British Columbia·Analysis

The stats are in: crime hasn't gone 'through the roof' in Maple Ridge since homeless camp opened

Overall, crimes against people were up 14 per cent in the six full quarters since the homeless camp opened, compared to the previous 18 months. Property crimes were up seven per cent, while other criminal code violations were up five per cent. 

But it has gone up, and in a community that feels under siege, hard data is unlikely to change people's minds

The Anita Place homeless camp in Maple Ridge, B.C., on April 1, 2019. The encampment formed as a protest over unaffordable housing after a homeless shelter closed in the area in 2017. Since then, camp residents have quashed two attempts to have them evicted. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden has frequently cited a crime "crisis" in his community as he's defending his strategy in dealing with Maple Ridge's homeless population.

But the statistics show a more mixed assessment.

Following requests from CBC News, Ridge Meadows RCMP have released city-wide crime statistics for the first time since the Anita Place homeless camp opened, covering July 2017 to December 2018.

It shows that all major crime in Maple Ridge went down in 2017 (continuing a trend from 2016) before rising by 15 to 25 per cent in 2018. 

Overall, crimes against people were up 14 per cent in the six full quarters since the homeless camp opened, compared to the previous 18 months. Property crimes were up seven per cent, while other criminal code violations were up five per cent. 

"I'm not too surprised," said Maple Ridge Coun. Kiersten Duncan.

"I can understand why crime may have gone up after the camp came into place, because unfortunately, many people struggling with addictions are forced to steal."

A real increase, certainly. But while crime is up five to 15 per cent, the rhetoric around crime in Maple Ridge is up much more than that.  

Feelings vs. facts

Ultimately, the RCMP stats can give comfort to both sides — but what it's unlikely to do is change anybody's opinions.

And in Maple Ridge, most of those appear to be on the side of the mayor.

"It's such a passionate issue for all of us,"  said Coun. Yousef Ahmed in an interview with Stephen Quinn earlier this week.

When pressed with discrepancies between what the provincial government is saying and what the mayor is claiming, Ahmed circled back, again and again, to anecdotes. 

"I'm basing my information on stories that have been shared with me throughout our community," he said, when asked how he would know the provincial government wasn't telling the truth about supplying 24/7 support services for homeless residents it engages with or houses.

What about the most recent homeless count showing the majority of people were actually from the Ridge Meadows area?

"I'm not going be able to speak to whether those numbers are wrong or not," he said. 

"You're more than welcome to ask any of our local downtown businesses, and they'll tell you that they've seen a lot of new faces coming to our town," he said. 

As for the mayor saying the homeless were "basically raping and pillaging" the community in a recent interview?

"For many of our residents here in Maple Ridge, this actually summarizes exactly what they're feeling," said Ahmed. 

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden has declined all requests to speak to CBC News about the homeless population. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

Can people's minds be changed?

When we published a story fact-checking the mayor's interview, there were plenty of people in Maple Ridge that said to truly understand the situation, someone needs to be there every day.

"There's something different. It's intangible, it's things you can't just measure," said Matthew Glavind, a Maple Ridge resident and owner of a home renovation company that does work throughout the Lower Mainland. 

He argues the provincial government hasn't been meeting the city halfway, that Maple Ridge's homeless population has grown much faster than other nearby communities, and that the feel there is different. 

"When I walk through Vancouver, I don't mind ... walking through the Downtown Eastside. I don't feel threatened. I feel like there's a community there. I don't feel like they care about me, whereas in Maple Ridge it feels aggressive,"  he said.

I asked Glavind if there was any quantifiable data that would change his assessment of the situation.

"Quantifiable? No.  ...  and that's why I'm not a politician," he said. 

It's usually said that "facts don't care about feelings."

But more often than not, the reverse is also true.

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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