Wednesday May 31, 2017

Maple Ridge: B.C. town divided by homeless crisis

Ramona Stimpfl is fed up with the homeless shelter and tent city that flank her condominium in Maple Ridge.

Ramona Stimpfl is fed up with the homeless shelter and tent city that flank her condominium in Maple Ridge. (Liz Hoath)

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The closing of a temporary homeless shelter in Maple Ridge, B.C., has heated up a contentious debate over how to address homelessness and addiction in the community. 

The shelter was set up in an old mattress store as a stop-gap measure while the municipal and provincial governments tried to come up with a longer term solution.  The shelter manager says the conditions are not adequate.

'I don't know how people can turn their backs on the most vulnerable members of their own community.' - Ash, shelter manager

"You can see the walls don't go to the ceiling. There's not really anywhere to have deep conversation. There's nowhere to call your dad. Or to cry. Let your guard down," says Ash, the shelter's manager.

"Every day. It's awful. I wouldn't do it, I couldn't do it. It's terrible." 

Ash — whose last name we have agreed to withhold because he fears for his safety — says that residents of the shelter have been attacked.

Tent city

Homeless people in Maple Ridge created a makeshift tent city in an empty green space in the town. (Liz Hoath)

"Cars have been keyed. People hit with pipes, run off the roads with their bicycles. Smoke bombs thrown into the shelter to flush people out," he says.

"I think it's been disgusting. I don't know how people can turn their backs on the most vulnerable members of their own community."  

But other residents of Maple Ridge say they are fed up with the drug use they associate with shelters like these. 

'Every day we are cleaning up needles, drug packets.' - Maple Ridge resident Ramona Stimpfl

Ramona Stimpfl's condominium is located between the homeless shelter and a tent city that sprang up last month in a nearby city park. 

"Every day we are cleaning up needles, drug packets," she points out. 

Eva Bardonnex

Bardonnex says it is safer to live in a tent city camp because the group takes care of each other. (Liz Hoath)

Maple Ridge is a community of more than 75,000 people about an hour's drive east of Vancouver. The numbers of homeless is increasing across Metro Vancouver. A recent count showed a 30 per cent increase over the numbers in 2014. 

The problem is complicated by the high cost of housing, lack of addiction treatment spaces and treatment for the mentally ill, not to mention the opioid crisis that has gripped the region.

Eva Bardonnex is one of the people living in a tent city. 

She first found herself homeless in January 2015. When the house she was living in was sold, she had nowhere to go and ended up living at the river.  She found housing after living at another tent city camp in Maple Ridge, but was kicked out two months ago after being accused of having too many visitors and not going to counselling. 

Bardonnex is homeless once again, but she says the tent city is better than living at the river. 

Mayor Nicole Read

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read went into hiding last month after RCMP informed her she was in danger. (Nicole Read/Facebook)

"They're watching my stuff when I go out. I don't have to worry about someone ripping things off or cutting up my tent or anything like that ... It's a lot better in a group ... A lot safer," she says.

Last month, Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read went into hiding after the RCMP warned her there was a credible threat to her safety. They have not disclosed whether the threat is related to this issue, but the mayor has been the target of anger from Maple Ridge residents who take issue with her support of the homeless in her community. 

"At the end of the day we don't go to the community and ask if we locate a cancer facility in their backyard. They need housing and health-care supports," says Read. 

"As a human being, I've never backed away from these issues — may not be politically expedient. At the end of the day, I have to put my head on the pillow instead of being concerned about being re-elected." 

Listen to this segment at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath and Josh Bloch.