British Columbia

Maple Ridge mayoral candidates disagree on homelessness solutions

Sandi Orr has been living in a tent city in Maple Ridge for over a year with her dog and, like many others, is frustrated with what she says is a lack of will on homeless issues at city hall.

Each week until election day, CBC’s The Early Edition looks at key issues in different municipalities

Sandi Orr has been living at Anita Place for more than a year. (Rohit Joseph/CBC)

Sandi Orr has been living in a tent city in Maple Ridge for over a year with her dog and, like many others, is frustrated with what she says is a lack of will on homeless issues at city hall.

Her camp, Anita Place, flooded after a severe rainfall last weekend, driving home the need for government help and immediate supportive housing as the weather turns.

"You're treating us like nothing," Orr said, addressing local government.

"It's wet. It's dirty. It's muddy. It's cold … [the flood] has left us desperate,"

Each week until election day on Oct. 20, CBC's The Early Edition is looking at a key issue in different municipalities that residents want to see addressed.

Maple Ridge mayoral candidates, left to right, Mike Morden, Ernie Daykin and Craig Speirs. Mike Shields joined the debate by phone. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

Mayoral candidates debate

Four of Maple Ridge's five mayoral candidates, selected for their track record of significant civic engagement or strong public support, vehemently disagree on what needs to be done.

"This is clearly a drug problem," said Mike Morden, who's currently a city councillor.

"Housing is a component to this, but it is one small part of a very large puzzle that has to be solved. Drugs is the key here."

He compared housing someone who's struggling with addiction issues without medical intervention to taking a child with a broken leg to the hospital and putting them alone behind a door.

"That's what we're getting right now. That's housing only. That leg isn't going to fix itself," he said.  

Former mayor Ernie Daykin agrees that housing is only part of the solution.

"To provide a roof over somebody's head without the support in place, whether its addiction services or mental health challenges, it's not going to work," Daykin said.

"They need support, and we, as a community and local government, need to support them."

Anita Place was flooded after severe rainfall last weekend. (Rohit Joseph/CBC)

Housing or detox first?

Coun. Craig Speirs takes an opposite stance.

"Housing first is the way to go, then you start with the detox and treatment," Speirs said.

"Getting drug addicts off the street makes our streets safer. It's a simple equation."

He emphasized the need to work "with people instead of against them."

"You don't cure a damn thing with hate and anger. The only thing that works is inclusion and acceptance," Speirs said.

The debate between the mayoral candidates heated up with opponents declaring each other wrong,as they talked about what needs to be prioritized to deal with camps like Anita Place.

Sandi Orr has been living in a tent city in Maple Ridge for a year with her dog and, like many others, is frustrated with what she says is a lack of will at city hall to address homelessness. 19:51

'The worst of the worst first'

"Their answers are largely the reason I've decided to throw my hat into the ring," said Mike Shields, who has run unsuccessfully at the federal level and has written for the Maple Ridge News.

He wants to see more law enforcement and RCMP presence in tent cities instead of "in the words of the people who live down there, allowing, if you will, the worst of the worst to be first" in line for housing.  

"There is no prioritization plan in place for who is going into the 55 modular housing units," Shields said.

B.C. housing does, in fact, review who is put in the supportive units.

"The worst of the worst? I think they are human beings. Why don't we treat them like it?"  said Speirs.

With files from The Early Edition.

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