And we call them homeless? The people we refer to as homeless in our community have been mislabelled, banned from our community shelters, and most sadly, they have lost their angel who was saving their lives.
Our community's current response to the increasing number of homeless on our streets is disturbing. What's worse is that some of our well-meaning citizens and organizations - that have involved themselves in the issue - have actually become enablers and are now partially responsible for the misery that is the everyday life of these people.
When the Caring Place, in partnership with the Salvation Army, got the community's consent to open its ministry, the effort was led by an angel.
Our angel Barb was a feisty little nurse who believed the people on our streets were sick. She believed if you could solve the sickness, homelessness would not be an issue.
She also believed if you couldn't solve the sickness, you would never be able to permanently solve their homeless problem.
She was able to convince individuals and agencies in the community to come together and use their towers of powers in a creative and constructive way to provide solutions for people trapped in a drug and mental health nightmare.
It worked! Maple Ridge led the GVRD (Metro Vancouver) in reducing the number of "homeless" on our streets from hundreds down to 42. Barb actually had RCMP officers, bylaw officers, Crown counsel, judges, food bank, business leaders, Maple Ridge hospital and the psych ward, ambulance attendants, public health nurses, and others all working together on a case-management basis.
The culture on the street had been broken, and the numbers left on the street - who Barb knew personally - were diminishing weekly.
Barb's theory was to harass them with help. At one point, if one of them had been arrested overnight, the Chief of Police actually had a "cell visitation" program where he would personally visit them in the morning, to see if any of them wanted to go to a residential rehab facility.
Through his connection with the angel, a surprising number found themselves at Miracle Valley by dinner time. Miracle Valley was a 400-bed residential treatment centre that the Salvation Army has since closed.
The community support for the Salvation Army grew until it started running out of local clients. There were more funded beds at the Caring Place than possible local clients on the street.
At this point, instead of cutting back on funding, they started importing the most problematic clients from the rest of the GVRD to fill the beds. Barb's informal group's position was that we should teach the other communities what we had learned, rather than accept their sick.
Attitudes have changed, and there are certainly still staff and volunteers at the Caring Place who do care. But in the past, when one of our sick came in and created havoc through behaviour, Barb did not see it as a reason to bar them; she took it as a reason to case-manage them. So instead of throwing them out, they would be charged, detoxed in cells, and a group would show up at the court appearance to assure the judge that this person needed a 90-day conditional sentence at a rehab facility, not jail.
The current management at the Caring Place says he has to protect his staff. Of course you do! What's next? Lepers? If the Caring Place wishes to maintain its community contract and regain the support of the community, the citizens need to know that if anybody in our community needs a place to sleep or a place to eat, and needs help, it is available. We want to know there is no need to give money to panhandlers or anyone else with a sad story; it's up to the Caring Place to perform. As our Angel Barb would say, "It's really simple. WWJD?"
Our goal should be to empty it.
- Gordy Robson is a former Maple RIdge mayor and a local businessman who was raised in this community. His opinion column appears Tuesdays in the print and/or online versions of The TIMES. Questions and reactions can be emailed to Gordy Robson c/o firstname.lastname@example.org