British Columbia

'It's cold outside and lives are at risk': Maple Ridge mayor says shelters are at capacity

As people on the South Coast brace for another week of frigid temperatures, the mayor of Maple Ridge says the city is struggling to meet the demand of those looking for places to sleep inside.

Nicole Read says people are being turned away nightly and the province is partly to blame

A person sleeps in a snow-covered tent in downtown Vancouver (David Horemans/CBC)

As people on the South Coast brace for another week of frigid temperatures, the mayor of Maple Ridge says the city is struggling to meet the demand of those looking for places to sleep inside.

Nicole Read said on average, between six and 10 people are being turned away from the city's permanent shelters every night, and she's now worried where people are sleeping in subzero temperatures.

"It's cold outside. There's lives at risk, and people are not well to begin with, so we get very concerned," said Read.

Between the Salvation Army and the city's temporary shelter, there are about 70 shelter spaces in Maple Ridge. The Salvation Army has also set up additional spaces on mats because of the cold weather, but they are at capacity.

"We can't account for people that get turned away because we just don't have anywhere else. We've had a challenging year," said Read.

Frustration aimed at provincial government

Read said the province's decision to back out of two projects has made the situation worse.

"We've had a number of commitments made from the province in terms of supportive housing — they've all fallen through," said Read.

In March, the provincial government announced it planned to turn a vacant Quality Inn in the city into a low-barrier shelter.

The proposal was met with opposition from community members who claimed they weren't adequately consulted.

The Ministry of Housing later backed out of that commitment.

In March, people living in Maple Ridge took to the streets to protest a plan to convert a Quality Inn into a homeless shelter. (CBC)

On Friday, the Ministry of Housing released a four-point plan to address homelessness in Maple Ridge.

Part of that announcement was that the province was not moving ahead with a project that aimed at housing the city's homeless population. The City of Maple Ridge had bought a parcel of land worth $1 million to partner with B.C. Housing on that project.

In its release, the ministry said it found site was "not suitable for a permanent-supportive housing facility."

"We feel like we're being led down paths over and over, and at the end of the day, decisions are being made by the provincial government that are not in the best interests of the people who are really struggling," said Read.

Metro Vancouver mayors recently formed a task force on homelessness in the region.

The group will make recommendations to the province, which, Read says, has an obligation to address the issue.

"We're sitting here with shelters full up and no housing solutions coming forward."

Community meetings

According to the Ministry of Housing, the province spends more than $7 million annually on subsidized housing and rent supplements for more than 1,200 households in Maple Ridge.

Minister Rich Coleman was not available for an interview, but his ministry issued a statement. 

"The province has been working closely with the city to address the community's growing homeless population," it said.

It also said MLAs Doug Bing (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) and Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge-Mission) will host a community meeting in January to hear from residents on a number of issues, including appropriate locations for both temporary and long-term supportive housing facilities.

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