They had placards with slogans like “Enough is enough,” and “we won’t back down,” and they repeatedly chanted “Our city, our choice.” Organizer James Seip called Premier John Horgan on stage, and left him a voice message of the crowd chanting that rally slogan.
Those who spoke against the plan noted the city has already fought the Burnett Street location once, and Wendy of the Burnett Street Neighbours noted they have 10,000-plus names on a petition opposing that location. Four members of the Burnett Neighbours community group, including chair Wesley Mann, criticized the provincial government for its handling of homelessness, and saying Housing Minister Selina Robinson has unilaterally pushed past the will of the people in Maple Ridge.
“We will continue to subsidize and fund our addicts until they die, or require extended care, or seniors care… there is no exit strategy for these people,” he said.
“We don’t want people locked behind walls and forgotten, allowed to carry on with drug use, drug sales, criminal activities and hoarding,” said Rose-Marie Bordeleau of the group, noting it offers “no path to rehabilitation.”
She also said the 51 temporary modular homes are misplaced in a family neighbourhood, close to schools, sports fields and seniors housing.
Mayor Mike Morden spoke last, and said several times that his council will uphold the will of its citizens.
“We will stand for the citizens of Maple Ridge. They elected us through a democratic process, and we thank them for that, we know what our responsibilities are,” said Morden. “And we remain resolved to a safe city.”
“We are a caring, compassionate city, and we really do not want to see people die anymore, we want to make sure people can access the help that they need.”
He also said the city remains resolved to work with both the federal and provincial governments to get the necessary resources to deal with the issue.
Mann accused the local MLAs of hiding from his group, and challenged them to meet with residents, as the last government did
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith did not attend the rally, but briefed on the event he said the government is responding to an urgent situation at Anita Place, and he said the city has provided no alternatives.
“Morally and legally both, the way to resolve (homeless) camps is to provide supportive housing,” he said. “The city has no plan to deal with 35 people at the mattress shop.”
A former mattress business on Lougheed Highway has been converted into a temporary shelter.
According to D’Eith, the city was told there is no more room for modular housing on Royal Crescent, but council still presented that to the province as its solution.
“The city didn’t come up with a plan, and it didn’t come up with a plan B either.”
He said it is wrong for people at the rally to say there will be no supports for the people on Burnett Avenue, because Coast Mental Health will provide 24/7 “wraparound” services.
He said it is fair to question whether city officials have the expertise to choose the type of service that should be offered to homeless people, be it low barrier or some other model. He said BC Housing and minister Robinson rely on the best advice from people in the field.
“I choose to trust the experts,” said D’Eith, adding the housing first model is the policy of the provincial government, and the services being offered in Maple Ridge are the same as those in cities across the province.
D’Eith noted the long-term plan for the Burnett Street site is to have seniors housing there, and the modular housing is temporary.