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UPDATED: Maple Ridge announces land purchase for possible new shelter

Council has spent just over $1 million to buy a property across from the hospital to construct an interim and permanent homeless shelter. - Ashley Wadhwani/The TIMES
Council has spent just over $1 million to buy a property across from the hospital to construct an interim and permanent homeless shelter.
— image credit: Ashley Wadhwani/The TIMES

Lyanne Alexander had a “very bad sleep,” on Tuesday night, following Maple Ridge council’s announcement that a plot of land is in the midst of being bought for what could be a new, permanent homeless shelter.

Alexander and Era Chung have co-owned the Meadow Ridge Centre for Child Care for seven years, and lease three units next to the soon-to-be purchased land, at 21375 Lougheed Hwy.

Alexander said she wasn’t shocked the land was bought, noting it’s been on the market for some time. But, what the land could be used for came as a surprise to her.

On Tuesday, the City announced it is purchasing the land just east of Laity Street near Ridge Meadows Hospital, for “just over $1 million” with the intention of building an interim and eventually permanent location for Maple Ridge’s new homeless shelter.

“We are pretty much right beside the property line,” Alexander noted. “For us it’s not the best location.”

“…to see people shooting up, and gathering together – we don’t want our families to see this or our children,” she said.

Parents have already begun voicing concerns, and as of now – not being sure what the facility will even look like – is leading Alexander to worry that her “business probably will go under.”

She insisted she’d be okay if the site was used for a recovery centre.

“If used for a recovery home or rehabilitation, I am 100 per cent supportive of that,” she said.

The plan, if approved through the rezoning process, is for this new facility to replace the existing temporary shelter in the downtown core.

The proposed site, at 21375 Lougheed Hwy. – just east of Laity Street, and a few blocks away from the Quality Inn – has been bought for "just over $1 million" with the intention of being an interim and eventually permanent location for Maple Ridge's new homeless shelter.

This will replace the existing temporary RainCity shelter in the downtown core.

Councillor Gordy Robson told The TIMES Tuesday afternoon that he thinks "we have located a spot that could be acceptable to majority of council.”

Now, a public consultations and the rezoning processes must commence. Nothing is finalized, Robson insisted.

If, ultimately, the land is not approved for the new shelter, it will simply be used for something else instead, City spokesperson Fred Armstrong and Robson agreed.

If approved, a new shelter will take upwards of three years to construct, Armstrong elaborated.

The City will not be committing to this proposed new location, Robson said, until the “very public process” of a rezoning application has been completed.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole called BC Housing's most recent proposal "different," than the model currently being used to help homeless people.

"The BC Housing proposal is quite different than the emergency shelter model that we have now. The purpose built facility will provide a more integrated housing approach and stronger support framework," Read said.

"Such facilities go a long way in providing support to our community's most vulnerable people, while addressing some of the wider community's desire to reduce crime and improve cleanliness and safety."

Read added the zoning process for the new facilities will provide "ample" opportunity for community feedback and we all look forward to that discussion.

The first step in the rezoning process is a development information meeting that will be hosted by BC Housing, as the project proponent, and the City as the land owner. The timing of that meeting is expected to be middle to late September.

At that meeting BC Housing will lay out their proposal for an integrated housing solution that has 24 hour supervision and the wraparound supports to address mental health and addiction service supports to assist people from life on the streets into stable housing options.

If finalized, Robson added, "I want to make sure we spend more time getting people help, off the streets, and sheltered. Not warehousing.”

“We want to make sure public gets a chance to have their input before we decide where it [the shelter] will be,” Robson continued. “I've got some conditions; one being when we get through with this whole process we become a one shelter community – we just have a purpose-built [shelter] and that’s all.”

Robson also insisted that Alouette Heights be “brought back under control.”

Councillor Kiersten Duncan said the new shelter location was determined by what’s best “not only for citizens of Maple Ridge," but citizens accessing treatment and in need of shelter.

“My hope is that the public understands we are all dealing with a very difficult situation - it’s not easy on anyone. No matter what we do, it isn’t going to be perfect. There’s always ways to improve it, but we need to do something. Funding is available, and all the partners we need are at the table.”

Although residents may see the land purchase as the City making a decision on whether a shelter is built there or not, Duncan insisted “this is not the case.”

Instead, purchasing the land first is "the order things have to happen in."

The property being purchased backs on to the Maple Ridge Cemetery, and is across the street from the Ridge Meadows Hospital site, meaning few neighbours to be bothered by noise and comings and goings. The land acquisition is expected to close by the end of August.

The use of this property for both the interim and permanent housing projects requires a rezoning from its current residential zoning to institutional use. The normal rezoning process will be followed.

How it has evolved

The  announcement follows an issue with homelessness that came to the forefront in May 2015 with the formation of a large tent city on Cliff Avenue - directly behind the Salvation Army’s Ridge Meadows Ministries (then called the Caring Place) – which at the time was serving as a community homeless shelter.

Fast forward to October, and with winter approached, some of the homeless in the camp still didn’t have permanently housing. The City pulled its support for Salvation Army to care for the community’s homeless, and chose instead to contract RainCity to operate a temporary shelter in downtown Maple Ridge, in the the former Sleep Shop next to KFC.

That site was “not ideal” and “never intended” to be a long-term solution, Armstrong said.

As council worked with BC Housing to devise a more permanent solution, the RainCity operation received a few extensions. The latest nine-month extension gives the City and BC Housing until March 2017 to find a “suitable” alternative.

In the meantime, in March BC Housing looked at purchasing the Quality Inn motel on Lougheed Highway as a more permanent, temporary shelter. Public outcry, however, prompted the province to withdraw from those plans. They began again, working with Maple Ridge council, to find another option.

In May, BC Housing announced they would provide $15 million in funding for a permanent shelter.

Now, looking ahead, RainCity's shelter will be closed once the new interim housing facility is open, although no timeline of when this can be all be expected has been provided at this time.

The concerns raised by community members during the Quality Inn proposal process will be kept in mind during the decision making for this new proposal, Read said.

"What we heard in the dialogue regarding the Quality Inn proposal is that there needs to be a strong health care support framework around any facility that operates in the community. The community also expressed concern around a transparent public process and the need for people to have their voice heard in the discussions," she noted.

"Council agrees completely, and this is the very early stages of a community conversation that will take a few months. The province has offered to invest $15 million in Maple Ridge to help deal with an issue that has impacted our community for over a decade."It would be irresponsible to not fully explore this offer."

City seeks public consultation

In addition to the rezoning process, the City will conduct public consultations to hear from other vested community members.

By working with the social planning advisory committee, forums will commence on topics such as mental health, addiction, and youth issues. As well, they will answer questions and concerns from community members on homelessness in town.

No dates for these meetings have yet been released.

 

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