British Columbia

Fact-checking Maple Ridge mayor's claims about homelessness

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden told a communications consultant, in a staged interview, that homeless people were "basically raping and pillaging all of our community and our businesses." The comment raised eyebrows.

'Raping and pillaging' statement was rhetorical, but Mike Morden's other comments can be analyzed with data

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden has painted a dire picture of the effect homeless people have had on the community. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

When Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden told a communications consultant, in a staged interview, that homeless people were "basically raping and pillaging all of our community and our businesses," it raised plenty of eyebrows.

But while Morden's rhetoric received most of the attention, he made a number of specific claims about Maple Ridge's homeless population, crime, and the nature of addiction that deserve further examination, given his role as mayor. 

Here's a breakdown of eight of Morden's statements.

"I'm happy to support people that are in our community and assist them into services. But we have a lot of information that suggests that people are coming from out of town."

The 2017 homeless count in Maple Ridge, prepared by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, found that "most of Ridge Meadows' homeless are local to their community," with 60 per cent having been in the region for at least a decade, compared to 50 per cent of homeless people in other areas of Metro Vancouver. 

It is possible in the last two years that those figures have shifted, but to date the city has not provided that data. 

"We started with 84 homeless people five years ago, and here we are right now, we've got probably close to 1,000 parked in various forms of housing in various types ... that are all placed by B.C. Housing in our midst. Most of them are in addictions." 

There's a lot to unpack here, but in in the 2014 homeless count, 84 unsheltered and sheltered people were recorded in Ridge Meadows (of which Maple Ridge takes up approximately 82 per cent of the population). In 2017, 124 people were recorded, and there hasn't been a homeless count since. 

However, B.C. Housing currently oversees partnerships for 704 subsidized housing units in Maple Ridge in 13 locations. Some of those have been constructed specifically to help the homeless population, but others are geared towards seniors and families. 

It's possible that figure, plus those at Anita Place (a tent city in Maple Ridge), form the basis for the figure Morden cited. But he did not respond to a request for data supporting his claim, and B.C. Housing and Fraser Health couldn't say how many of their units housed people with addictions. 

"In our own tent city, there's over 800 crime files in less than two years."

Ridge Meadows RCMP said they couldn't comment on claims by the mayor, but their most recent data showed they responded to 669 police reports relating to the camp, of which there were 82 arrests.

Those figures came from a release on February 22, so it's possible more than 131 calls were made over the last six weeks. However, that would require a nearly 300-per-cent increase in the number of daily calls. 

Morden did not respond to a request for documents or evidence that would support his claim. 

"When you're looking at numbers from Nanaimo, 2,800 police calls for service in their complex in three months."

Morden was referencing increased police activity in the area around two supportive housing sites in Nanaimo as evidence the government's strategy wasn't working, but he appears to have significantly inflated his figures.

According to a report by Nanaimo RCMP earlier this month, there have been 1,900 police calls to the area around the two sites over the past four months. 

Maple Ridge residents are divided over how to deal with a growing homeless problem. (Yvette Brend/CBC News)

"Two per cent of people are genetically [predisposed] to addiction, and that's what's going to happen. It's in their DNA."

CBC News was unable to find any studies stating the percentage of people genetically predisposed to addiction.

In 2015, Nature magazine cautioned that "genetics can influence addictive behaviour later in life, but linking genes to addiction is complicated."

"The numbers are fairly clear, that we're talking about 80 per cent of the population that's out there on our streets is addicted to fentanyl."

In the 2017 homeless count, 62 per cent of homeless people in Ridge Meadows reported any type of addiction, compared with 53 per cent regionally.

CBC News was unable to find data supporting Morden's claim. However, on a provincewide basis, fentanyl was detected in around 80 per cent of overdose deaths in the last two years. 

Morden did not respond to a request for data supporting his claim.

"If you take a look at the Downtown Eastside, we're spending over a million dollars a day there, in eight city blocks. It's clearly not working." 

Morden's comments appear to originate from a series of often-cited stories from the Vancouver Sun, which estimated that social service agencies that operated in the area spent $360 million in 2013, of which $265 million came from three levels of government. 

Those stories have not been seriously contested. 

"Crime numbers are through the roof." 

Part of the reason Morden may have been less specific on this point is that there's no public data that can back up his comment.

Ridge Meadows RCMP haven't published crime statistics since the second quarter of 2017. And RCMP data, which includes a crime severity index, indicates that severe crime went down in 2016 and 2017, the same two years when Maple Ridge first grappled with a semi-permanent camp.

The department says it's working on making more recent figures public.

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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