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British Columbia Maple Ridge housing protest highlights tensions over homelessness problem

A weekend rally against a proposed housing project in Maple Ridge drew hundreds of protesters, highlighting tensions between the city and the province over the best way to tackle homelessness in the region.

And while B.C. has said it intends to go ahead with plans to build a low-barrier housing project – which means tenants would not be prohibited from using illicit drugs or alcohol on site – some residents say those plans ignore community concerns around safety and capacity of services, including police and ambulance providers.

“As a community, we feel like we are being left completely out of the conversation," Maple Ridge resident Wesley Mann said on Monday.

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“It’s our home, our neighbourhood, our children, our seniors ... we need to have a say,” he added.

Mr. Mann, who spoke at the rally Saturday against the proposed housing project, is chair of Burnett Neighbours, a group that last year ran a protest campaign against a proposed housing project on Burnett Street. Council rejected that proposal in May, 2018.

That site is now back on the table after the province announced on March 20 that it would build 51 units of supportive housing on the property.

Hundreds of people, including Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden, attended a rally Saturday to protest the decision.

Mr. Morden’s staff said on Monday that he was unavailable to comment.

The Maple Ridge housing project would be part of a provincewide housing program undertaken by the NDP government.

That program includes temporary modular housing projects that have staff and support services and are designed to provide housing for people who are homeless.

Opponents, including Mr. Mann, maintain Maple Ridge is currently providing more than its fair share of such facilities and that the province is being heavy-handed in imposing a low-barrier facility on the city when other types of housing, such as seniors’ accommodation, is needed.

In response to such concerns, the province has compiled a list of shelter beds and “homeless units” – including new temporary modular housing and other projects funded by the province – by municipality.

The province says that, on a per capita basis, Maple Ridge has fewer shelter beds and housing units for people who are homeless than some other B.C. municipalities, including Vancouver, but is ahead of others, including nearby Mission and Abbotsford.

Burnaby, meanwhile, has no shelter beds at all.

The province, however, says it is building homes in response to need, not on a per-capita basis.

Homelessness has been a highly visible concern in Maple Ridge because of a tent encampment on city property. Known as Anita Place and set up nearly two years ago in May, 2017, the settlement is now under city supervision after the city obtained a court order that allowed it to enforce fire and safety violations at the camp.

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After the order, provincial Housing Minister Selina Robinson directed Maple Ridge to come up with a housing plan. When she found the city’s plan unacceptable, she said the province would move forward on its own.

“The issue of a lack of supportive housing in Maple Ridge has been going on for at least four years through two provincial governments and two municipal councils,” ministry staff said in an e-mail.

According to a 2017 Homeless Count in Metro Vancouver, there were 124 homeless people in the area known as Ridge Meadows, which takes in Maple Ridge and neighbouring Pitt Meadows. That was up by 48 per cent over the survey three years previous, the province said.

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