Downtown business owners are trying to cope with a string of break-ins, which they says is driving up costs and driving away customers.
Since March, there have been four break-ins to Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans, Unit No. 379 on North Avenue and 223rd Street.
The most recent, early in the morning on Sept. 17, involved a thief taking a blow-torch to the wire-reinforced glass in the main entrance to the building.
Through the security video, the thief can be seen applying the torch to certain points on the window in a straight line. Then the weakened section of glass pops out.
“It was so easy,” said manager Tana Woods.
Once inside, the culprit got into the bar and stole cigarettes.
At the first break-in, back in March, thieves took cash. That was followed by a second break-in a few weeks later in which the burglars left empty-handed, because they couldn’t find anything to steal.
Another break-in attempt took place in August, but thieves couldn’t get in. There are now new doors, locks, bars and security cameras throughout the building.
“We feel like we’re a target,” said Woods.
“The video surveillance shows people on bicycles.”
A year ago, vandals targeted the building, ripping off signs from the outside walls.
Woods is connecting the troubles to the opening of the temporary homeless shelter that opened a year ago on Lougheed Highway and 222nd Street, saying that it’s “definitely caused an increase in vandalism.”
Her view is shared by the president of the Maple Ridge veterans unit, Judy Spear, who said that attendance at the club has suffered.
“They won’t come down here because they’re afraid to go home,” said Spear.
“Once it gets dark, we’re done. Even if we have a function down here and people leave their cars, guaranteed they’ll be broken into by morning.”
A month ago, the security camera showed a person showing up at 3 a.m. to sleep in the doorway until 6 a.m., when asked by staff to leave.
This March, RCMP said that statistics showed no increase in crime in the area of the temporary shelter since it opened last October, and that overall crime is down 22 per cent.
Wood, though, said that businesses in the area should be supported for trying to keep their doors open.
“We’re still trying to do what we can.”
Sun Valley Medical Supply, on 226th Street, has only been open a year, but had two break-ins around opening day. Philip Rosario, the owner, hasn’t had any recently, but regularly deals with people sleeping nearby and leaving clothes and needles around.
“I call police pretty much weekly, or every two weeks,” he said.
“In one year, I’ve seen it progress and I don’t see it getting better.”
He’d like to see drug addicts forced into treatment and relocated and retrained.
“Letting them just cohabitate – I just don’t see anything at the shelter as helpful.”
He said there’s no rehabilitation at the shelter.
However, the shelter isn’t intended to do that, but only tries to get people off the street and into a stable living situation – from where they can be connected to treatment or housing.
Vanessa McNaughton, at Wicked Tatoo and Piercing on Lougheed Highway, said there was a break-in to her shop on Sept. 30.
“They tried to take our computer, but they couldn’t get it detached from the cord, so they ended up getting away with $50 in fives. They made more of a mess this time.”
Her business has been on Lougheed and 223rd for about three years and McNaughton said the first year was fine.
“It was about when tent city popped up that things just started to get crazy.”
That was on Cliff Avenue in spring 2015.
She sees needles in the store’s parking lot, as well as addicts shooting up, and sex-trade workers. Someone poured hot coffee on her car after she told them to leave and a customer called them shortly after leaving her shop to say someone had been underneath the car when they’d left.
“The list goes on and on,” she added.
“When we first moved down there, I used to be able to tell you who every single street person was in town. I could recognize them all.”
Now, “There are new faces daily.”
She said that the shelter is drawing in more street people into the downtown core and scaring off customers.
“We’ve lost clients because they won’t come into the downtown core anymore.”
Even if the new housing complex and shelter is built farther west on Lougheed Highway, she thinks downtown businesses will still get targeted.
She acknowledges that there were problems before the shelter opened or the camp formed.
“However, with the shelter there, it’s literally like an open door. It’s kind of like an open invitation.”
The incidents have caught the attention of RCMP, which said that over the weekend of Oct. 1 – 2 that five additional downtown businesses had been broken into.
Someone also tried to break into the Selkirk Naturopathic Clinic, in the Selkirk Town Centre Plaza on Lougheed Highway, Sunday, Oct. 4.
That followed another attempt three weeks before that.
“They never actually made it through,” said Sacha Elliott, at the clinic.
In both attempts, a blow-torch was used to try to put a hole through the glass to get to the door handle.
“We have a metal gate behind the door, bars on the windows, and a monitored alarm system. My question: should we invest in cameras?” she asks on Facebook.
Then she notes the latter may not be worth it because thieves always wear hats and hoodies.
Elliott has been in charge of the store a little more than a year and generally likes the downtown location, particularly during daylight hours. But she doesn’t want to pay for any more security upgrades.
She recently joined a Facebook group and agreed some of the claims about crime and the effects from the temporary homeless shelter can be exaggerated.
“If we have a permanent shelter, to me, that’s contributing to keeping people nearby.”
Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse, who has a chiropractic business across from the shelter, said it’s not reasonable to connect crime to the temporary homeless shelter. Those issues have been ongoing long before the tent city or shelter, he said.
Three years ago, before the tent city or the homeless shelter, there were the same problems. For instance, one crew was going around drilling out door locks
“If the method of operation are the same on all of them … they’ll catch them and deal with them and then it will stop.”
He raised the issue at council in 2012.
But there is a correlation between addiction and petty crime, Masse added.
Ridge Meadows RCMP has some leads in the recent break-ins.
Another break-in last weekend occurred in the building that houses the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.
“It seems very random. It seems like they’re looking for computers and cash,” said Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director with the association.
She said police are getting close to the people or persons who are breaking in by removing panes of glass. She urged businesses to report any incident so police know what’s going on.
But it’s not known if any of the break-ins are caused by homeless people or those who are staying at the shelter.
“It doesn’t need to be related to the shelter. There’s no proof of that at all.”