The businesses that would be neighbours to a new homeless housing facility on Lougheed Highway near Laity Street are speaking out against the plan.
The operators of Alouette Animal Hospital and Meadow Ridge Centre for Childcare already deal with homeless people who camp in the wooded lot next to their businesses. If a shelter is built there, they anticipate more problems, a drop in business, and the potential need to relocate.
The owner of GM Restaurant owns two lots west of the proposed facility at 21375 Lougheed Hwy., where he would like to build a new version of his Indian food restaurant. He won’t if the shelter goes ahead.
Daycare co-owner Lyanne Alexander has been writing letters to Housing Minister Rich Coleman, Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, city councillors, both local MLAs, as well as local conservation groups – so they are aware of development near the stream and potential impacts.
The daycare has a fenced play area built out back that faces the ravine where homeless regularly camp. Alexander said it cost $20,000 to develop. Things are stolen from it, and after the theft of six little red wagons, she has given up on the idea of having them for the kids.
It is a nuisance, she said, and every day before opening, staff walk the playground to make sure it is safe – no needles, or people sleeping there.
She has operated her business in the same location for 13 years, and it cares for more than 50 children. It’s situated for people commuting to work, she said.
But her clients have said they don’t want the shelter next door.
There is homeless traffic through the parking lot now, as they access the ravine area, wheeling shopping carts and bicycles. There are tarps and tents set up. There are needles left behind, and litter like discarded clothes and garbage.
“It’s going to be a hub for a lot more activity,” said Alexander. “I’m a mother of two, so I know if I had a homeless shelter built next to my children’s daycare, I would not be happy.”
Christine and Dawn Bickle work at the veterinarian clinic, owned by Dr. Michael Orser. They have a petition against the shelter inside the business and said it is rapidly collecting names.
Christine said the temporary shelter, if it is a low-barrier model like RainCity’s current shelter, would be damaging for local businesses.
“What RainCity is doing, I don’t feel works,” said Christine.
Both women agreed they could potentially get behind a facility if it was drug-free, such as a public, long-term treatment facility.
They would like to know whether residents will be discouraged from drug and alcohol use.
When Dawn heard that the site was proposed for a temporary homeless shelter and permanent facilities, she was skeptical that there was enough room on the property. She went to a hardware store and rented a roll of measuring tape and some coloured flagging tape. She measured 30 metres from the top of the creek for a setback, and taped off the area where the city could build.
She questions whether there is enough space for the city to have both a construction site and temporary facilities.
“There has to be more to this puzzle,” Christine said.
Asked about the size of the existing site, Coun. Gordy Robson agreed it appears too small.
But he said members of council cannot discuss land acquisitions.
GM Restaurant owner Joginder Shah said city officials approached him about acquiring his nearby property about a month ago. They haggled over price, could not agree, and Shah said the city no longer wants his land.
There is one residential lot situated between Shah’s property and the site of the proposed homeless facility.
Shah said he has lost a lot to the homeless people in Maple Ridge. When he bought the two lots, there was a house on each, and they were rented for $1,200 a month. When a tenant skipped out on her rent, moving without notice, street people moved virtually overnight. Despite his efforts, both houses degenerated, with appliances stolen and plumbing ripped out. With the city urging him to take action, he had the houses torn down, then fenced the property.
Shah said his dream was to build a new, bigger restaurant with a patio for his son to run.
“But if they go ahead [with a shelter], then I can’t do it.”
Son Motors Ltd., the nearest business, to the west of the shelter site, is also opposed.
“I don’t like it to be that close here,” said spokesman Vic Minamide. “They need a place for sure, but we’ve got a place of business here.”
Members of council are concerned that the opposition against the new homeless shelter facility proposal is growing before people even know the details.
Mayor Nicole Read is aware of what is being said on social media, and she feels much of it is premature.
“We need to see what the plan is,” she said. “There’s a whole conversation that needs to take place.”
Read said the city will be able to work with business owners to mitigate their concerns.
The mayor said the new purpose-built facility will not be comparable to the existing emergency shelter at the corner of 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway, because it will have an “integrated housing approach” and more supports.
Read predicted that Coquitlam’s 3030 Gordon Project will be a model put forward by senior government for Maple Ridge’s new facility.
The Gordon project, named for its address, opened in winter and has a shelter that offers 30 private rooms with three meals per day and 24-hour staffing. In the same building are 30 self-contained suites for transitional housing.
The project also offers extreme weather response, making shelter space available for an additional 30 individuals during inclement weather.
Robson said the alternative to a shelter is having people camping in the city’s parks.
“People should hold their fire until they know what it is.”
Read has said the public will be involved in the conversation to plan a new facility.
“There is going to be opportunity for everyone to have their say.”