There will be no drug or alcohol use in the proposed new homeless shelter on Burnett Street in Maple Ridge.
Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries executive director Darrell Pilgrim said low barrier does not mean that drug use must be allowed in a shelter.
“It’s about being accessible,” he said.
For the Salvation Army, that will mean that a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol can still be admitted.
“Once they’re in the building, we will be able to work with them to help them make healthy choices,” he said.
The low-barrier issue, Pilgrim added, was one of the main questions people asked as hundreds lined up for half an hour or longer to get into the information session about a new supportive housing and emergency shelter proposal Monday in Maple Ridge.
Pilgrim said it will be a purpose-built facility – a first for Maple Ridge. The Salvation Army’s existing facility is a former fabric shop. The benefit of a building designed to house the homeless population will be diminished traffic around the building, he said.
There will be storage for client’s bikes and other possessions, a private outdoor courtyard and gates on the parking lot with fob-controlled access.
Pilgrim said the facility will have a good neighbour agreement, with regular monthly neighbourhood advisory meetings that can be attended by any resident or business in the vicinity. It will address issues such as loitering.
Jesse Stretch, a critic of the former RainCity shelter in Maple Ridge and one of the organizers of a rally against a proposed shelter at the Quality Inn site in the city, said he was relieved to hear how the Salvation Army intends to operate the new shelter, when he spoke with him at the information session.
Stretch has researched facilities that have been successful, and said one of the most impressive was a Salvation Army facility in Fort St. John. He sees a similar model coming to Maple Ridge, and said the neighbourhood advisory should limit the negative impacts.
“I’m pleased to hear all that, that’s going to be very helpful …”
Access to the open house was restricted by several security guards, and some people saw the lineup leading into the hall at the Haney Presbyterian Church and walked away. Parking at the church was limited, and people prowled neighbouring residential side streets looking for places to park.
Homeless shelter info session
Inside, representatives from B.C. Housing, Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, Bill Briscall of RainCity Housing, and both local MLAs, Lisa Beare and Bob D’Eith, and others were engaging members of the public.
The province has proposed new supportive housing at 11749 and 11761 Burnett St. – 40 new supportive homes and relocation of up to 40 shelter beds with 24/7 staffing and support.
The province has also proposed 60 new affordable rental units at 21375 Lougheed Hwy. – as homes for low-income families and seniors
Temporary modular homes, up to 55 units, for the homeless are also being planned for this spring, but a location has not been determined. Again, the province is promising 27/4 staffing and support for these facilities.
Some attending were impressed, some were not, and most still have unanswered questions.
“There’s a consensus in the room from the community that the current situation is unsustainable. We all know that. We all know we can’t continue with the way things are,” Beare (Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge) said after listening for the first half of the four-hour drop-in session.
“I’m happy the provincial government is addressing all levels of the housing spectrum with this proposal,” added Beare, who is a member of cabinet and the Tourism, Arts and Culture minister. “There’s a number of different projects that address not only the immediate crisis we have in our community, but also our families and our seniors that are in need.
“The housing crisis is being felt all across the province, and it’s important that we as a city recognize we have citizens in all spectrums who need help.”
Asked if she had been hearing complaints that the province had not consulted the community about the Burnett Street shelter, Beare answered: “Well, we’re here listening to people tonight.”
She added there will be another engagement session in early February, time and place to be determined, and the public will still be able to have its say through the city property rezoning process.
“There’s a mix [positive and negative] in the room, but mainly what I’m hearing is the situation needs to be fixed, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Manuel Piva said he lives a block away from the proposed shelter on Burnett St. and wants to know if there will be an increase in security and RCMP patrols in the neighbourhood.
“I don’t want anything happening to my house,” he said.
He also questioned how the provincial government came up with the site.
“Our MLA Lisa [Beare] seems to think Golden Ears elementary being 750 metres away is not going to be a big deal,” adding his partner’s children attend that school.
“I have no problem helping people out, but right in our backyards? That doesn’t fly with me.”
Kat Wahamaa, who lost her son to a fentanyl overdose, said she was happy to see how much the province is willing to give Maple Ridge.
“It’s a huge infusion of resources to our community, on various fronts of housing, and I’m very excited and I’m thankful that it’s happening,” she said.
Louise Mclure said she would have preferred a town hall style meeting, where residents could ask questions, rather than representatives of the agencies involved in front of poster boards with graphics and written information.
“And then I stepped out for a minute to say hi to a friend, and they wouldn’t let me back in,” she said.
Martin Dmitrieff, a teacher at Thomas Haney secondary, has not heard teachers and students who have fears about the proximity of the shelter to the school.
“No matter where you put a location in Maple Ridge … we have 30 elementary schools in Maple Ridge. It is going to be very difficult to find a location where there is not an elementary school within a few blocks.”