Maple Ridge council, with plenty of help from the federal and provincial governments, and B.C. Supreme Court, have painted themselves and residents into a corner regarding homelessness.
The latest proposal calls for a purpose-built facility to be constructed on the city’s recently purchased property at 21375 Lougheed Highway.
The downtown temporary homeless shelter will be relocated at that site while the new facility is built.
The current homeless facility provides shelter for drug addicts, alcoholics and people suffering from mental illnesses. Operating as a low-barrier model, the shelter does little or nothing to discourage the use of drugs or alcohol by its occupants.
Since its inception, there has been a litany of complaints from downtown businesses and neighbouring residents that the residents of the shelter, as well as those at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries are behaving in a totally unacceptable manner.
This has resulted in the attendance of RCMP, the fire department, ambulance services and, too frequently, the coroner, at the shelter and in the surrounding neighbourhood.
Discarded needles and condoms and other drug paraphernalia are found on a daily basis on the lawns and private property of apartment buildings and other nearby residences.
The outer stairwells of apartment buildings and other obscure nooks and crannies are utilized as shooting galleries and outdoor toilets, thus becoming highly visible examples of the failure of low-barrier and harm reduction models.
While Mayor Nicole Read claims the city has had some success in locating a number of formerly homeless people into market rentals, few, if any, of these people have left the neighbourhood, which is plagued by drugs, crime and prostitution.
If the current modus operandi of the low-barrier model homeless shelter is any indication of how the purpose-built facility would operate, council and the provincial housing authorities are going to find themselves in a pitched battle with area residents and voters.
If the purpose-built facility has any hope of achieving success and assisting alcoholics and addicts on the road to recovery, the plan has to be based on zero tolerance.
Placing practicing drunks and drug addicts in the same facility as people struggling to find their way will produce only failure, and social catastrophe for the entire community.
In a recent statement, Mayor Read alluded to the possible necessity of more than one facility to deal with homelessness, a direction that should be examined because it offers greater hope for the homeless.
The proposal for 21375 Lougheed Highway deserves to be heard at a public hearing, at which time residents can demand conditions and monitoring to ensure that conditions are met. The monitoring of any conditions imposed cannot be left to good will or simple trust.
The operators of any homeless shelter or recovery facility must be held accountable to ensure strict adherence to any of the community imposed conditions.
Four or more years ago, a spokesperson for one recovery facility built on city-owned land in the downtown area stated that it would operate on a zero-tolerance basis, but that didn’t last long. Maple Ridge doesn’t need another failure of this nature.
If we are to have a separate low-barrier facility to house those who shun treatment, a stricter monitoring process must be employed. Police should be urged to arrest and process anybody they find engaged in the drug trade and provincial courts should be encouraged to send convicted offenders to jail.
The businesses and residents of the immediate neighbourhood of the Salvation Army and the temporary homeless shelter have suffered long enough. Council must now do its job and begin to give greater consideration to people other than just the homeless.
– Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.