MAPLE RIDGE (NEWS 1130) – Homeless advocates say they’re being shut out of discussions with Maple Ridge, ahead of Friday’s provincial deadline for the city to develop a social housing plan.
The mayor and councillors have also chosen not to answer questions from the media about the ongoing situation surrounding Anita Place homeless camp, which was evacuated over the weekend following three fires in as many days.
Multiple letters to the city over several months went unanswered, according to Pivot Legal Society, despite an October consent agreement between the two groups to work collaboratively to deal with fire safety at the camp and find housing for the upwards of 50 individuals living there.
“I don’t think they’re being communicative or collaborative,” Pivot lawyer Caitlin Shane said. “A lot of the actions the city has taken have appeared to be unilateral. We’ve really had a hard time being able to inform our clients of what’s going on. We were effectively prevented from telling our clients what to expect, which has been overwhelmingly our experience throughout this process.”
She says requests to hold off on enforcing injunctions have been met with silence and it’s concerning to think the city could make decisions without consulting those affected.
In October, Pivot invited newly elected mayor Mike Morden to meet with it, its clients, and the province.
“We didn’t receive any response back. We sent another letter, requesting to meet and sent an additional follow-up email to meet. All of these times, we were not met with any response,” Shane said.
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On Monday, Housing Minister Selina Robinson gave the mayor until the end of the week to work with the province on a comprehensive housing plan. The next day, council directed city staff to develop a comprehensive social housing plan, which will be presented to council at its meeting next Tuesday, and ultimately delivered to the province.
Anita Place has been the site of a homeless camp for almost two years and split the community as a major election issue for Maple Ridge voters. The previous council rejected a rezoning application for an 85-unit shelter and supportive housing facility. Anita Place has seen around nine fires since it began.
B.C.’s Supreme Court granted an injunction in February allowing the city to remove electrical connections, fuels and other things deemed fire hazards. It also allows Maple Ridge to identify camp occupants to figure out who needs housing and other services.
The province opened Maple Ridge’s first 53-unit modular housing project in October of last year, but Housing Minister Selina Robinson is not saying whether the province will step in again if the city does not meet the deadline.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll have an opportunity to work together to deliver on the kind housing that people need in Maple Ridge,” she said, adding she has not spoken with the city since a Feb. 25 meeting. “I’m expecting that before the end of the day tomorrow we’ll have an opportunity for conversation.”
Anita Place was evacuated over the weekend, following concerns of fire hazards and three fires in as many days. Pivot was not given much notice people were going to be moved out of the camp, according to Shane.
“We found out the night before, at about 9 p.m. that residents were going to be evacuated,” she said. “We needed to communicate back to them as soon as possible. When we arrived the next morning, we requested more information from the city and the fire commissioner about what this was actually going to look like, how long the evacuation order would be in place. Again, met with silence, answers of ‘We don’t know right now,’ ‘We can’t tell you.'”
Despite reports there are around 14 individuals living at the camp, homeless advocates such as Pivot and the Alliance Against Displacement believe the number is closer to 50. The difference may be attributed to a small, two-day window for residents to register themselves, a reluctance for people to register and a lack of knowledge about the process, Shane said.
Despite saying council wants to streamline its processes and provide more transparent government, Coun. Ahmed Yousef says mayor and council have decided to only speak with the province as city staff hammer out a plan, but are issuing news releases as they go.
“The council has agreed around the table to have our discussions with the provincial government, rather than through the media,” he said, adding he wants to remain accessible to the community. “When it comes to text or possibly reviewing ones comments, it doesn’t give the full expression of the person and what they truly mean.”
He said he has not been privy to any other meetings between the city and interested bodies on the issue of social housing or Anita Place. He said while four days is a tight deadline to develop a housing plan, he has “the utmost faith” city staff can deliver.
NEWS 1130 has reached out to Mayor Mike Morden several times for comment, but have been told he is not available.