Walk downtown and there’s evidence of the problem of homelessness from street to street. And it’s not just the people who’ve fallen on hard times, but the empty stores and lack of development in the area.
In October of 2014, would-be mayor Nicole Read sent a letter to the Salvation Army’s director Darrell Pilgrim, outlining her vision to solve the homeless issue and addiction-based crime in a 48-month span.
In the letter, Read said, based on the information on the latest homeless count, the city has a manageable number that can be housed.
She tells Pilgrim the Caring Place’s “no questions asked” policy to accepting clients allows other communities to off-load their problems onto Maple Ridge.
“We need to put neighbouring cities on notice that we no longer intend to accept intentional or unintentional off-loading,” she wrote to Pilgrim.
Read states that while she believes everyone deserves compassion, dignity and respect, the community has “fallen into a pattern of prioritizing those in need in a way that overshadows some very legitimate concerns of Port Haney residents.”
Now Read’s task force is trying to get to the heart of the answers.
Pilgrim said he fully supports the idea of the city looking to deal with the homeless issue in Maple Ridge.
He also supports the idea of more affordable housing and better mental health services for those living on the streets.
“More affordable housing and funding for mental health services,” said Pilgrim, “that is essential help people get off the streets. But in the meantime, for the people who are living on the streets, who are living rough, they need a place to be, and where that is, I don’t have the answer. But they need a place to be. They have to go somewhere. They are from this community, they’ve been here before the Caring Place was built. We’ve had people living on the streets for 10, 15, 20 years and they need somewhere to go.”
He said off the 500-plus people the Caring Place helps each month, surveys indicated 94 per cent are from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
He said since the November election, Caring Place staff have met with city officials and service providers about a half dozen times. He said the Salvation Army now has a street cleaning team of volunteers that heads out on Wednesday afternoons.
He understands that the issue of homelessness dominates people’s perceptions of what the Caring Place is to the community, but really it’s a small portion of the overall work of the Salvation Army.
The majority of the of the work it does is about people in poverty, said Pilgrim.
“We have a lot of people in our community in poverty, who are working poor, seniors, and that is by far the mass majority of the work we do here. Most of the people we see here are not homeless, they are not on the streets. They are just trying to get by in life.”
The RCMP is also part of the newly formed homelessness task force. Police have to deal with the delicate balance of providing safety to the community while respecting the rights of all citizens, said Ridge Meadows RCMP Insp. Dan Splinter.
He said one of their constant challenges is finding the “sweet spot” in delivering services that people need and expect. However, cost is an issue.
“We are guided by a wide range of legislation that comes to us federally, provincially, and from the city — all of which we rely on to act within,” said Splinter. “It’s not against the law to be homeless or to hang around on the street. We have all heard various slogans that we identify with, such as ‘the homeless need health care and housing — not handcuffs.’”
Splinter said that while many homeless have addiction issues, which are expensive to deal with, the perception that all homeless people are criminals is not accurate. He said people need to be practical when it comes to preventing crime.
“By simply locking your car or truck, and not leaving anything of value in plain view will go a long way. We see a lot of, certainly not all, theft reports that are shockingly unsophisticated because the target was so easy.”
Splinter said the Ridge Meadows RCMP recognizes that perceptions are powerful.
“Some people feel threatened by homeless so they don’t always feel safe when they go downtown. We try to visibly engage in the downtown core every day, but finding the right balance with other service delivery needs and expectations is always a challenge,” he said.