built to house these displaced people, and hopefully resolve the tent city.
Unfortunately, the city proposed putting more units at the Royal Crescent site, which is already at capacity.
And although the city has agreed that more supportive housing units are needed, it has not suggested a workable site. With no alternate site forthcoming, the minister was forced to act by building on the only available provincially owned site in Maple Ridge.
With several inaccurate rumours circulating on this issue, I would like to highlight some important facts.
• The vast majority of Maple Ridge’s homeless population has been in Maple Ridge long term. The 2017 Metro Vancouver homelessness count indicated that 80 per cent of Maple Ridge’s homeless residents have lived here for more than a year, and 60 per cent for more than 10 years.
It’s clear that until we provide local housing for these residents, our community will continue to struggle with street homelessness and tent cities.
• Maple Ridge is in the middle of the pack in the number of supportive housing units per capita. While some communities have fewer units per capita, many others – including New Westminster, Chilliwack and Vancouver – have more.
The number of units in Maple Ridge is consistent with a city of our size that struggles with homelessness.
• The modular housing units will include around-the-clock staffing and significant supports for those struggling with mental health and addictions. This includes connecting people with addiction treatment.
• Although many of the same concerns were raised prior to the construction of modular housing at the Royal Crescent site, almost none have come to pass. There have been no major concerns raised with my office by neighbourhood residents.
By all accounts, the site is quiet and well-managed and I believe the Burnett Street site will be, as well.
I am excited that the province has agreed, at my urging, to ensure that the permanent housing on Burnett St. will be for seniors.
I look forward to working on those designs and approvals while the city and province work to locate a permanent site for the supportive housing. In this way, we can be efficient with our time to get to other needed housing in our community.
After seeing this issue divide our community for too long, I am optimistic that by transitioning homeless residents from our streets and parks into modular housing, we can overcome this challenge and begin to move forward as a community.
Bob D’Eith is NDP MLA for
Editor’s note: An op-ed about the same issue by B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson is to be published upon submission.