Maple Ridge protesters erect illegal camp to protest loss of shelter

Advocates for homeless people protested a move to close a 40-bed Maple Ridge shelter for good and erected tents on an empty city lot they dubbed Anita's Place, despite pushback from passersby.

'I need to live,' says 56-year-old shelter resident and mother-of-three, often chased by locals

Residents of a tent city in Maple Ridge will be allowed to stay put after reaching an agreement with the City. (Valerie Gamache/Radio-Canada)

Advocates for homeless people protested a move to close a 40-bed Maple Ridge shelter by erecting tents Tuesday on an empty city lot they have dubbed Anita's Place, ignoring the fury of passing pickup truck drivers.

The group of about 25 shelter dwellers and supporters walked a few blocks from the doomed Rain City shelter, broke into the empty treed lot and hung a banner on the fence, ignoring people who yelled obscenities.

"I've had people chase me out of the neighbourhoods and threaten me and throw bottles at me. I need to live too and I can't work and I'm going to lose my home right away," said Tanna Copper, 56, a former hairdresser with health issues who lives at the Rain City shelter.

Maple Ridge has seen a lot of anger over plans for homeless shelters. Mayor Nicole Read has long been the target of residents angry over plans to try and build a homeless shelter in Maple Ridge. 

Recently, the mayor has faced threats to her safety, which are being investigated by the RCMP.

Ivan Drury of the Alliance Against Displacement, a group protesting the closure of Maple Ridge's shelter, is confronted by city bylaw manager Robin MacNair, May 2. (Yvette Brend/CBC News)

Rain City shelter on the Lougheed Highway has housed dozens of people for about 18 months.

It was supposed to be a temporary six-month measure until the city cemented plans for building a proper shelter, but protesters say those plans have now dissolved and no hope remains for homes, despite a doubling of homeless deaths in the Lower Mainland in the past few years.

While the open-concept shelter crammed with people and personal belonging is little more than a "warehouse for human bodies," according to Ivan Drury with the Alliance Against Displacement, it was at least a roof for people.

A seven-person citizen's committee appointed by Liberal MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton were told to find the best location for a new $15-million shelter and supportive housing complex that B.C. Housing plans to build in Maple Ridge.

In a March report, they determined any new shelter should not be located downtown or be low barrier.

Tanna Copper is fighting for her home in a Maple Ridge shelter. She says she's a former hairdresser with health trouble who is just trying to live in a safe place. (Yvette Brend/CBC News)

They certainly did not approve a new tent city.

"It's not helping anybody," said Riekie Armstrong, protesting the newly erected tents in her city.

She believes a treatment facility is needed off Maple Ridge's "main drag." 

"I am not against homeless people. I'm not against the poor. I grew up poor, but this isn't right," said Armstrong who said the shelter and any tent city draws drug dealers.

The Alliance Against Displacement's Drury says this is an example of those wishing to push the vulnerable out of town — further from services, drug treatment and help.

"The hatred in the streets of Maple Ridge is part of the factor that reduces the life expectancy of homeless people," he said.

The protest group walked to 223rd Street to a grassy, treed lot — referred to locally as the St. Anne property — where they opened a gate and started setting up brand new tents donated by supporters.

They named the site, Anita's Place Tent City, in honour of Anita Hauck, a homeless woman found upside down in a clothing donation bin in 2015 who died later of complications.

Loretta Sundstrom holds a photo of her daugther, Anita Hauck, who died after getting trapped inside a clothing donation bin. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The protest drew police and city bylaw department manager Robin MacNair who confronted the group.

She refused requests for garbage pick up and porta-potties at the illegal campsite.

"You are trespassing," said MacNair, who faced off with protesters who say they feel forced to fight for a roof, now that a report recently submitted to the city appears to have ended any hope for a low-barrier shelter in Maple Ridge.

In the past few years, Maple Ridge residents rallied hard against all shelter proposals — killing three plans so far.

A Cliff Avenue encampment was shut down in 2015 but not before tents were slashed.

Homeless advocates say, on the streets, even disabled people face attacks, from bear spray bursts to frozen paint balls lobbed from pickup trucks.

"People have to defend themselves. People have to create their own shelter," said Drury.

Anita Hauck's mother, Loretta Sundstrom (left), accepted a memorial plate and said she was touched that people who knew her daughter before she died were naming a tent city in her honour. Hauck died after she was found in a clothing donation bin. (Yvette Brend/CBC)